Release: Arras 1.8

This Arras release lays a bit of foundation for development into the future. There are a couple additions and changes that typical users will notice. There is even more that […]

This Arras release lays a bit of foundation for development into the future. There are a couple additions and changes that typical users will notice. There is even more that has changed in the code “under the hood”. Here’s the scoop!

Arras 1.8 is The last Arras version you’ll have to manually install.

You’ll still have to install Arras 1.8 manually (via FTP, or however you’ve been doing it). However, once you install Arras 1.8, you’ll find a new option to allow WordPress to check for updates along with other themes and plugins. I’ve made this an option that Arras users will need to enable for those who want to test any updates before having them go live on your site.

Style Updates for Color Schemes

As I was going through the style files, I found several places where the intended styling for the alternate color schemes was never fully implemented. Specifically, on widget title bars and other similar components, alternate color schemes have displayed as a solid color bar:

Old widget title in solid blue

Old widget title in blue scheme

However, the intention for these was for them to be displayed with a white gradient overlay to match the gradient overlay that we’re all used to in the default styling:

Arras 1.8 implements these now as they were intended for all color schemes.

Compressed Style and Image Files

On the modern web, site load speed is at a premium. Search engines factor page speed into search rankings and visitors expect near instantaneous page loads.

In order to speed things up, Arras 1.8 implements compressed style and image files. The compressed versions will be loaded by default on most sites. The un-compressed versions are still shipped with the theme (as well as the new SASS source style files, see below), and you can (for example on a test site) force the un-compressed versions to load by setting the SCRIPT_DEBUG constant in your WordPress config.php file.

New Sample Child Theme

One of the things Arras users have loved about the theme is the ability to customize, tinker and override the default styling. In the past, this has been done by the inclusion of a user.css file. However, in modern WordPress themes, the best practice recommendation is to use a child theme for these kinds of modifications. The process is a bit less intuitive for beginners, but assures that customizations don’t get reset or removed with theme updates.

With that in mind, a new Sample Child Theme ships with Arras 1.8 to demonstrate specifically how to override the default (and alternate) styles.

New PHP Version Requirement

As announced previously, Arras 1.8 will require PHP 5.6 or higher in order to run. Although WordPress will run on PHP 5.2, PHP versions less than 5.6 are no longer supported by the PHP project. The current WordPress recommendation is PHP 7.0 or higher. Arras is now being optimized for PHP 7.1. The current version of PHP, released last month, is PHP 7.2.

New “Under the Hood”

Arras 1.8 introduces several new components that you won’t see during ordinary use, but which move Arras toward current web development standards. (Non-geeks can probably stop reading here, and just feel good that Arras is moving toward development best practices in a number of ways!)

  1. Composer Dependency Package Manager and PSR-4 Namespacing and Autoloading. Composer is the standard dependency manager for PHP. By introducing it to Arras now, we lay the foundation for using cool stuff from all over the PHP Open-source community. We also get the immediate benefit of using the Composer built-in PSR-4 autoloader to manage the new Arras Theme classes.
  2. Object Oriented (OO) Theme Class and AssetService Class. As development proceeds, more and more of Arras will be moved into an OO architecture. In Arras 1.8, the new style loading that senses and responds to the site’s server environment is done through the new AssetService class.
  3. SASS CSS Pre-processing and NPM/Gulp Build Automation. Style files are now generated from SASS stylesheets and built using Gulp automation. SASS will allow a more rapid development of style schema variations and will facilitate developing responsive capabilities for mobile browsers. Gulp allows us to distribute compressed and un-compressed versions of styles, images, and in the near future scripts. It also runs some automatic error checking.

For all these changes, Arras 1.8 is still not optimized for responsive browsers and mobile devices. With this groundwork in place, getting Arras up to speed with the iPhone/Android world will be the next priority.

Photo by Andy K.

About Caspar Green

Caspar Green has been doing web stuff stuff since before Y2K and working with WordPress since 2007. He is the owner and Sr. Developer of iCaspar Web Development, based in Potsdam, NY.