These last months have been pretty intense here at Frontity. Back in March we decided to discontinue the development of our mobile theme for WordPress publishers (also known as Frontity PRO) to place all our focus on Frontity.org: an open source framework to create WordPress themes with React.
While we await the release of the beta version, let’s make a recap of what Frontity is and some of the features you can expect to see in the framework.
- Frontity, a React framework to create WordPress themes
- An alternative rendering engine for WordPress
- Why WordPress and React?
- How does Frontity work?
- Frontity features
- Key differences from GatsbyJS
👉 Update: Frontity 1.0 is now live! Read about the release here.
Frontity, a React framework to create WordPress themes
Frontity is a free and open source framework to develop WordPress themes based on React JS.
In other words, it allows to build a React frontend for a headless WordPress site, which serves its data via the WordPress REST API.
This approach has plenty of advantages, but in order to build a WordPress theme with React there are a lot of things that developers need to learn and configure: bundling, transpiling, routing, server rendering, retrieving data from WordPress, managing state, or managing css, among many others.
Next.js and GatbsyJS are two great React frameworks that can work with WordPress but none of them is exclusively focused on this CMS. Therefore, there’s still some complex configuration and additional tooling left to the developer.
Frontity is an opinionated React framework focused on WordPress which aims to make everything simpler, even for those developers who are less familiar with React:
- Focused on WordPress: each part of the framework has been simplified and optimized to be used with WordPress.
- Opinionated framework: developers don’t need to figure out what tools to use for things like css or state management.
This all means that everything is ready so you can jump in and create a new amazing WordPress theme using React right away.
An alternative rendering engine for WordPress
Frontity can also be described as an alternative rendering engine for WordPress.
Traditionally WordPress generates HTML using a theme based on PHP template files.
When the REST API was merged into core in WordPress 4.7, developers were no longer limited to the PHP rendering engine. They could retrieve their WordPress content and use it wherever they want, which opened a new world of possibilities.
One of those possibilities is to create WordPress themes using React. That’s where Frontity comes into play.
Why WordPress and React?
As at time of writing this post, WordPress powers over 33% of the web. Its market share has been growing over the last years and it shows no sign of slowing down.
With the shift to Gutenberg as well as the rise of headless CMS approaches, the WordPress community has started considering React for their projects. Beside this, modern libraries like React are growing popularity and becoming essential to rich user experiences.
If WordPress is great and React too, then why not combine the two? Especially if you want to build a CMS-powered site with modern web development tools.
How does Frontity work?
With Frontity you still use your WordPress dashboard to edit and manage your content in exactly the same way that you are accustomed to. As you make changes content is automatically updated in your Frontity site, just as it is when using a traditional WordPress theme.
Frontity apps require a Node.js server to run on. This runs in tandem with the WordPress site which is now relegated to providing content to the frontend that is based on Frontity.
- Frontity requests content from the WordPress REST-API and uses it to generate the final HTML that is displayed in the browser.
- Frontity is also capable of generating AMP pages using the same React code and CSS.
Why a different Node.js server?
Frontity is prepared to be hosted either in a regular Node.js server or in serverless services. That makes it super cheap and infinitely scalable.
These are some of the features you can expect to see in Frontity. However, please note that not all of them will be included in the beta version.
Zero setup development
Everything is already wired up: React, Webpack, Babel, SSR, Routing, CSS-in-JS, WP REST API, TypeScript, Linting, Testing…
Frontity sends an HTML that is ready to start navigating the site, so the initial load feels almost instant. No extra assets or round trips are necessary.
Instant in-app navigation
Once React has loaded, our router prefetches other routes and data automatically. Users never have to wait when they navigate inside the app.
Best Lighthouse score
Frontity is optimized to get the maximum score in Lighthouse, including performance, SEO and accessibility. Theme developers start with 100 and they just need to maintain it while they add features to their theme.
Serverless and horizontal scaling
The Frontity server is so small it suits perfectly the serverless requirements. That means infinite scaling for the front-end. Frontity is also prepared to scale horizontally in any Node server.
Extensible (via Frontity extensions and NPM packages)
You can add new features to your theme via Frontity extensions and NPM packages.
We are working on a lot of extensions which will be available soon: Disqus comments, OneSignal push notifications, Adsense, Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Custom CSS, and more.
Apart from these extensions, there are many other interface tools specifically created for Frontity, such as context routing, swipe navigation, infinite scrolling, html-to-react, or gutenberg-to-react.
Frontity themes can also use any of the 80.000 React packages available in NPM.
Server Side Rendering
Frontity responds with a fully populated HTML file generated with React. This reduces the time required for the first contentful paint and ensures that the SEO is not harmed.
The content is retrieved using the WordPress REST API. Once React is loaded in the browser, it takes control of the page and does its magic.
If you want to learn more about Frontity’sServer Side Rendering, feel free to check out this post of our community forum.
Frontity uses webpack to split the code and send the minimum code required for the app to work. Also allows developers to dynamically load components with the help of loadable-components.
Google AMP support (in our roadmap)
Themes made with Frontity are able to render an AMP compatible version with the same React code and CSS used for the HTML version.
PWA and offline support (in our roadmap)
Our themes are aim to work with the WordPress manifest to get full PWA compatibility out of the box. Also to work offline without any extra configuration via service workers.
We’re open sourcing the internal framework we’ve been using to power big WordPress news sites during the last 2 years. Used by millions of readers, Frontity is proven for building engaging frontend experiences.
You can learn more about our story here.
Key differences from GatsbyJS
Frontity is in a sense similar to GatsbyJS, but there are some key differences:
- 100% focused on WordPress: this means the number of concepts that you as a developer need to learn are minimal. No complex configuration is necessary to get started, and the queries to the APIs that deliver the content are pre-configured for the things that developers most frequently need.
- Rendered dynamically: the HTML does not have to be rebuilt each time the content is edited or new content is published. Our preferred approach is SPR, although there are other ways to configure it.
- Extensible like WordPress: themes and extensions can be activated and deactivated without code changes.
- There is no need to learn GraphQL or the REST API. The data is available to you using Frontity’s built in State Manager.
- Frontity can output HTML suitable for Google AMP with exactly the same React codebase.
I hope this post gives you a better understanding of what Frontity is and how it works.
If you still have any questions or just want to share your thoughts, feel free to join our community forum. Any feedback on the framework is welcome too! One of our goals is to build a community of people interested in WordPress and React. We’d love to learn how Frontity can help your project.
To keep up with all things Frontity, subscribe to our newsletter here.
Update: Frontity 1.0 is already available! Read more here.