The Site Slinger Blog

Web Development, Design, and everything PSD to HTML
By Jeremy H.

The Pros and Cons of Developing a React WordPress Theme


In this post, we’ll delve into the details of creating a WordPress theme with React and explore the value it brings to the table.

We all know that content is king, but simply creating content isn’t enough. Efficiently manipulating it – adding, editing, and removing – is equally important.

Back in the early days of the Internet, working with content was a daunting task for regular users. That all changed with the advent of content management systems (CMS), and one of the most popular platforms to emerge is WordPress. With its user-friendly admin panel, WordPress allows site owners to effortlessly handle both back-end and front-end tasks.

However, a monumental shift occurred a few years ago when REST API was integrated into WordPress’s core. This decoupled the front-end from the back-end, enabling developers to use other technologies such as React.js to create custom WordPress themes or enhance existing ones. React.js, released by Facebook in 2013, has become one of the most beloved JavaScript frameworks/libraries for this purpose.

So, what makes building a WordPress theme with React so attractive? It all boils down to the REST API, which serves as the architectural style that enables developers to work with React and WordPress. Let’s discuss it next.

REST API: The Architectural Style That Empowers Developers to Build React-Powered WordPress Themes


Previously implemented as a plugin, the REST API is now an integral part of WordPress, revolutionizing the platform.

REST API, an acronym for Representational State Transfer, defines the rules for manipulating website data in the form of collections and objects. Each data type in WordPress has its own endpoint or URL, which developers can leverage in their code to interact with the database.

Data is exchanged between the back-end and front-end as JSON objects, utilizing JavaScript Object Notation. Think of it like a TV remote control – pressing a button sends a signal to the TV, and information starts flowing. In this analogy, the endpoint is the button, and the corresponding JSON object is the signal.

Using the REST API for a WordPress theme with React (or a similar JavaScript framework) offers several advantages. Firstly, the front-end and back-end are distinctly separated, allowing different development teams to work from different locations and servers. This also means you can create a React app as a WordPress theme, resulting in a Single Page Application (SPA) with a unique design and exceptional user experience.

Moreover, a WordPress React theme is highly dynamic, performs well, and can incorporate animations more easily than other frameworks. It can also store data on the client side for faster performance and even function offline thanks to Service Workers.

While using the WordPress REST API isn’t mandatory, the benefits it brings to your project are undeniable. So, why choose React for your WordPress theme? The answer lies in its ability to create a powerful, interactive, and visually appealing website that stands out from the crowd.

React WordPress Theme Development: The Ideal Choice for Your Website

Let’s delve into why React is an excellent library for building WordPress themes.

Fast Development Speed and Easy-to-Grasp Syntax


React’s syntax, known as JSX, combines JavaScript code with HTML elements. Additionally, React treats everything as a component, housing logic, structure, and visual presentation in one place.

Although this may challenge the separation of concerns principle, developers quickly adapt to this concept and find it convenient. Those familiar with JavaScript and HTML can grasp React’s fundamentals swiftly, while mastering advanced concepts may take some time.

The straightforward syntax and familiar technologies make React WordPress theme development fast and efficient, contributing to reduced development costs. However, certain tasks like implementing server-side rendering may require additional time.

Reusable Components

React WordPress theme development offers the advantage of reusing components from one project in another, similar to Lego building blocks. WordPress developers can extract and insert a single ‘cube’ into different sites seamlessly.

While some features might pose challenges when porting them, simple components can be easily transferred. Best of all, these building blocks are independent, allowing modifications without impacting other elements.

Efficient Redrawing of React.js Theme Components

React.js employs a virtual DOM, unlike manipulating the real DOM, which consumes time and resources. Consider a scenario with six checkboxes, one of which is selected. With Vanilla JavaScript or other frameworks, the entire group of checkboxes reloads to reflect the changes in the DOM.

However, if you choose to create a React app for your WordPress theme, only the selected checkbox will be redrawn in the DOM. React provides a virtual DOM object for each real DOM object, serving as a comparison tool. The lightning-fast virtual DOM is re-rendered without delay.

Afterward, React compares the new virtual DOM with the previous version, redrawing only the selected checkbox in the physical DOM. This approach boosts the performance of your themes significantly.

These are just a few remarkable features of React.js that attract site owners towards using React themes for their WordPress projects. To explore more about React’s advantages, check out this post.

Like any technology, React has a few drawbacks, too, but they are minimal.

Limitations of React for WordPress Theme Development

React.js is Continuously Evolving


While React is fast and efficient, it remains a relatively new tool, first released in 2013. Consequently, ongoing development means occasional issues and bugs.

However, with each new version, React becomes more mature and robust. The thriving React development community ensures developers can find solutions to their problems easily.

Additional Efforts for Implementing WordPress REST API With React Might Be Required

Connecting React.js to WordPress through the REST API doesn’t guarantee instant speed improvements. Extensive data retrieval from the database, particularly for complex user interfaces, can hinder performance.

To create a truly fast WordPress theme with React, developers must go the extra mile. For example, they might need to create an indexer to optimize data retrieval or employ other workarounds to enhance the efficiency of the React-WordPress combination.

If you find this overwhelming, the Site Slinger WordPress development team can handle React WordPress theme development for you. With years of experience in React.js, we have created numerous custom WordPress themes harnessing the power of this advanced technology.

React WordPress Theme Development: Frequently Asked Questions

Does a React WordPress theme work well on mobile devices?

Certainly! React is a versatile solution that ensures seamless rendering across all devices. React apps can be built to deliver a flawless user experience on both desktop and mobile platforms.

What about the SEO-friendliness of React?

Search engine optimization can be a challenge when building React apps due to factors like JavaScript rendering and metadata management. Although Google can crawl and index client-side rendered websites, other search engines and SEO tools may have limitations.

To address these issues, developers can employ techniques such as creating isomorphic React apps or utilizing pre-rendering. Isomorphic apps can render on both the client and server sides, enabling search engines to access content while JavaScript loads in the background. Frameworks like Next.js and Gatsby facilitate the development process and help solve SEO-related problems.

Why Is creating React components so efficient?

When building UIs, developers often rely on modern CSS frameworks like Bootstrap, Tailwind CSS, or Material Design. These frameworks offer pre-built components that can be easily integrated into React apps, saving significant development time. By leveraging these ready-to-use components, developers can focus on customizing and scaling their apps without starting from scratch.

Is React suitable for WordPress theme development?

Yes, React is a viable option for WordPress theme development since the introduction of the REST API functionality in the core system. With the decoupling of the back-end and front-end, developers can leverage various technologies to create custom WordPress themes. React.js stands out as one of the best choices, allowing seamless communication with the WordPress back-end through HTTP calls and JSON objects.

What are the benefits of using React for WordPress theme development?

  • Simple Syntax: React offers an easy-to-master syntax, making it accessible for front-end developers of any level.
  • Component Reusability: React components can be easily reused across different applications, making the development process faster and more efficient.
  • Virtual DOM Implementation: React’s virtual DOM concept enables rendering only the elements that have changed, resulting in exceptionally fast UI updates.

Can React be used to build custom WordPress themes from scratch?

Absolutely! Building a React.js WordPress theme from scratch gives site owners complete control over every aspect of their websites. Rather than relying on pre-designed themes and struggling to customize them, React empowers developers to create tailor-made themes that perfectly align with their business needs.

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