Installing WordPress in a Second Semester Class

Differences between operative systems is a major challenge when you teach WordPress. Experiences from a real life classroom session in a second semester multimedia designer class.

Yesterday I introduced WP to a second semester class. So these notes are based on my own reflections after the session.

First a strategic overview:

The class used XAMPP as a local development environment during their first semester. 32 students were present. 22 had a Windows PC.  10 students or so used a Mac. That is: as far as I remember.

I had a PC, but decided to demonstrate the installation on a system with Windows 10.

In XAMPP a database was created. We used PhpMyAdmin. All created a database named wordpress with utf8. So far so good.

Then the class downloaded the latest version of WordPress, from WordPress.org > latest. That was the easy part. No problems whatsoever here. They unzipped the files to ../htdocs/wordpress/..

In theory they had to edit these lines in wp-config.php:

/** MySQL database username */
define('DB_USER', 'root');

/** MySQL database password */
define('DB_PASSWORD', ' ');

/** MySQL hostname */
define('DB_HOST', 'localhost');

/** Database Charset to use in creating database tables. */
define('DB_CHARSET', 'utf8');

Here the differences between the operative systems proved a major challenge.

  • Most students had WP up and running with no problems.
  • Around five Windows users had problems with XAMPP. The cure was: reinstall.
Mac challenges

So far so good. But the Macs was the real problem. They had to use a password. But: what is the password?

A workaround was used: give a password to root. That was a bad idea. Don’t do it at home, please. XAMPP worked all right, but now the users could not enter PhpMyAdmin from the administration panel!

A better workaround was this: create a new user for the database wordpress and grant all privileges to that user.

Didactic challenge

As a teacher it’s allways a challenge, when 1/3 of a class has to do one type of work – while 2/3 of the class is waiting. To this add some 5-6 students, where XAMPP crashed half a year ago or so. While these studens were fighting with XAMPP-related challenges the ones with WordPress up and running grew impatient.

That’s natural I guess.

Introducing WordPress features

Most of the systems were up and running around 10:30. However a few still had problems, so they were advised follow introductions to posts, pages, menus, themes etc. from 10:30 – 11:30.

During that session, they also tried to personalize the theme with costumize.

Themes and child themes

After lunch I gave an introduction to themes. First I introduced the “sandwich” concept of:

I had developed a minimum viable skeleton theme with as little markup as I felt possible. So I demonstrated:

During this part of the class I downloaded the zip from git and instlled the petj-mvp theme on the fly from a downloaded zip.

I hope that this demo gave an idea of the inner workings of a theme. But skeleton themes are ugly. The last part was an introduction to Twenty Seventeen.

We made a child theme. As far as I could see most of the students had no problems making a child theme of Twenty Seventeen. I demonstrated how to change the footer.php in the child theme:

  • Copy footer.php to the child theme folder.
  • Add a h1 tag (or similar) and add a message.
The last session

So most of the class had WordPress up and running. But still 4-5 students had problems. I decided to focus on these students, and let the rest of the class prepare for the next day .. that is somewhere else.

I had to go through the computers, and look at strange XAMPP problems. Some installations refused to work even though everything seemed fine.

As a workaround these students installed WordPress via Bitnami. This installation works like a charm. But I knew that the files are saved in another location.

C:\xampp\apps\wordpress\htdocs

On a Mac the files are in a similar folder, but of course in:

/Applications/XAMPP/apps/wordpress/htdocs/

Again the Mac users had to unlock the folders in order to upload images etc.

14:20 Leaving the classroom

The last student had his WordPress up and running @14:20. So much for the famous “Five minutes install”. WordPress is not the problem here. It’s XAMPP and the differences between the operative systems. Here’s a huge stumbling block for WordPress teachers.

As a teacher I need a local development platform, where WordPress just works out of the box on any platform – be it Mac, Windows or Linux.

Working on a minimal viable theme

Minimum viable WordPress theme (petj-mvp)
Minimum viable WordPress theme (petj-mvp)

The concept “minimal viable production” is a common concept in agile projects. I’m working on a minimal viable WordPress theme. The rules are:

  • The theme must validate according to WordPress Standards.
  • The design is not important.

So it’s all about function then. You can follow the development of the theme here (petj-mvp).

The design is inspired by the first WordPress theme: Kubrick.

Theme Development Process

The theme development process
The theme development process (Do you want a bigger picture? Click on the image.)
Process notes:
How to make and debug a WordPress theme
Toolbox

Automation (Nodejs)

Nodejs is a must in rapid development. Here are some essential tools.

SASS

Much template work is tweaking the CSS. A stylesheet preprocessor is a nice-to-have. Here’s how to use SASS:

sass --watch input.scss:style.css
Bower

Bower is a nice package manager.  Install libraries, e.g.:

bower install jquery bootstrap jquery-ui --save

The libraries are saved in the bower_components directory. The –save option will save dependencies in bower.json. If you download a repo without dependencies, they’re installed in this way:

bower install

Yep, that’s it.

Bower is installed via npm (part of Nodejs):

npm install -g bower

Version Control

Github

Here’s a link to (my work-in-progress) theme:

Github is made for group work. Code may be forked into branches, and versions merged to a mutual production.

Projects will give the group a nice kanban for work organization. Users may rise Issues.

Ready for Upload

When all is ready you can upload the theme for review on WordPress. Delete whatever files and directories that you don’t need.

Hidden files and directories must be removed.

If you use minfied scripts and css a non-minified version should be available. The files in the WordPress theme pool should be in clear text.

Then you can try to upload the theme for review.

Challenge: Write a Theme

One thing is to review themes. Another is to get it through the needle’s eye. Here’s the quest.

  • Hack a theme that’ll meet all requirements and WordPress standards.
  • The aim of the theme is to teach how to write a theme.

In this way the theme will be usefull not only for me, but for anyone who wants to learn how to make a theme.

Development environment

The core-WordPress themes don’t use preprocessors and similar. They want a clear and easy to read code. The aim of the core themes is to teach the art of theming.

I’m working on a LAMP server. So the code and methods will be easy to follow for any *NIX user. But we should not forget Windows users. Here’s a challenge. I don’t use Windows any more.

Nodejs

However in the business rapid development is often used. My approach is to develop a theme with Nodejs tools, such as:

  • Bower (package manager)
  • Sass (CSS preprocessor)
  • Gulp (compiling, automatic test)
  • Github will play a major role for versioning.
WordPress standards

The theme is an attempt to follow WordPress coding standards. Theme review tools, such as debugger plugins and code sniffers will be used. So will the theme debugger plugin. And of course the debugging features in WordPress must be activated. Edit these lines in wp-config.php:

 // Enable WP_DEBUG mode
define( 'WP_DEBUG', true );

// Enable Debug logging to the /wp-content/debug.log file
define( 'WP_DEBUG_LOG', true );

// Disable display of errors and warnings 
define( 'WP_DEBUG_DISPLAY', false );
@ini_set( 'display_errors', 0 );

// Use dev versions of core JS and CSS files (only needed if you are modifying these core files)
define( 'SCRIPT_DEBUG', true );
Brainstorm

Multimedia designers tend to love animations. I’ll make a theme with many creative features, such as:

  • Animated splash frontpage (demonstrate costum pages).
  • CSS and JavaScript libraries (demonstrate how to implement external scripts and libraries). Such as:
    • Jquery, Jquery-ui (styling GUI elements).
    • Bootstrap (responsive grid, and menu)
    • Tweenjs or perhaps Wagerfield’s cool Parallax library

Something along these lines. You know: floating goblins, fairies, and creatures out of norse legends of old. That kind of stuff.

Review: WordPress for Beginners (New for 2017)

If your’re running a WordPress blog or similar “WordPress for Beginners” is a source of inspiration and knowledge. For web developers: this book is not for you!

Focus on Beginners

Perhaps I should have known: “… for beginners” may just mean “for beginners”. I bought the bookazine. At home it was opened. Not much about code here. Most chapters focus on the GUI usage.

What the web developer may find

Towards the end however things get more interesting, that is: for the web developers. There’s a chapter about the WP-CLI . And some tutorials. Anyone with a little knowledge of CSS would be able to follow the tutorials.

The bookazine’s focus on the end user makes sense. This book is what most people need in order to get up and running with any WordPress site – especially if you run a blog or similar on wordpress.com.

There’s good advice on how to choose plugins and themes. Twenty different themes are reviewed. Theme customization is introduced.

Here things get fun: fading buttons, hovering slide out menus, and so on.

The strength of the book is a clear focus on the WordPress beginner. The text does what it says.

Recommendation

 

Didactic Template

Maat - a Bootstrap theme with wp-navwalker
Maat – a Bootstrap theme with wp-navwalker. It’s still a very rough prototype. By now the code validates according to WordPress standards.

I’m working on a didactic template with these features:

  • Bootstrap (for responsive web design)
  • Wp-navwalker (for the menu)

During the development I’ve used SASS and Bower for rapid prototyping. The theme was validated by the theme check plugin.

Curriculum 2nd Semester

Twenty Seventeen: screenshot.png
Twenty Seventeen: screenshot.png

Reflow to the business academy

Friday: on a meeting we prepared for the upcoming semester.

I told the 2nd semester team about the ideas behind Twenty Seventeen. In many ways the theme for our first project and Twenty Seventeen are similar.

It’s interesting to note, that topics we’ve worked on for the last two -three years find its way to official WordPress themes. For instance Twenty Seventeen is defined as immersive.

The Role as WP Theme-reviewer

Anthropological field study II: experiences from the role as a theme-reviewer on make.wordpress.org

It’s the next logical step

To me the next logical step is to engage in themes. Since 2010 or so I have dabbled with themes. Testing themes is a challenge. Doing so will give valuable skills. That’s why I try out this role. The standards for WordPress themes are well defined. Working with review gives:

  • Knowledge about WordPress coding standards.
  • Experience with the role as reviewer and giving feedback to developers.
  • Experience with code validation. Not just the good old W3 validation services. It’s codesniffing with automation tools, such as phpcs.

Here bash commands, such as grep, is a great help too. It’s relatively easy to find lines, styles, classes, get_header, and so on. Testing themes is more than:

phpcs --standard=WordPress /wp-content/themes/themeName

Knowing the role

I guess that anyone starting out in a new role is bound to make errors here and there. Trying to engage in the open source community isn’t easy at all. By now I see two classes of theme-reviewers:

  • Theme reviewers: they determin whether a theme is mature for publication.
  • When the theme is approved, it’s passed to key-theme-reviewers.
  • They give the final judgement.

There are two layers of control here.

Enviromment

The theme reviewers meet on Slack.  Here they chat and help each others with day-to-day problems.

The themes are reviewed on Trac. Getting into the WordPress repositories is not easy at all. I saw one theme, that tried to get in for 5 months or so.

Impact on classes

This knowledge is valuable for the business academies. We need knowledge about the coding standards in the business. But we also have to be pragmatic.

I guess that sometimes it’s important to get the feeling of “IT WORKS!”. Validating the code according to the stern standards of professional WordPress developers would be a didactic suicide in the classroom.

At least I think that’s the case where I teach.

Our students should be able to code a child theme or a theme from scratch. You can say that they work with frontend.

Linux Mint

I use Linux Mint on Virtual Box as the theme-review platform. Doing a total review is somewhat time consuming. Even with codesniffers. I developed a template in markdown for the review, and went trough the list of theme requirements.

Here’s the list of requirements:

Required

A Fellow Researcher

WordPress used by researcher to publish findings
WordPress used by researcher to publish findings

Observation

Today a fellow researcher mentioned that she wanted to publish her findings on a WordPress blog. The researchers with a multimedia background promised to give an introduction to “add images and media“.

Deduction I: WordPress is everywhere. It’s not just a question of the odd multimedia designer student mocking up a web presence or webshop. WordPress is a tool for researchers too.

Deducton II: WordPress is used because you can publish without code knowledge. The ease of use is a major key to the influence of WordPress.

 

Theme Review Platform

Theme Review Platform
Theme Review Platform
  • The recommended plugins for theme reviewing are installed on a localhost/wordpress/
  • The PHP codesniffer is ready too

So basicly everything is ready in order to enter the phase of the anthropological field study:

The theme review quest.