I was contracted recently by Allusis Productions to create a backend for the soon-to-be-released Liberty Sports Group site. After going over the client’s requirements, I decided WordPress would be the best fit for the site. Here is an overview of my experience setting up and theming WordPress 3.1.

At first, I thought the process of customizing (eg: hacking) WordPress to work with a client site would be awful. I’d done it previously (probably incorrectly), with an early release of WordPress 2.x. The site works well enough, but because I’ve hacked it, upgrading WordPress would be extremely time consuming.

With that in mind, I gave myself a rule: any hacks must go into a plugin. Which meant that I had to learn how to create a plugin.

Plug it in, plug it in

When I read up on WordPress plugin development I was pleasantly surprised to see a great deal of documentation. It seems that the WordPress documentation, as a whole, has gotten better by leaps and bounds since I’ve used it (which was about 4 or 5 years ago).

Additionally, I learned a great deal on plugin architecture, WordPress hooks, etc. from examining other plugins. If you need to write a plugin of your own, pick apart one that is similar.

I ended up writing two plugins; one is just a collection of small admin hacks, and the other is an affiliate banner manager. The admin plugin does stuff like change the admin footer text. The affiliate banner manager allows a user to upload an image and URL, which is then rotated on the front of the site.

I won’t go into the all of the plugins I’ve installed, but I will advise you to be weary of what you install. There are thousands of plugins available, many are great, but many are full of bugs or security vulnerabilities.


The setup I went with may be a little unusual to some WordPress developers, unless you’ve worked with Ruby On Rails and Capistrano before.

Of course, the entire site is managed with Git. The root structure looks like this:

    ...Wordpress files here

I’ve setup capistrano stages for production and staging. This allows us to test changes on a different server than production.

I’ve chosen to keep our wp-config.php files out of the repository. Developers can create their own to develop locally without affecting the staging or production sites. When we deploy, capistrano symlinks the appropriate config file.

The workflow for us now is basically:

  • Make edits locally
  • Commit and push changes to staging: git commit && git push origin staging
  • Deploy to staging: cap staging deploy
  • Verify changes
  • Merge staging into master: git checkout master && git merge staging
  • Push to production: git push origin master
  • Deploy to production: cap production deploy
  • Rinse and repeat

The benefits of using capistrano are awesome. If something goes wrong, you can rollback in seconds, rather than trying to edit PHP files on the fly.


The process of actually theming the site was also easier than I had imagined. The included TwentyTen theme is an excellent resource for seeing how things are done, and the WordPress Codex is getting better all the time.

The majority of my work theming the site involved taking example HTML pages which were provided to me, and placing them into the appropriate sections of the template.

The theme uses WordPress pages throughout, and custom page templates to render unique content (eg: the contact page, or registration forms). Other areas pull posts from custom categories (eg: recent news, featured photos).

The Finish Line

All in all, we got the site finished up for the first round of revisions pretty quickly. WordPress is a great content management system, and is becoming more extendible with each release. I’d recommend it for any site with blog-like content.