Base Themes

This article refers to theming in Drupal 7, which is very different to Drupal 8. Some links have been stripped from this article due to age and inaccessibility.


This is the first mini series I have done on I decided to make a more in depth review of the 4 themes I gave a basic overview of during my November 2012 talk at DrupalCambs. All my presentations from DrupalCambs can be found at my “presentations” github repository. The Themetalk doesn’t have a powerpoint/keynote/slideshow presentation as I normally would do. I decided to be brave and run a live demo. Admittedly this was showing pretty much only the default layout and the settings open by default, but live demos rarely go smoothly! I have updated the information in these blogs to be more detailed than those given in the talk, and I am considering doing some video demos of the default layouts of each theme. As I have been trying to do, my aim is to publish 1 per week, so they should cover the next 4 to 5 weeks (Depending on whether I launch this and the Omega blog entry on the first week.) My aim is to do the blogs in the following order:

  1. Omega []
  2. Zen []
  3. Adaptive []
  4. Fusion []

The order listed above is not to promote which is my favourite theme (I am not doing this to reveal a favourite)1 but I will draw up a list of what I believe are the strength and weaknesses of each theme from a beginner - intermediate themer’s perspective (I would consider myself a high end beginner or low end intermediate when it comes to theming. There are other things I prefer to do when it comes to site building). I feel this has an advantage as I am not too set in the ways of any theme. For example my D6 company site (D7 version in development) is themed with Zen as a base theme (As is D7) but my new personal site theme (Coming soon…) is in Omega. I am also considering building a “mini” version of my personal site in Adaptive Theme and Fusion to see how they are to properly work with on a fully fledged theme rather than with simple CSS adapations and theming layout changes I am looking to do as part of my tests. I am going to make a few assumptions here. These are that you know what Drupal is, how to download and install a theme and that you at least know what the command line is (As part of what I am going to look at covers Drush, a PHP script that runs on the command line and interacts with Drupal). I hope one day to amass a library of tutorials etc on either this site or my company site [] similar to Lullabot’s or [] (Now part of Wunderkraut []) but that is a long way off for now!

So what is a base theme and why should I care

A base theme is in effect a starter theme that provides a default layout and “blank canvas” CSS theme for themers (A Drupal term for someone who concentrates on developing for the front end as opposed to the back end (No sniggering - it’s a serious technical term) development) to help speed up development. They often provide certain features such as responsive designs out the box. At it’s most basic a responsive design is on that resizes nicely when you are on an iPad/Nexus/{Insert tablet here}, iPhone/Samsung Galaxy S3/HTC One X/{insert phone here} etc. You should care about them because they help drupalists create a consistant starting point for all themes. And in the event that a client decides to move on, they give them much more portability when finding another Drupal firm. They also slightly reduce the headache of writing your own theme, (Especially if you tend to only use CSS to adjust your theme) as in the event a security hole is discovered, or an error which breaks compatibility with the HTML5 standard for instance, the Drupal community will spot and fix it 9Or if you spot it you can report it, fix it or help fix it as necessary). Whether you should care or not is up to you. I know plenty of arguments for and against them. I personally like them and use them as they provide me with a great starting point (And can quickly give my clients an idea as to the layout of their site whilst I am theming.

What am I going to test?

So the themer’s in particular among my readers (Assuming there are any!) are probably wondering what I am going to test, what I am not, etc. First of all can I please again stress that this is not particularly scientific, nor is it designed to show which is the best base theme. That is always going to be down to personal tastes. I am simply trying to highlight some of the advantages and disadvantages of certain themes (No base theme is perfect). As all the themes are now responsive out the box (For D7 at least) I will not be assessing whether they are responsive or not. I will test their responsiveness in terms of default break points though. I also intend to look at the following for each theme (In no particular order):

  • Default layouts and break points - Good/Bad/Indifferent
  • For themers who don’t like coding what UI customisations are there?
  • CSS Tools available out the box (SASS/LESS etc)
  • Plugins available (Either as Drupal Modules, or other plugins such as Zen’s Zengrids)
  • Ease to work with
  • Code portability (How much is in the DB vs in files - mostly a nod to Omega’s highly useful delta module)
  • Sub Themes that use these themes as their base (Adaptive’s Panels Everywhere for instance)

I will probably end up testing all sorts of other things unintentionally too as this is my first attempt as “serious” comparison blogging, and it’ll be a learning process for me too! I look forward to giving you my thoughts and opinions on Omega next week. Go to post 2 of the Theming Mini Series - Project Creep…

It fluctuates between Zen and Omega depending on my need for Panels) Back to top

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