Mars Theme: A Deep Look at Frontity’s Headless WordPress Theme

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This post was in progress before Automattic acquired Frontity and its entire team. According to Frontity’s founders, the framework will be transitioned into a community-led project and leave the project in “a stable, bug-free position” with documentation and features. Like other open-source community projects, Frontity will remain free as it has been, with opportunities to contribute to the project and make it an even better framework for decoupled WordPress. More detail is found in this FAQ page.

In my previous article, we created a headless WordPress site with Frontity and briefly looked at its file structure. In this companion article, we will go into a deep dive of the @frontity/mars-theme package, or Mars Theme, with a step-by-step walkthrough on how to customize it to make our own. Not only is the Mars Theme a great starter, it’s Frontity’s default theme — sort of like WordPress Twenty Twenty-One or the like. That makes it a perfect starting point for us to get hands-on experience with Frontity and its features.

Specifically, we will look at the fundamental parts of Frontity’s Mars Theme, including what they call “building blocks” as well as the different components that come with the package. We’ll cover what those components do, how they work, and finally, how styling works with examples.

Ready? Let’s go!


Frontity’s building blocks

Let’s revisit the file structure of the Frontity project we made in the last article as that shows us exactly where to find Frontity’s building blocks, the frontity.settings.js, and package.json and packages/mars-theme folder. We covered these is great detail before but, in particular, the package.json file gives us a lot of information about the project, like the name, description, author, dependencies, etc. Here’s what that file includes:

  • frontity: this is the main package that includes all the methods used in Frontity app development. It’s also where the CLI lives.
  • @frontity/core: This is the most important package because it takes care of all the bundling, rendering, merging, transpiling, serving, etc. We don’t need to access to it in order to develop a Frontity app. The full list is captured in the Frontity docs.
  • @frontity/wp-source: This package connects to the WordPress REST API of our site and fetches all the data needed in the Mars Theme.
  • @frontity/tiny-router: This package handles window.history and helps us with routing.
  • @frontity/htmal2react: This package converts HTML to React, working with processors that match HTML portions while replacing them with React components.

Frontity core, or @frontity/package (also referred as Frontity’s building block), is composed of useful React component libraries in its @frontity/components package, which exports helpful things like Link, Auto Prefetch, Image, Props, Iframe, Switch, and other functions, objects, etc., that can be directly imported into Frontity project components. A more detailed description of these components—including syntax info use cases—is in this package reference API.

The Frontity docs provide a little more information on what happens when a Frontity project is started:

When starting frontity, all the packages defined in frontity.settings.js are imported by @frontity/file-settings and the settings and exports from each package are merged by @frontity/core into a single store where you can access the state and actions of the different packages during development using @frontity/connect, the frontity state manager.

Next up, we’re familiarizing ourselves with how these building blocks, utilities and exports are used in the Mars Theme package to create a functioning Frontity project with a headless WordPress endpoint.

Section 1: Digging into the Mars Theme

Before discussing styling and customizing let’s briefly familiarize ourselves with the Mars Theme (@frontity/mars-theme) file structure and how it is put together.

#! frontity/mars-theme file structure
packages/mars-theme/
|__ src/
  |__ index.js
  |__ components/
     |__ list/
       |__ index.js
       |__ list-item.js
       |__ list.js
       |__ pagination.js
     |__ featured-media.js
     |__ header.js
     |__ index.js
     |__ link.js
     |__ loading.js
     |__ menu-icon.js
     |__ menu-model.js
     |__ menu.js
     |__ nav.js
     |__ page-error.js
     |__ post.js
     |__ title.js

The Mars Theme has three important component files: /src/index.js file, src/list/index.js and src/components/index.js. Frontity’s documentation is a great resource for understanding the Mars Theme, with especially great detail on how different Mars Theme components are defined and connected together in a Frontity site. Let’s start familiarizing ourselves with the theme’s three most important components: Root, Theme and List.

Theme Root component (/src/index.js)

The src/index.js file, also known as the theme’s Root, is one of the most important Mars Theme components. The Root serves as an entry point that targets <div id="root"> in the site markup to inject the roots of all the installed packages required to run a Frontity project. A Frontity theme exports a root and other required packages in the DOM as shown in the following use case example from the Frontity documentation:

<!-- /index.HTML (rendered by Frontity) -->
<html>
  <head>...</head>
  <body>
    <div id="root">
      <MyAwesomeTheme />
      <ShareModal />
      <YetAnotherPackage />
    </div>
  </body>
</html>

This Frontity doc explains how Frontity extends its theme using extensibility patterns called Slot and Fill. An example of the Root component (/src/index.js) is taken from its Mars Theme package (@frontity/mars-theme).

This is everything the package pulls in when initializing the Root component:

// mars-theme/src/components/index.js
import Theme from "./components";
// import processor libraries
import image from "@frontity/html2react/processors/image";
import iframe from "@frontity/html2react/processors/iframe";
import link from "@frontity/html2react/processors/link";

const marsTheme = {
  // The name of the extension
  name: "@frontity/mars-theme",
  // The React components that will be rendered
  roots: {
    /** In Frontity, any package can add React components to the site.
      * We use roots for that, scoped to the `theme` namespace. */
    theme: Theme,
  },
  state: {
    /** State is where the packages store their default settings and other
      * relevant state. It is scoped to the `theme` namespace. */
    theme: {
      autoPrefetch: "in-view",
      menu: [],
      isMobileMenuOpen: false,
      featured: {
        showOnList: false,
        showOnPost: false,
      },
    },
  },

  /** Actions are functions that modify the state or deal with other parts of
    * Frontity-like libraries. */
  actions: {
    theme: {
      toggleMobileMenu: ({ state }) => {
        state.theme.isMobileMenuOpen = !state.theme.isMobileMenuOpen;
      },
      closeMobileMenu: ({ state }) => {
        state.theme.isMobileMenuOpen = false;
      },
    },
  },
  /** The libraries that the extension needs to create in order to work */
  libraries: {
    html2react: {
      /** Add a processor to `html2react` so it processes the `<img>` tags
        * and internal link inside the content HTML.
        * You can add your own processors too. */
      processors: [image, iframe, link],
    },
  },
};

export default marsTheme;

The Mars Theme root component exports packages that includes any of the roots, fills, state, actions and libraries elements. More detailed information on Root can be found in this Frontity doc.

Theme component (/src/components/index.js)

The Frontity Theme component is its main root level component that is exported by the Theme namespace (lines 12-16, highlighted in the previous example. The Theme component is wrapped with the @frontity/connect function (line 51, highlighted below) which provides access to its state, actions and libraries props from the Root component instance and allows Theme component to read the state, manipulate through actions, or use code from other features packages in the libraries.

// mars-theme/src/components/index.js
import React from "react"
// Modules from @emotion/core, @emotion/styled, css, @frontity/connect, react-helmet
import { Global, css, connect, styled, Head } from "frontity";
import Switch from "@frontity/components/switch";
import Header from "./header";
import List from "./list";
import Post from "./post";
import Loading from "./loading";
import Title from "./title";
import PageError from "./page-error";

/** Theme is the root React component of our theme. The one we will export
 * in roots. */
const Theme = ({ state }) => {
  // Get information about the current URL.
  const data = state.source.get(state.router.link);

  return (
    <>
      {/* Add some metatags to the <head> of the HTML with react-helmet */}
      <Title />
      <Head>
        <meta name="description" content={state.frontity.description} />
        <html lang="en" />
      </Head>

      {/* Add some global styles for the whole site, like body or a's. 
      Not classes here because we use CSS-in-JS. Only global HTML tags. */}
      <Global styles={globalStyles} />

      {/* Render Header component. Add the header of the site. */}
      <HeadContainer>
        <Header />
      </HeadContainer>

      {/* Add the main section. It renders a different component depending
      on the type of URL we are in. */}
      <Main>
        <Switch>
          <Loading when={data.isFetching} />
          <List when={data.isArchive} />
          <Post when={data.isPostType} />
          <PageError when={data.isError} />
        </Switch>
      </Main>
    </>
  );
};

export default connect(Theme);

{/* define Global styles and styled components used Theme component here */}
const globalStyles = css`
  body {
    margin: 0;
    font-family: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, "Segoe UI", Roboto,
      "Droid Sans", "Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif;
  }
  a,
  a:visited {
    color: inherit;
    text-decoration: none;
  }
`;
const HeadContainer = styled.div`
  // ...
`;

const Main = styled.div`
  // ...
`;

This example is pulled directly from the Mars Theme’s /src/components/index.js component, which we imported with connect from frontity (line 4, above). We are using state.source.get() to retrieve data to be rendered from the current path (lines 39-46, highlighted above); for example, List, Post and other components.

Section 2: Working with the List component

What we just looked at are the theme-level components in Frontity’s Mars Theme. You may have noticed that those components import additional components. Let’s look at a specific one of those, the List component.

The List component is exported by src/components/list/index.js which uses @loadable/components to split the List component code in such a way that the component only loads when a user clicks a List view; otherwise it won’t render at all, like when a Post view is clicked instead.

// src/components/list/index.js
import { loadable } from "frontity";

// Codesplit the list component so it's not included if the users
// load a post directly.
export default loadable(() => import("./list"));

In this example, Frontity utilizes loadble functions (integrated from Loadable components) for code splitting which loads a component asynchronously and separates code into different bundles that are dynamically loaded at run time. Frontity’s core package API reference goes into much more detail.

Displaying lists of posts

To display a list of posts in an archive page, we first have to look Frontity src/components/list/list.js component. As the name suggests, the List component renders lists of posts using state.source.get(link) and its items field (lines 22-25, highlighted below).

// src/components/list/list.js
import { connect, styled, decode } from "frontity";
import Item from "./list-item";
import Pagination from "./pagination";

const List = ({ state }) => {
  // Get the data of the current list.
  const data = state.source.get(state.router.link);
  return (
    <Container>
      {/* If the list is a taxonomy, we render a title. */}
      {data.isTaxonomy && (
        <Header>
          {data.taxonomy}: {state.source[data.taxonomy][data.id].name}
        </Header>
      )}
      {/* If the list is an author, we render a title. */}
      {data.isAuthor && (
        <Header>Author: {state.source.author[data.id].name}</Header>
      )}
      {/* Iterate over the items of the list. */}
      {data.items.map(({ type, id }) => {
        const item = state.source[type][id];
        // Render one Item component for each one.
        return <Item key={item.id} item={item} />;
      })}
      <Pagination />
    </Container>
  );
};
export default connect(List);

In the code example above, the connect function is imported by frontity in line 2 and is wrapped around the exported connect(List) component in line 31 (the last line). Two other components, list-item.js and pagination.js are also imported. Let’s look at those next!

Here’s what we have for list-item.js:

// src/components/list/list-item.js
import { connect, styled } from "frontity";
import Link from "../link";
import FeaturedMedia from "../featured-media";

const Item = ({ state, item }) => {
  const author = state.source.author[item.author];
  const date = new Date(item.date);
  return (
    <article>
     {/* Rendering clickable post Title */}
      <Link link={item.link}>
        <Title dangerouslySetInnerHTML={{ __html: item.title.rendered }} />
      </Link>
      <div>
        {/* If the post has an author, we render a clickable author text. */}
        {author && (
          <StyledLink link={author.link}>
            <AuthorName>
              By <b>{author.name}</b>
            </AuthorName>
          </StyledLink>
        )}
        {/* Rendering post date */}
        <PublishDate>
          {" "}
          on <b>{date.toDateString()}</b>
        </PublishDate>
      </div>
      {/* If the want to show featured media in the
       * list of featured posts, we render the media. */}
      {state.theme.featured.showOnList && (
        <FeaturedMedia id={item.featured_media} />
      )}
      {/* If the post has an excerpt (short summary text), we render it */}
      {item.excerpt && (
        <Excerpt dangerouslySetInnerHTML={{ __html: item.excerpt.rendered }} />
      )}
    </article>
  );
};
// Connect the Item to gain access to `state` as a prop
export default connect(Item);

The Item component renders the preview of a blog post with clickable post title (lines, 12-14, highlighted above), author name (lines 19-21, highlighted above) and published date (lines: 25-28, highlighted above) along with <FeaturedMedia /> which serves as a post’s optional featured image.

Paginating a list of posts

Let’s look at the Pagination component that was rendered earlier in the List component by the src/components/list/pagination/js that follows:

// src/components/list/pagination.js
import { useEffect } from "react";
import { connect, styled } from "frontity";
import Link from "../link";

const Pagination = ({ state, actions }) => {
  // Get the total posts to be displayed based for the current link
  const { next, previous } = state.source.get(state.router.link);
  // Pre-fetch the the next page if it hasn't been fetched yet.
  useEffect(() => {
    if (next) actions.source.fetch(next);
  }, []);
  return (
    <div>
      {/* If there's a next page, render this link */}
      {next && (
        <Link link={next}>
          <Text>← Older posts</Text>
        </Link>
      )}
      {previous && next && " - "}
      {/* If there's a previous page, render this link */}
      {previous && (
        <Link link={previous}>
          <Text>Newer posts →</Text>
        </Link>
      )}
    </div>
  );
};
/**
 * Connect Pagination to global context to give it access to
 * `state`, `actions`, `libraries` via props
 */
export default connect(Pagination);

The Pagination component is used so that users can paginate between lists of posts — you know, like navigating forward from Page 1 to Page 2, or backward from Page 2 to Page 1. The state, actions, libraries props are provided by the global context that wraps and exports them with connect(Pagination).

Displaying single posts

The Post component displays both single posts and pages. Indeed, structurally both are the same except, in posts, we usually display meta data (author, date, categories etc). Meta data isn’t usually used in pages.

In this Post component, conditional statements are rendered only if the post object contains data (i.e. data.isPost) and a featured image is selected in sate.theme.featured in the theme’s root component:

// src/components/post.js
import { useEffect } from "react";
import { connect, styled } from "frontity";
import Link from "./link";
import List from "./list";
import FeaturedMedia from "./featured-media";

const Post = ({ state, actions, libraries }) => {
  // Get information about the current URL.
  const data = state.source.get(state.router.link);
  // Get the data of the post.
  const post = state.source[data.type][data.id];
  // Get the data of the author.
  const author = state.source.author[post.author];
  // Get a human readable date.
  const date = new Date(post.date);
  // Get the html2react component.
  const Html2React = libraries.html2react.Component;

  useEffect(() => {
    actions.source.fetch("/");
    {/* Preloading the list component which runs only on mount */}
    List.preload();
  }, []);

  // Load the post, but only if the data is ready.
  return data.isReady ? (
    <Container>
      <div>
        <Title dangerouslySetInnerHTML={{ __html: post.title.rendered }} />
        {/* Only display author and date on posts */}
        {data.isPost && (
          <div>
            {author && (
              <StyledLink link={author.link}>
                <Author>
                  By <b>{author.name}</b>
                </Author>
              </StyledLink>
            )}
            <DateWrapper>
              {" "}
              on <b>{date.toDateString()}</b>
            </DateWrapper>
          </div>
        )}
      </div>
      {/* Look at the settings to see if we should include the featured image */}
      {state.theme.featured.showOnPost && (
        <FeaturedMedia id={post.featured_media} />
      )}
      {/* Render the content using the Html2React component so the HTML is processed
       by the processors we included in the libraries.html2react.processors array. */}
      <Content>
        <Html2React html={post.content.rendered} />
      </Content>
    </Container>
  ) : null;
};
{/* Connect Post to global context to gain access to `state` as a prop. */} 
export default connect(Post);

We just saw how important the List component is when it comes to displaying a group of posts. It’s what we might correlate to the markup we generally use when working with the WordPress loop for archive pages, latest posts feeds, and other post lists.

There are a few more components worth looking at before we get into Mars Theme styling.

The following MarsLink component comes from src/components/link.js, which is a wrapper on top of the {@link Link} component. It accepts the same props as the {@link Link} component.

// src/components/link.js
import { connect, useConnect } from "frontity";
import Link from "@frontity/components/link";

const MarsLink = ({ children, ...props }) => {
  const { state, actions } = useConnect();

  /** A handler that closes the mobile menu when a link is clicked. */
  const onClick = () => {
    if (state.theme.isMobileMenuOpen) {
      actions.theme.closeMobileMenu();
    }
  };

  return (
    <Link {...props} onClick={onClick} className={className}>
      {children}
    </Link>
  );
};
// Connect the Item to gain access to `state` as a prop
export default connect(MarsLink, { injectProps: false });

As explained in this tutorial, the Link component provides a link attribute that takes a target URL as its value. Quoting from the doc: it outputs an <a> element into the resulting HTML, but without forcing a page reload which is what would occur if you simply added an <a> element instead of using the Link component.

Frontity menu (src/components/nav.js)

Earlier, we defined values for menu items in the frontity.settings.js file. In the Nav component (located in src/components/nav/js) those menu item values are iterated over, match their page url, and display the component inside the Header component.

// src/components/nav.js
import { connect, styled } from "frontity";
import Link from "./link";

const Nav = ({ state }) => (
  <NavContainer>
    // Iterate over the menu exported from state.theme and menu items value set in frontity.setting.js
    {state.theme.menu.map(([name, link]) => {
      // Check if the link matched the current page url
      const isCurrentPage = state.router.link === link;
      return (
        <NavItem key={name}>
          {/* If link URL is the current page, add `aria-current` for a11y */}
          <Link link={link} aria-current={isCurrentPage ? "page" : undefined}>
            {name}
          </Link>
        </NavItem>
      );
    })}
  </NavContainer>
);
// Connect the Item to gain access to `state` as a prop
export default connect(Nav);

The Mars Theme provides two additional menu components — menu.js and menu-modal.js — for mobile device views which, like nav.js, are available from the Mars Theme GitHub repository.

In Frontity, featured media items values are defined in the Root component ‘s theme.state.featured line that we discussed earlier. Its full code is available in the /src/components/featured-media.js component file.

Now that we’re more familiar with the Mars Theme, as well as its building blocks, components, and functions, we can move into the different approaches that are available for styling the Mars Theme front-end.

As we move along, you may find this Frontity doc a good reference for the various styling approaches we cover.

Section 4: How to style a Frontity project

For those of us coming from WordPress, styling in Frontity looks and feels different than the various approaches for overriding styles in a typical WordPress theme.

First off, Frontity provides us with reusable components made with with styled-components, and Emotion, a CSS library for styling components in JavaScript, right out of the box. Emotion is popular with React and JavaScript developers, but not so much in the WordPress community based on what I’ve seen. CSS-Tricks has covered CSS-in-JS in great detail including how it compares with other styling, and this video provides background information about the library. So, knowing that both styled-components and Emotion are available and ready to use is nice context as we get started.

Frontity’s documentation has great learning resources for styling frontity components as well as set-by-step guidance for customizing Frontity theme styles.

I am new to the CSS-in-JS world, except for some general reading on it here and there. I was exposed to CSS-in-JS styling in a Gatsby project, but Gatsby provides a bunch of other styling options that aren’t readily available in Frontity or the Mars Theme. That said, I feel I was able to get around that lack of experience, and what I learned from my discovery work is how I’m going to frame things.

So, with that, we are going to visit a few styling examples, referencing Frontity’s styling documentation as we go in order to familiarize ourselves with even more information.

Using styled-components

As the name suggests, we need a component in order to style it. So, first, let’s create a styled-component using Emotion’s styled function.

Let’s say we want to style a reusable <Button /> component that’s used throughout our Frontity project. First, we should create a <Button /> component (where its div tag is appended with a dot) and then call the component with a template literal for string styles.

// Creating Button styled component
import { styled } from "frontity"

const Button = styled.div`
  background: lightblue;
  width: 100%;
  text-align: center;
  color: white;
`

Now this <Button /> component is available to import in other components. Let’s look specifically at the Mars Theme <Header /> component to see how the styled-component is used in practice.

// mars-theme/src/components/header.js
import { connect, styled } from "frontity";
import Link from "./link";
import MobileMenu from "./menu";

const Header = ({ state }) => {
  return (
    <>
      <Container> // This component is defined later
        <StyledLink link="/"> // This component is defined later
          <Title>{state.frontity.title}</Title> // This component is defined later
        </StyledLink>
        // ...
      </Container>
    </>
  );
};

// Connect the Header component to get access to the `state` in its `props`
export default connect(Header);

// Defining the Container component that is a div with these styles
const Container = styled.div` 
  width: 848px;
  max-width: 100%;
  box-sizing: border-box;
  padding: 24px;
  color: #fff;
  display: flex;
  flex-direction: column;
  justify-content: space-around;
`;
// Defining Title component that is h2 with these styles 
const Title = styled.h2`
  margin: 0;
  margin-bottom: 16px;
`;
// Defining StyledLink component that is a third-party Link component
const StyledLink = styled(Link)`
  text-decoration: none;
`;

In the above code example, the <StyledLink /> component (lines 39-41, highlighted above) is used to style another component, <Link />. Similarly. the <Container /> and <Title /> styled-components are used to style the site title and the site’s main container width.

The Emotion docs describe how a styled component can be used as long as it accepts className props. This is a useful styling tool that can be extended using a variable as shown in the following example below from Frontity’s documentation:

// mars-theme/src/components/header.js 
// ...
// We create a variable to use later as an example
Const LinkColor = "green";

// ... 

// Defining StyledLink component that is a third-party Link component
const StyledLink = styled(Link)`
  text-decoration: none;
  Background-color: ${linkColor};
`;

The styled component above is used extensively in the Mars Theme. But before we go further, let’s look at using a CSS prop to style components.

Using a CSS prop

The css prop is available as a template literal for inline styling from the Frontity core package. It is similar to styled-components, except css does not return a React component but rather a special object that can be passed to a component through the css prop.

/* Using as CSS prop */
import { css } from "frontity";

const PinkButton = () => (
  <div css={css`background: pink`}>
    My Pink Button
  </div>
);

See that? We can style a component inline using the css prop on a component. Additional use case examples are available in the Emotion docs.

Using the <Global /> component

<Global /> is a React component that allows to us create site-wide general styles, though Frontity does not optimize it for performance. Global styles should be added to the <Theme /> root component.

// packages/mars-theme/src/components/index.js
// ...

import { Global, css, styled } from "frontity";
import Title from "./title";
import Header from "./header";
// ...

// Theme root
const Theme = ({ state }) => {
  // Get information about the current URL.
  const data = state.source.get(state.router.link);

  return (
   <>
     {/* Add some metatags to the <head> of the HTML. */}
      <Title />
        // ...
      {/* Add global styles */}
      <Global styles={globalStyles} />
      {/* Add the header of the site. */}
      <HeadContainer>
        <Header />
      </HeadContainer>
        // ...
   </>
  );
 };

export default connect(Theme);

const globalStyles = css`
  body {
    margin: 0;
    font-family: -apple-system, "Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, sans-serif;
  }
  a,
  a:visited {
    color: inherit;
    text-decoration: none;
  }
`;

const HeadContainer = styled.div`
  // ...
`;

The <Global /> component has a style attribute that takes a css function as its value and consists of standard CSS inside back ticks (lines 35-45, highlighted above) as template literals. Frontity recommends using global styles for globally-used HTML tags, like <html>, <body>, <a>, and <img>.

Additional CSS styling options — including a dynamic CSS prop and React style props — are described in this Frontity guide to styling.

Resources for customizing a Frontity theme

I did a lot of research heading into my Mars Theme project and thought I’d share some of the more useful resources I found for styling Frontity themes:

  • Official Frontity themes. In addition to the default Mars Theme, Frontity has a ready-to-use package that ports the default WordPress Twenty Twenty theme in its entirety to a Frontity project. You will notice in the next section that my style customizations were inspired by this great learning resource.
  • Community themes. At this time of this writing, there are a grand total of nine Frontity community members who contributed fully functional theme packages. Those themes can be cloned into your own project and customized according to your needs. Likewise, many of the sites included in the Frontity showcase have GitHub repository links, and just as we can copy or pick up design tips from WordPress themes, we can use these resources to customize our own Frontity theme by referencing these packages.
  • Creating your own theme from scratch. The Frontity tutorial site has an excellent step-by-step guide to create your own fully working and functional theme package from scratch. Although it’s a little time consuming to go through it all, it is the best approach to fully understand a Frontity site project.

Now that we have covered the more commonly used Frontity styling techniques, let’s apply what we’ve learned to start customizing our Mars Theme project.

Section 5: Customizing the Frontity Mars Theme

I’m going to share one of my working Frontity projects, where I took the Mars Theme as a base and modified it with the resources we’ve covered so far. Because this is my learning playground, I took time to learn from Frontity default themes, community themes and Frontity showcase sites.

So here are examples of how I customized Frontity’s Mars Theme for my headless WordPress site project.

Changing the theme package name

First, I wanted to change the @frontity/mars-theme package name to something different. It’s a good idea to change the package name and make sure all of the dependencies in the package file are up to date. Luis Herrera outlines the required steps for renaming the Mars Theme package in this frontity community forum, which I used as a reference to go from @fontity/mars-theme package to @frontity/labre-theme.

So, open up the package.json file and change the name property on line 2. This is the name of the package that gets used throughout the project.

Screenshot of the package.json file open in VS Code. The left panel shows the files and the right panel displays the code.
I renamed my project from mars-theme to labre-theme in my package.json file,.

We should also update the name of the project folder while we’re at it. We can do that on line 25. I changed mine from ./package/mars-theme to ./package/labre-theme. Now, the theme package is properly listed as a dependency and will be imported to the project.

Our frontity-settings.js file needs to reflect the name change. So, let’s open that up and:

  • rename the package name on line 13 (I changed mine from @frontity/mars-theme to @frontity/labre-theme), and
  • rename the name on line 3 (I changed mine from mars-demo to labre-demo).
// @frontity-settings.js
const settings = {
  "name": "labre-demo",
  "state": {
    "frontity": {
      "url": "http://frontitytest.local",
      "title": "Frontity Demo Blog",
      "description": "Exploring Frontity as Headless WordPress"
    }
  },
  "packages": [
    {
      "name": "@frontity/labre-theme",
      "state": {
        "theme": {
          "menu": [
            ["Home", "/"],
            ["Block", "/category/block/"],
            ["Classic", "/category/classic/"],
            ["Alignments", "/tag/alignment-2/"],
            ["About", "/about/"]
          ],
 // ...

Next up, we want to re-initialize the project with these changes. We should delete the node_modules folder with rm -rf node_modules in a terminal and reinstall the npm package with yarn install. Once the npm package is reinstalled, everything gets properly linked internally and our Frontity project runs just fine without any errors.

Refactoring navigation with dynamic menu fetching

As we discussed earlier, Frontity menu items are either hard-coded in the frontity.setting.js file or in index.js component that’s stored in the Frontity state. However, WordPress can dynamically fetch the Frontity menu. In fact, Frontity just so happens to have a YouTube video on the subject. Let me break down the key steps here.

The first step is to install the WP-REST-API V2 Menus plugin in WordPress. The plugin is freely available in the WordPress Plugin Directory, which means you can find it and activate it directly from the WordPress admin.

Why do we need this plugin? It extends the new routes to all the registered WordPress menus to the REST API (e.g. /menus/v1/menus/<slug>).

If we check our project site at /wp-json/menu/v1/menus, it should display our selected menu items in the JSON. We can get the menu items with the menu item’s slug property.

Next, let’s use the menuHandler function from the tutorial. Create a new menu-handler.js file at src/components/handler/menu-handler.js and paste in the following code:

// src/components/handler/menu-handler.js
const menuHandler = {
  name: "menus",
  priority: 10,
  pattern: "/menu/:slug",
  func: async ({ link, params, state, libraries }) => {
    console.log("PARAMS:", params);
    const { slug } = params;

    // Fetch the menu data from the endpoint
    const response = await libraries.source.api.get({
      endpoint: `/menus/v1/menus/${slug}`,
    });

    // Parse the JSON to get the object
    const menuData = await response.json();

    // Add the menu items to source.data
    const menu = state.source.data[link];
    console.log(link);
    Object.assign(menu, {
      items: menuData.items,
      isMenu: true,
    });
  },
};

export default menuHandler;

This menuHandler function is only executed if the pattern value (i.e. /menu/:slug) matches. Now let’s update our /src/index.js root component so it imports the handler:

// src/index.js
import Theme from "./components";
import image from "@frontity/html2react/processors/image";
import iframe from "@frontity/html2react/processors/iframe";
import link from "@frontity/html2react/processors/link";
import menuHandler from "./components/handlers/menu-handler";

const labreTheme = {
  // ...
  state: {
    theme: {
      autoPrefetch: "in-view",
      menu: [],
      {/* Add menuURL property with menu slug as its value */}
      menuUrl: "primary-menu",
      isMobileMenuOpen: false,
      // ...
    },
  },

  /** Actions are functions that modify the state or deal with other parts of
    * Frontity-like libraries */
  actions: {
    theme: {
      toggleMobileMenu: ({ state }) => {
        state.theme.isMobileMenuOpen = !state.theme.isMobileMenuOpen;
      },
      closeMobileMenu: ({ state }) => {
        state.theme.isMobileMenuOpen = false;
      },
      {/* Added before SSR action */}
      beforeSSR: async ({ state, actions }) => {
        await actions.source.fetch(`/menu/${state.theme.menuUrl}/`);
      },
    },
  },
  libraries: {
    // ...
    {/* Added menuHandler source */}
    source: {
      handlers: [menuHandler],
    },
  },
};

export default labreTheme;

Add an array of handlers under the source property and fetch data before the beforeSSR function. It does not fetch but does match the menu-handler slug, which means menuHandler() is executed. That puts the menu items into state and they become available to manipulate.

Please note that we have added a new menuUrl property here (line 15 above) which can be used as a variable at our endpoint in handlers, as well as the nav.js component. Then, changing the value of menuUrl in the index.js root component, we could display another menu.

Let’s get this data into our theme through state and map with menu-items to display on the site.

// src/components/nav.js
import { connect, styled } from "frontity";
import Link from "./link";

/** Navigation Component. It renders the navigation links */
const Nav = ({ state }) => {
  {/* Define menu-items constants here */}
  const items = state.source.get(`/menu/${state.theme.menuUrl}/`).items;

  return (
  <NavContainer>
    {items.map((item) => {
       return (
        <NavItem key={item.ID}>
           <Link link={item.url}>{item.title}</Link>
         </NavItem>
      );
    })}
  </NavContainer>
  );
};

export default connect(Nav);

const NavContainer = styled.nav`
  list-style: none;
  // ...

If we change our menu slug here and in index.js, then we get a different menu. To view dynamic menu items in mobile view, we should similarly update menu-modal.js components as well.

Additionally, the tutorial describes how to fetch nested menus as well, which you can learn from the tutorial video, starting at about 18:09.

Modifying the file structure

I decided to restructure my Labre (formerly known as Mars) theme folder. Here’s how it looks after the changes:

#! modified Frontity labre-theme structure
packages/labre-theme/
|__ src/
  |__ index.js
  |__ components/
     |__image/
     |__assets/
     |__ list/
     |__ footer/
       |__footer.js
       |__ widget.js
     |__ header/
       |__ header.js
       |__ menu-icon.js
       |__ menu-model.js
       |__ nav.js
     |__ pages/
       |__ index.js
       |__ page.js
     |__ posts/
       |__ index.js
       |__ post.js
     |__ styles/
     // ...

As you can see, I added separate folders for pages, styles, headers, posts, and images. Please take a note that we have to update file paths in index.js and other related components anytime we change the way files and folders are organized. Otherwise, they’ll be pointing to nothing!

You may have noticed that the original Mars Theme folder structure includes neither a footer component, nor a separate page component. Let’s make those components to demonstrate how our new folder structure works.

We can start with the page component. The Mars Theme generates both pages and posts with the posts.js component by default — that’s because pages and posts are essentially the same except that posts have meta data (e.g. authors, date, etc.) and they can get away with it. But we can separate them for our own needs by copying the code in posts.js and pasting it into a new pages.js file in our /pages folder.

// src/components/pages/page.js
import React, { useEffect } from "react";
import { connect, styled } from "frontity";
import List from "../list";

const Page = ({ state, actions, libraries }) => {
  // Get information about the current URL.
  const data = state.source.get(state.router.link);
  // Get the data of the post.
  const page = state.source[data.type][data.id];
  //  ...
  // Load the page, but only if the data is ready.
  return data.isReady ? (
    <Container>
      <div className="post-title">
        <Title dangerouslySetInnerHTML={{ __html: page.title.rendered }} />
      </div>

      {/* Render the content using the Html2React component so the HTML is processed by the processors we included in the libraries.html2react.processors array. */}
      <Content>
        <Html2React html={page.content.rendered} />
      </Content>
    </Container>
  ) : null;
};
// Connect the Page component to get access to the `state` in its `props`
export default connect(Page);

// Copy styled components from post.js except, DateWrapper
const Container = styled.div`
    width: 90vw;
    width: clamp(16rem, 93vw, 58rem);
    margin: 0;
    padding: 24px;
`
// ..

All we did here was remove the meta data from post.js (lines 31-34 and 55-76) and the corresponding styled components. Just as we did with the Mars Theme /list folder, we should export the loadable function in both the pages and posts folders to code split the <List /> component. This way, the <List /> component isn’t displayed if a user is on a single post.

// src/components/pages/index.js
import { loadable } from "frontity";

/** Codesplit the list component so it's not included
*   if the users load a post directly. */
export default loadable(() => import("./page"));

Next, we should update path url of /src/components/index.js component as shown below:

// src/components/index.js
import { Global, css, connect, styled, Head } from "frontity";
import Switch from "@frontity/components/switch";
import Header from "./header/header";
import List from "./list";
import Page from "./pages/page";
import Post from "./posts/post";
import Loading from "./loading";
import Title from "./title";
import PageError from "./page-error";

/** Theme is the root React component of our theme. The one we will export
 * in roots. */
const Theme = ({ state }) => {
  // Get information about the current URL.
  const data = state.source.get(state.router.link);

  return (
    <>
      // ...

      {/* Add some global styles for the whole site */}
       <Global styles={globalStyles} />
      {/* Add the header of the site. */}
      <HeadContainer>
        <Header />
      </HeadContainer>
      {/* Add the main section */}
      <Main>
        <Switch>
          <Loading when={data.isFetching} />
          <List when={data.isArchive} />
          <Page when={data.isPage} /> {/* Added Page component */}
          <Post when={data.isPostType} />
          <PageError when={data.isError} />
        </Switch>
      </Main>
    </>
  );
};

export default connect(Theme);

// styled components

Now we’re importing the <Page / component and have added our <Main /> styled component.

Let’s move on to our custom footer component. You probably know what to do by now: create a new footer.js component file and drop it into the /src/components/footer/ folder. We can add some widgets to our footer that display the sitemap and some sort of “Powered by” blurb:

// src/components/footer/footer.js
import React from "react";
import { connect, styled } from "frontity";
import Widget from "./widget"

const Footer = () => {
  return (
  <>
    <Widget />
    <footer>
      <SiteInfo>
        Frontity LABRE Theme 2021 | {" "} Proudly Powered by {"  "}
        <FooterLinks href="https://wordpress.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">WordPress</FooterLinks>
        {"  "} and
        <FooterLinks href="https://frontity.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Frontity</FooterLinks>
      </SiteInfo>
    </footer>
    </>
  );
};

export default connect(Footer);
// ...

This is a super simple example. Please note that I have imported a <Widget /> component (line 4, highlighted above) and called the component (line 9, highlighted above). We don’t actually have a <Widget /> component yet, so let’s make that while we’re at it. That can be a widget.js file in the same directory as the footer, /src/components/footer/.

Screen shot of VS code editor open to a widget.js file that shows the syntax highlighted markup for a component.
This widget.js component was inspired by Aamodt Group‘s footer component, available in a GitHub repository.
Four columns of links, each with a heading. The text is dark against a light gray background.
The widget is hard-coded but works.

Customizing the theme header

The default header.js component in Mars Theme is very basic with a site title and site description and navigation items underneath. I wanted to refactor the header component with a site logo and title on the left and the nav.js component (top navigation) on the right.

// src/components/header.js
import { connect, styled } from "frontity";
import Link from "./link";
import Nav from "./nav";
import MobileMenu from "./menu";
import logo from "./images/frontity.png"

const Header = ({ state }) => {
  return (
    <>
      <Container>
        <StyledLink link="/">
         {/* Add header logo*/}
          <Logo src={logo} />
          <Title>{state.frontity.title}</Title>
        </StyledLink>
          {/*<Description>{state.frontity.description}</Description> */}
          <Nav />
      </Container>
        <MobileMenu />
    </>
  );
};
// Connect the Header component to get access to the `state` in its `props`
export default connect(Header);

const Container = styled.div`
  width: 1000px;
  // ...
  `}
{/* Logo styled component */}
const Logo = styled.img`
  max-width: 30px;
  display: inline-block;
  border-radius: 15px;
  margin-right: 15px;
`;

// ...

My refactored header.js component imports a logo image (line 6, highlighted above) and uses in line 14. The nav.js component shown below is basically the same, only with some minor styling modifications.

Screenshot showing refactored site header with site logo and site title (left) and top navigation (right)

Adding the <Global> style component

We have already covered the <Global> component and how it’s used for site-wide CSS. There are only a few global styles in the default Mars Theme root component, and I wanted to add more.

I did that with a separate globalStyles file at /src/components/styles/globalStyles.js — similar to Frontity’s Twenty Twenty theme — and added root variables, a CSS reset, and common site-wide element styles, found in the GitHub repo.

Implementing fluid typography

Even though it’s not really in scope, I really wanted to use fluid typography in my custom theme as part of my overall learning journey. So, I added it to the global styles.

CSS-Tricks has extensively covered fluid typography and how the clamp() function is used to set target font sizes. Following those CSS-Tricks posts and this Picalilli one as my guide, I defined two custom properties with clamped font size ranges on the :root element in the globalStyles.js component.

// src/components/styles/globalStyles.js
:root {
  --wide-container: clamp(16rem, 90vw, 70rem);
  --normal-container: clamp(16rem, 90vw, 58rem);
}

The wide-container wrapper is used for header and footer components whereas the normal-container will be used for displaying posts and pages.

I also clamped the headings under elementBase in the globalStyles.js component as shown in this GitHub repo.

It was a fun working with the clamp() function because it meant I could set a range of sizes without any media queries at all!

Adding webfonts to the theme

I also wanted to use a different webfont in my theme. Importing webfonts in CSS using @font-face is covered here on CSS-Tricks. Frontity’s Twenty Twenty Theme uses it, so that’s a good place to reference as well.

I wanted three Google fonts:

We can use the fonts with either with a <link>in the HTML head or with @import in CSS. But Chris covered how to use @font-face with Google Fonts, which allows us to optimize the number of HTTP requests we make since we can download the fonts to our own server.

I use the Google webfonts helper to host the downloaded font files. Here’s what I got:

/* source: google webfonts helper */
/* source-sans-pro-regular - latin */
@font-face {
  font-family: 'Source Sans Pro';
  font-style: normal;
  font-weight: 400;
  src: url('../fonts/source-sans-pro-v14-latin-regular.eot'); /* IE9 Compat Modes */
  src: local(''),
    url('../fonts/source-sans-pro-v14-latin-regular.eot?#iefix') format('embedded-opentype'), /* IE6-IE8 */
    url('../fonts/source-sans-pro-v14-latin-regular.woff2') format('woff2'), /* Super Modern Browsers */
    url('../fonts/source-sans-pro-v14-latin-regular.woff') format('woff'), /* Modern Browsers */
    url('../fonts/source-sans-pro-v14-latin-regular.ttf') format('truetype'), /* Safari, Android, iOS */
    url('../fonts/source-sans-pro-v14-latin-regular.svg#SourceSansPro') format('svg'); /* Legacy iOS */
}

Looking at the Twenty Twenty Theme as a reference for how it’s done there, I created a font-face.js file and dropped it into the /src/components/styles folder as shown in this GitHub repository.

Those fonts point to a /fonts folder that doesn’t exist. So, let’s make one there and make sure all of the correct font files are in it so the fonts load properly.

Importing globalStyles and @face-font components to the root <Theme /> component

Let’s open our theme root component, /src/components.index.js, and add our globalStyles.js and font-face.js components in there. As shown below, we should import both components into index.js and call the components later.

// src/components/index.js

// ...
import FontFace from "./styles/font-face";
import globalStyles from "./styles/globalStyles";

/** Theme is the root React component of our theme. The one we will export
 * in roots. */
const Theme = ({ state }) => {
  // Get information about the current URL.
  const data = state.source.get(state.router.link);

  return (
    <>
    // ...

    {/* Add some global styles for the whole site, like body or a's.
     *  Not classes here because we use CSS-in-JS. Only global HTML tags. */}
      <Global styles={globalStyles} />
      <FontFace />
      {/* Add the header of the site. */}
      // ...

export default connect(Theme);

 {/* delete original globalStyles css component */}

 // ...

Finally, we should remove mars-theme globalStyles component from index.js. Now our new fonts are applied throughout our project.

Styling pages and posts

Our posts and pages are pretty much styled already, except for some Gutenberg block contents, like buttons, quotes, etc.

To style our post entry meta data, let’s add icons for the author, date, categories, and tags. Frontity’s port of the WordPress Twenty Nineteen theme uses SVG icons and components for author.js, categories.js, posted-on.js and tags.js components, which we can totally copy and use in our own project. I literally copied the top-level entry-meta folder and everything in it from the frontity-twentynineteen theme and added it all to the /components/posts/ project folder.

Next we should update our src/components/list/list-item.js component so we can use the new assets:

// src/components/list/list-item.js

import { connect, styled } from "frontity";
import Link from "../link";
import FeaturedMedia from "../featured-media";

// import entry-meta
import Author from "../entry-meta/author";
import PostedOn from "../entry-meta/posted-on";

const Item = ({ state, item }) => {

  return (
    <article>
      <div>
        {/* If the post has an author, we render a clickable author text. */}
        <EntryMeta>
          <Author authorId={item.author} /> {"|  "}
          <PostedOn post={item} />
        </EntryMeta>
      </div>

      <Link link={item.link}>
        <Title dangerouslySetInnerHTML={{ __html: item.title.rendered }} />
      </Link>
      // ...
    </article>
  );
};

// Connect the Item to gain access to `state` as a prop
export default connect(Item);

The styled component for the <EntryMeta /> component can be something like as shown in the GitHub repository.

With these styles in place, our archive page entry meta looks good with icons displayed before entry-meta taxonomy (authors, posted-on).

Here we will modify archives taxonomy page styling with more descriptive header. Let’s update list.js component of our /src/components/list/list.js as shown below.

// src/components/list/list.js

import React from "react";
import { connect, styled, decode } from "frontity";
import Item from "./list-item";
import Pagination from "./pagination";

const List = ({ state }) => {
  // Get the data of the current list.
  const data = state.source.get(state.router.link);

  return (
    <Container className="entry-content">
      {/* If the list is a taxonomy, we render a title. */}
      {data.isAuthor ? (
        <Header>
          Author Archives:{" "}
          <PageDescription>
          {decode(state.source.author[data.id].name)}
          </PageDescription>
        </Header>
        ) : null}

        {/* If the list is a taxonomy or category, we render a title. */}
        {data.isTaxonomy || data.isCategory ? (
          <Header>
            {data.taxonomy.charAt(0).toUpperCase() + data.taxonomy.slice(1)}{" "}
            Archives:{" "}
            <PageDescription>
            {decode(state.source[data.taxonomy][data.id].name)}
            </PageDescription>
          </Header>
        ) : null}
      // ...

      <Pagination />
    </Container>
  );
};
export default connect(List);

const PageDescription = styled.span`
  font-weight: bold;
  font-family: var(--body-family);
    color: var(--color-text);
`;
// ...

In the example above, we wrapped taxonomy.id data with PageDesctiption styled component applied some styling rules.

The post pagination in the default Mars Theme is very basic with almost no styling. Let’s borrow from the Frontity Twenty Nineteen theme again and add the pagination component and styling from the theme by copying the pagination.js component file in its entirety, and paste it to /src/components/list/pagination.js in our theme.

Showing two example posts in a post list, one with comments enabled, and the other with comments disabled. The post content is black against a light gray background.
I added some minor CSS and it works perfectly in our project.

To customize the actual individual posts and pages, let’s make bold header title that’s centered and displays the entry meta:

// src/components/posts/post.js

// ...
// Import entry-meta
import Author from "../entry-meta/author";
import PostedOn from "../entry-meta/posted-on";
import Categories from "../entry-meta/categories";
import Tags from "../entry-meta/tags";

const Post = ({ state, actions, libraries }) => {
  // ...
  // Load the post, but only if the data is ready.
  return data.isReady ? (
    <Container className="main">
      <div>
        <Title dangerouslySetInnerHTML={{ __html: post.title.rendered }} />

        {/* Hide author and date on pages */}
        {data.isPost && (
          <EntryMeta>
          <Author authorId={post.author} />
          <PostedOn post={post} />
        </EntryMeta>
        )}
      </div>

      {/* Look at the settings to see if we should include the featured image */}
      {state.theme.featured.showOnPost && (
        <FeaturedMedia id={post.featured_media} />
      )}

      {data.isAttachment ? (
        <div dangerouslySetInnerHTML={{ __html: post.description.rendered }} />
      ) : (
        <Content>
          <Html2React html={post.content.rendered} />
          {/* Add footer meta-entry */}
          <EntryFooter>
            <Categories cats={post.categories} />
            <Tags tags={post.tags} />
          </EntryFooter>
        </Content>
      )}
    </Container>
  ) : null;
};

export default connect(Post);
// ...
Screenshot showing header meta-entry (top) and footer meta-entry (bottom). Header has a large bold title above meta containing the author name and post date, all centered. There is a thick line between the header and content. The content is a simple paragraph containing lorem ipsum text. Dark content against a light gray background.

Adding Gutenberg block styles

WordPress uses a separate stylesheet for blocks in the Block Editor. Right now, that stylesheet isn’t being used but it would be great if we could get some base styles in there that we use for the various block content we add to pages and posts.

A post with DevTools open and highlighting the markup for the button component.
That .wp-block-buttons class is declared in the WordPress blocks stylesheet that we aren’t using… yet.

The WordPress Block Editor uses two styling files: style.css and theme.css. Let’s copy these directly from Frontity’s port of the Twenty Twenty theme because that’s how they implemented the WordPress styles. We can place those inside a /styles/gutenberg/ folder.

“Gutenberg” is the codename that was given to the WordPress Block Editor when it was in development. It’s sometimes still referred to that way.

Let’s add the above two style files to our theme root component, /src/components/index.js, just like we did earlier for globalStyles:

//  src/components/index.js
import gutenbergStyle from "./styles/gutenberg/style.css";
import gutenbergTheme from "./styles/gutenberg/theme.css"

Here’s our updated <Theme /> root component:

// src/components/index.js

// ...
import FontFace from "./styles/font-face";
import globalStyles from "./styles/globalStyles";
// Add Gutenberg styles
import gutenbergStyle from "./styles/gutenberg/style.css";
import gutenbergTheme from "./styles/gutenberg/theme.css"

/** Theme is the root React component of our theme. The one we will export
  * in roots. */
const Theme = ({ state }) => {
  // Get information about the current URL.
  const data = state.source.get(state.router.link);

  return (
    <>
    // ...
    {/* Add some global styles for the whole site, like body or a's.
      * Not classes here because we use CSS-in-JS. Only global HTML tags. */}
      <Global styles={globalStyles} />
      <Global styles={css(gutenbergStyle)} />
      <Global styles={css(gutenbergTheme)} />
      <FontFace />
      {/* Add the header of the site. */}
      // ...
export default connect(Theme);

 {/* Delete original globalStyles css component */}
 // ...

We could go about overriding styles many different ways. I went with a simple route. For example, to overriding button styles — .wp-block-buttons — in the styled-component for pages and posts.

Screenshot showing button style customization (left panel) and styled button in blue (right)

We can write override any other block styles the same way. In Frontity’s Twenty Nineteen theme, the entire stylesheet from the WordPress version of the theme is added to the Frontity version to replicate the exact same appearance. Frontity’s Twenty Twenty port uses only a select few of the styles in the WordPress Twenty Twenty themes, but as inline styles.

Additional styling resources

All the resources we covered in this section on styling are available in the GitHub repository. If you wish to expand my @frontity/labre-theme project further, here are the resources that I gathered.

Section 6: Resources and credit

There are ample resources to learn and customize your Frontity project. While preparing this post, I have referred to the following resources extensively. Please refer to original posts for more detailed information.

Frontity documentation and articles

  • Step-by-step tutorial (Frontity): This is the perfect place to start if you’re new to Frontity, or even if you’ve previously used Frontity and want to level up.
  • Conceptial guides (Frontity): These guides helps solve some of the common challenges that come up when working with dynamic server-side rendering in React apps connected to WordPress.
  • Frontity API reference (Frontity). This contains detailed information about Frontity CLI, packages, plugins and themes. Once you’ve mastered the basics of working with Frontity, this is where you’re likely to spend most of your time when working on projects.”
  • Frontity example repo (Frontity): This is a collection of Frontity projects that demonstrate how Frontity is used in the wild.

Frontity case studies

Frontity talks and videos

Frontity community

Frontity has a vibrant and engaging community forum for asking questions or getting help regarding your Frontity project.

Wrapping up and personal thoughts

If you can’t already tell from this post or the others I’ve written, I have a huge passion for headless WordPress sites. As I wrote in a previous article, I came across Frontity through when Chris posted this article. I have been experimenting with it for over six months, choosing to take a deep drive into Frontity and the building blocks used in its default Mars Theme. I must admit that it’s a fascinating software framework and I’ve had an enjoyable learning experience. I may even use this sort of setup for my own personal site!

Here are a few key takeaways from my experience working with Frontity so far:

  • It’s beginner-friendly and low maintenance: One of the things that impressed me most with Frontity is how relatively easy it is to jump into, even as a beginner. It installs with a couple of commands and takes care of all the setup and configuration for connecting to WordPress via the REST API—something I would have struggled with if left to my own devices.
  • It works with experimental block themes. In my very limited testing, Frontity’s framework works as expected with experimental block themes, just as it does with classic WordPress themes, like Twenty Twenty. I tested with the Quadrat theme that supports the experimental stuff the Gutenberg team is working on.
  • Hosting is good, but maybe too expensive: As Chris wrote, Frontity is “a perfect match for Vercel.” However, the current Jamstack pricing model that includes Vercel is unattractive for many ordinary WordPress users.
  • Frontity’s documentation is good, but could be better: The Frontity team recently reorganized Frontity documentation into tutorials, guides and an API reference. However, in my opinion it’s still confusing for those just getting into the framework.

Because I enjoyed this project so much, I am currently doing a theme project from scratch. Even in WordPress, I learned best by getting my hands dirty building WordPress themes from scratch.

While I am still doing my Gatsby and Frontity side projects, I have not lost my sight from the ongoing WordPress block editor and block-based theme development. At the time of writing, there are already sixteen block-based themes in the WordPress theme directory. I have just started exploring and understanding experimental block themes, which might be another interesting learning project.

After this project, my thoughts about Gatsby, Frontity and the concept of headless sites are still evolving. That’s only because it’s tough to make a fair comparison of when a lot of the tooling is actively in development and changing all the time. There are even experimental themes, that are much lighter and different structural markups than the current PHP-based classic themes, which might be a subject for yet another time.


Please share your experience and thoughts if you have been using Frontity in your projects. As always, I enjoy reading any comments and feedback!