Update: WordPress Theme Submission Requirements

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Note: This post hasn't been updated in over 2 years.


Last week we announced our newly published and recently updated WordPress theme submission requirements, which raised lots of valuable discussion over in the forum post. The insight everyone provided was valuable and greatly appreciated. It also reminded us that we need to be including more community input, from a wider group, from much earlier stages! Where you provided feedback and it was not taken on board, we also really apologise and hope the clarifications below address your concerns better this time.

The process also made it obvious that we hadn’t been communicating clearly enough at the launch of these submission requirements, which we’ll provide further clarification on here. We will continue working harder at improving our communications, especially from within the Review team and covering all other aspects of review.

What were we trying to do?

We’ve spent quite a lot of time discussing and thinking about our WordPress theme requirements and feel they are a great start but will obviously need tweaks along the way. Overall, the requirements, while not perfect, are a fantastic (and long awaited) step forward for our community of authors and buyers.

The goals for these submission requirements were:

  1. To [finally!] publish our current requirements.
  2. To update our currently used requirements to be more inline with current development standards.
  3. To begin using an iterative approach to update requirements based on your feedback and evolving industry standards.

While we should have done a better job communicating these goals, we still feel that we’re on the right track to improving things for ThemeForest and our awesome community of WordPress theme authors. 🙂

Why are we doing this?

Overall, making our review standards both more up to date and more public is an important step towards improvements that are to the benefit of the community as a whole—always our most important focus. Here’s why we think this is so important for both Marketplace authors and the general community:

  1. Improving ThemeForest’s library quality which will improve the experience and satisfaction buyers have and, ultimately, lead to more sales for authors and fewer support requests.
  2. Making the authoring process easier and more transparent, which has long been a frustrating and often mysterious area and shouldn’t be. A clearer authoring process and path to getting themes accepted leading to fewer rejections, happier authors and buyers, more sales and a bigger and better theme library!
  3. Increasing the involvement our community has in the review process will help improve the system overall and ensure that we’re all working towards the same goals. We don’t want the review process to be an unnecessary roadblock and we want your help towards improving it. Making our requirements public means that we’re making it easier for you to be involved in updating and refining these standards.

Revised Timelines & Requirements

We have made some tweaks and corrections to the submission requirements, although much of the requirements are still there. From feedback you’ve given us, however, it’s clear we need to allow more time for some of these requirements to go into effect and to ensure everyone is clear on the new requirements.  So we’re splitting the introduction into two phases, extending the timelines and we will be listening to and adjusting the requirements based on the feedback we get.

Please note that this launch plan is only for new themes being submitted, and will not affect existing themes. We have no immediate plans for the next six months to apply these requirements to ThemeForest’s existing library.

In the future, we will be actively working towards library re-reviews to bring the library up to these new standards. When the time comes, library re-reviews will be in steps and we will work in advance with authors to minimize negative affects on authors’ production of themes and ongoing sales. This will be an important phase, as maintenance is a part of selling themes. Over time, they need to be updated.

The goal with re-reviews is to improve ThemeForest’s library quality for the betterment of buyers (which in turn is better for authors!), but these will be carefully thought out, there will be long lead times and plenty of communication.

Phase One – taking effect for new items on September 9th, 2013

This first phase of the submission requirements includes only the general standards that are widely supported by the community.  According to your feedback these requirements can be comfortably adopted and the community supports these clear standards. (Don’t worry guys, we’ve dropped jshint as a requirement in favor of strict mode.)

The majority of these requirements are already operating in the Review team but they have not previously been made available in one permanent, public location.  We are setting an eight week timeline (from the original launch post) to gather any additional feedback and will adjust the requirements as necessary.

Phase Two – Tentatively taking effect for new items November, 2013

While we lay the groundwork by introducing the basic Phase One standards, we’ll begin to look at the requirements that raised a lot of discussion and that are far more time-consuming for authors to implement.

We’re going to aim for November of this year to have this phase of the requirements be applied to new items during the review process, but we’ll be working with the community to ensure authors are ready, the impacts are minimal and everyone has had a chance to provide us with their feedback. This will also give us an opportunity to improve and refine these more difficult requirements to best fit the community.

The main requirement in Phase Two is cleaner separation between a theme’s design and the features it provides. For more specifics, please see the updated submission requirements section of the revised knowledgebase article.  We welcome your feedback.

Q & A on Phase Two

Here’s some further clarification on the hot questions in Phase Two of the requirements launch, being asked following last week’s launch of the WordPress submission requirements. There’s sure to be more questions, so please ask them in the forum thread here and we’ll clarify as soon as possible.

Why move functionality into plugins instead of themes?

This is about separation of concerns. Themes should be responsible for the look and feel of a website, while plugins take care of the functionality. This is precisely why the two exist.

Moving functionality from the theme to a plugin allows for modularity and portability, which has advantages for both customers and authors:

  • For the customer, by using a plugin, it’s simpler to enable and disable functionality as needed while still using the same theme. They can also switch themes without fear that the data they’ve spent hours entering into a custom post type is going to vanish from sight.
  • For the author, it’s simpler to use the same piece of functionality across multiple themes. Building functionality for a particular niche is no easy task, and this makes using that functionality with multiple designs easier.

Are shortcodes permitted?

Shortcodes will be permitted in plugins, but not integrated into the theme itself. Among other things, this makes life easier for customers if they ever need to swap themes, their content isn’t suddenly littered with unhandled shortcodes.

Why should I make all my custom functionality available in a free plugin?

We’re actually not at all asking you to do this. You’re welcome to release your plugin on the WordPress.org repository if you’d like, or you can include it with the theme as a zipped package. You can also provide updates via a private server (a good article on that here), or even sell your plugins via CodeCanyon as an upsell.

Where should styling for plugins live?

Your plugin can have default styling if required, and your theme can override it. Think of this in terms of re-purposing your plugin. For example, if you have several themes that all use the plugin, it should have the base styling that all those themes would use, then each individual theme sets and overrides styles for that theme’s needs.

Won’t having a number of plugins and themes mean lots of CSS and JS files?

While there may be a couple more CSS and JS files doing things this way, it will be negligible. Even then, it’s easily fixed with caching plugins that provide concatenation and minification of a site’s CSS and JS files.

Who supports my theme and my plugins?

Nothing changes here. You support your theme and plugins, at your discretion, as always. It’s been asked, “Who supports my plugin if it’s being used with someone else’s theme?” You do, but of course, you needn’t guarantee that it will work with any and every theme.

A good example of this is the ZillaShortcodes plugin. This plugin states clearly in the description that it’s “compatible with any theme, but use ours and we’ll style it to match.” It’s really up to you how you manage support for both your themes and plugins.

If I provide custom plugins with my themes, what license are they under?

They will be under the same license as everything in the main download file of that item. Whether that’s our Regular License, Extended License, or 100% GPL, the same license applies to the plugins as the themes (unless the plugins are already under another license of their own, which will then apply).

Thank You!

Thanks, everyone, for your patience and valuable feedback while we roll out these WordPress submission requirements. We hope this adds clarity to the many important questions you’ve had! Please be sure to let us know if you have more questions via the forum thread covering this update and we’ll continue clarifying and working with everyone to get these requirements in tip-top shape!

  • PrimaThemes

    Thanks for the update and make it clearer for us…

  • JoNa

    Thanks a lot for the great work! This is a huge step forward and I’m really glad to see it happens 🙂

    • Jarel

      Thanks for the feedback! Great to hear! 🙂

  • Jarel
  • Andrew

    Is there any movement on the ability to offer developer (unlimited domain) licences for plugins and/or themes?

  • smartdatasoft

    hello, Jarel

    I have one concern that is some theme which have layout builder. and which generate the layout and content. If theme changes those layout will not work. In that case what is the condition . Layout builder is allowable in plugins?

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  • Great job by entire ThemeForest team and ultimately a great thing for entire WordPress community. I’m so glad to see Envato taking the initiative of letting both its sellers and buyers know what a WordPress theme is and what it isn’t.

    And for those concerned about pulling plugin functionality out of a theme, if WooThemes never did it (plus they released it as a free plugin), there would be no WooCommerce, so hopefully this leads to a few more plugins like that, covering different types of functionality.

    Everyone wins, even authors of current top selling “themelugins”, because they get to learn how it’s supposed to be done.

  • I was about to start selling WordPress themes on Themeforest, but reading this, it looks like you guys made it much difficult by using plugins for themes.

    • Hey Rishi, it should actually be even easier! If you have some specific questions, please jump in to the forum thread ( http://themeforest.net/forums/thread/update-wordpress-theme-submission-requirements/103347 ) and we’ll be happy to help ease your concerns 🙂

    • It’s not about “using plugins for themes”, it’s about “using plugins for plugins instead of using themes for plugins”. And that requirement alone is the best thing that happened to WordPress community in a long time.

      Finally, both users and developers will get educated about what a theme is and what it should never be (and why) and since Envato was responsible for majority of theme buyers expecting the theme to be everything but the kitchen sink it’s great that they are taking the initiative to fix that.

  • I think it’s a good idea to use a plugin for such things as shortcodes, what about custom fields, are there any limitations of what the plugin / plugin framework can, can’t have?

    • Japh will probably respond, but let me try as well.

      Anything that messes up the website or causes site owner to lose some of her content when you switch to another theme = plugin territory.

    • I agree with Slobodan, also I would say that the separation can generally be thought of as: visual VS functional.

    • That sure is a more clear to describe it 🙂

  • Andrew

    @Slobodan Manic – well said, man. Agree entirely.

    It’s a bit depressing to hear all of this about “what happens if someone else uses my code?”

    Live with it, people. Where would any of us be without the ability to learn from and build on the shoulders of everyone else’s code.

    Delighted that Envato has done this.

    • 🙂

      Exactly. That question gets even more depressing (or sillier, depending on how you look at it) when you consider the fact that code you’re developing is going to be used with and can’t function without open-source software.

  • Andy

    In my opinion, this is bad business. Having standards is good, but forcing the authors hand in some areas is just overstepping your roll. Remember, you guys are a payment processor that does really good marketing, you don’t actually make anything. By forcing authors to conform to a methodology they disagree with you increase the chances of people finding somewhere else to sell their products.

    Not everyone agrees with these updates, myself included, and I don’t know that I will continue on with ThemeForest. Some of these changes include sacrifices that will inconvenience my customers. In honesty, the day you announced these changes I started to consider alternatives. I hope I don’t have to leave but I won’t rule it out if there is even a chance my products quality is impacted or my customers are unhappy as a result.

    You finally decided to get community feedback, but have you talked to the buyers and our customers? Do they want all these extra plugins, CSS/JS files? Do they want to keep up with remembering to install the extra plugins, updates, etc? My customers want things simple. It’s the reason features like the “one click demo content” became so popular. They want less things to do in order to achieve the website they are creating, not more.

    I’m only one person and one voice. These are my feelings on the issue and as long as my customers want things a certain way I’m never going to tell them, “But that’s not the ‘right’ way to do it according to ThemeForest (or the WP community).” I think you have built something special here and truly hope this doesn’t come back to bite you in the ass down the line. Tell us, in honesty, was this decision driven internally or is due to the bullying from that portion of the WP community that lives to criticize ThemeForest?

    • Hi Andy, I’m really sorry to hear you feel this way, especially after our update to the requirements.

      As I’m sure you’ve seen, there’s a lot of discussion about this over on the forum thread. I’d be more than happy to answer any specific concerns you have there.

    • Jarel

      Hi Andy,

      Thanks for your feedback! To answer your question, it was primarily driven by the Review team’s need to better standardize requirements items submitted must meet and publish those requirements for author awareness to make the process of authoring items for our marketplace much more transparent and straight forward.

      However, these requirements have been in discussion for quite some time from both the perspective of buyers, authors and the role Envato has. We’ve tried our best to take on feedback from “all around the table” and make the most informed decision we could that would benefit the entire community.

    • I am agreed with you Andy. And i think you are not the one who is not in fewer of this but lot of authors including me are not agreed with all these.

    • Landon

      I agree here – Envato really only plays the role of a search engine, but they take a tremendous cut especially on the new players.

      I also see a lot of counter-productive things being done by Envato such as this – I understand wanting to keep standards high to keep quality products coming in, but it gets a bit ridiculous when authors are being dictated by Envato.

      The authors who make $1,000,000+ are the ones who have marketed their products themselves, and have really worked hard and pushed to succeed. As a result, Envato advertises them in an attempt to keep their business because they can afford to leave and take their customers with them.

      This however is just my opinion and I could be wrong, just telling based on what I’ve seen.

    • Do the same code, just move some of it to plugins so your customers don’t get screwed when they buy another theme. How difficult or different is that?

    • Landon


      I think you’re missing my point entirely. It is a matter of opinion as far as which way to do it is better – if an author wants to split their code into plugins, have at it. They can mention it as a “bonus” and if they get more sales, good for them.

      But it also doesn’t change the fact that you’d be making a plugin, separate from your theme, that would have to be compatible with other themes. If you wanted to do this, no problem – but if you don’t? There’s a problem there.

      I can see Envato having basic guidelines to prevent having absolutely terrible items on ThemeForest, but to dictate authors with something like this is a completely different ballpark.

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  • chris r

    I think this is the downfall of themeforest. This won’t last, but keep these standards, I don’t want you to be the dominant player anymore.

  • smartdatasoft

    Hello, Jarel

    We are have made our theme all the standard to meat new standard. we have test theme with
    1 . woo commerce default import xml to test all there sample data,
    2. import wordpress unit test xml and watch all work
    3. check theme with several theme check plugin form wordrpess repository event themeforest theme check.
    4. Move our short code as plugin from theme.
    5. Next will move custom post type.

    Will this can ok for submission or we need some more improvement.

    Please give us suggesion. We are planing to release the theme withing few days.

  • Hi All, I though of making wordpress theme for themeforest and sell it from this year. I appreciate the changes. But I need to work more on plugins from now along with theme development.

  • Oliver Green

    I’m a big fan of standards. They usually make life easier for everybody involved. Good job on finally publishing the specification.

    In reference to the ‘plug-in’ saga, I can see exactly where you’re trying to go with this. In my opinion, fair play and good move.

    However, envato need to tread carefully and find out exactly how strong the resistance to this move is, but then again, I’m guessing you’ve spoken to most of the bigger players anyway.

    As someone mentioned, an alternative would be to have a badge marking themes that meet improved stricter coding standards, then go for a longer term transition plan, this also fits with bringing the rest of the library up to date.

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  • Hello Jarel, Very much impress with your article. I am surely going to bookmark your site for future references. But I just wanted to say is every buyer a full time or part time web development? Not all the buyers are good at wordpress, php, css, js, html. Otherwise they will make the theme by themselves. If we make the theme under the new Submission Requirements, maybe will lose a lot of users.

  • I still don’t see the point…
    You are making life harder for theme developers like us.
    High time to find alternatives…Tears

  • jerry

    Damn, Just finishing the theme (6 months work and $5k invested) now I saw this and all goes wrong. Maybe some kind of notification to the index of themeforest would be a good choice!?? Not all authors got time to check forums for reading your shit.

    • Japh

      Sorry to hear you have a bit more work to do. We announced this here on Envato Notes, it was a sticky post in the forums for several months, and it’s in the Knowledge Base. We also had it in the author dashboard announcement box for a while, and tweeted about it.

      But you’re right, we didn’t email about it, which we will be sure to also do next time.

      Best of luck with your theme though, hopefully there’s not too much extra work to do.

  • So good

  • Thanks for the update and make it clearer for us…

  • I Think Its Big Revolution !! Special Thanks to ENVATO!