Interview: Mike McAlister

I enjoy talking shop with other theme developers. A few months ago I was lucky enough to get a chance to interview Mike McAlister.

For those that don’t know Mike, he runs a little theme shop called and is an excellent designer and developer.

Designer, developer and decision maker. Enjoys details, whitespace, coffee, notebooks, vinyl records and pizza.
Designer, developer and decision maker. Enjoys details, whitespace, coffee, notebooks, vinyl records and pizza.

When Mike and I did the interview, he had just launched a rebranding of Array. We discussed the importance of good design, the economics of the theme business, and how he first got into building themes. Continue reading

Migrating to Digital Ocean

I’ve had a number of tiny WordPress sites on shared hosting (BlueHost) for over a decade. It’s been pretty great. Shared hosting has a lot of benefits: it’s cheap, it’s relatively easy to manage, e-mail is included, and there’s basic support.

The drawback is that servers aren’t generally optimized for WordPress performance, and once a site begins to scale in traffic you need to move it to a managed host or a VPS.


I’ve been wanting to try DigitalOcean (one of the many cloud providers) because my hosting bills have been growing. I still have my basic shared hosting with BlueHost, but I also have large sites on WP Engine, and a VPS with WiredTree. They’ve all been great and have their own benefits, but the idea of consolidating into one provider and reducing my hosting bill significantly is a huge draw. Continue reading

Customizer Panels and Field Types

WordPress 4.0 introduced a few new features for the customizer, including panels and input field types. This post on the Core Make blog explains the updates well- but since I was experimenting with it today I thought I’d post a few more examples.


I put together a code snippet that registers a custom panel, section, and then displays a few of the new field types: url, e-mail, password, textarea, date, and range. Arguably the only real useful ones are textarea and range as you’ll see in the notes below. Continue reading

How to Install a Purchased Theme

When you purchase a WordPress theme you’ll generally get a download link for the zip file. To upload this theme to your site involves a couple simple steps.

  1. Log into your WordPress site, and go to “Appearances > Themes” menu item
  2. Click the “Add New” button at the top of the screen
  3. Click the “Upload Theme” button at the top of the screen
  4. Now choose the .zip file that you have of the theme click “Install Now”

Add New


Upload Theme


Overwriting a Theme

If you are uploading a newer version of an existing theme, you will likely get this message:

“Destination folder already exists. Theme install failed.”

In that case, you will need to temporarily switch themes (perhaps to the default). Find the theme you want to replace, click “Theme Details” and then click “Delete”. Now you can upload the newer version.

Additional Notes

  • If you use, you cannot upload your own themes.
  • If your zip file contains multiple themes, you’ll need to unzip it, and then re-zip each theme individually.
  • Purchase themes only from trusted sources- otherwise you run the risk of getting a hacked version (no fun).

Interface Experiments


If you’ve written a post on recently you may have noticed that Automattic is testing a new interface. It removes a lot of the the clutter of navigation bars and metaboxes, leaving writers to focus on the writing.

Besides the visual changes, it appears the interface is powered completely by javascript. Publishing new posts and updating meta doesn’t require a new page load like the current version of WordPress core does. The updates are done through a JSON API, which is one of the exciting features slated for core in WordPress 4.1. Continue reading

Enqueue Script Relative to PHP File

The Customizer Library is package of helper classes and functions that developers can use in their themes. Since I don’t necessarily know what the folder will be named or where it will be located in the theme- any javascript needs to be loaded relative to the file that enqueues it.

To do that, I use this trick to determine the URL for the script relative to the file:

$path = str_replace( WP_CONTENT_DIR, WP_CONTENT_URL, dirname( __FILE__ ) );
wp_enqueue_script( 'example-script', $path . '/js/example.js' );

You can see the actual code here:

Of course, if you do know the path to the JS file, it’s recommended you use:

wp_enqueue_script( 'example-script', get_template_directory_uri() . '/path/example.js' );

And this is just for themes. If you’re doing this in a plugin, you can use:

wp_enqueue_script( 'example-script', plugins_url( 'path/example.js' , dirname(__FILE__) ) );

Hope this helps!

Social Menu Links

I (like most everyone) have number of social profiles spread across the web. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, GitHub, etc. I tend to think of my website as my “home” on the web- it’s the only place I have complete control over the content, design and functionality. But I like to link to these other sites so folks can find me and engage there. For most brands and companies this is an essential requirement for their website.


There’s a number of ways for users to add social links. The simplest is to use the default WordPress menus and have text links. These can be added in a menu area or a widget. There’s also a few plugins that have purpose built widgets or absolute positioned icons that can work with most any theme.

But in most cases icon links in the menu are the best option for linking. Icons don’t take up much space and they’re immediately identifiable.

If a theme doesn’t support social icons by default, there are a couple plugins that allow you to use icon sets by adding classes to menu. Font Awesome 4 Menus is one. But since this is such an essential feature for most sites, I think it’s great when the theme itself handles it. This ensures that the icons used also match the rest of the theme design. Continue reading

Customizer Library

I’ve been working on a new project called the Customizer Library. It’s a collection of classes and functions that make it a bit easier to develop for the WordPress Customizer. It also includes helper functions for Google fonts and inline styles- though I’m considering moving these off into their own repositories as they might not be needed for all projects.

I’ve created a GitHub repository for the Customizer Library that can be included in a theme/plugin as a submodule. I also created a demo theme with example code so developers can get a quick idea of how it works and what it does. I’ve tried to document as much as possible on GitHub- so view the readmes there for implementation details.


I think the reason the Options Framework has been so successful is because it reduced a really complex task (developing an options page) to a really simple task (defining an array). It abstracted the complexity of adding an admin page, generating field markup, sanitizing the data, and saving the options.

The WordPress Customizer is simple in comparison. There’s just one spot to load the controls and WordPress handles the generation of field markup for the most part. But it still doesn’t provide a default data sanitization and the syntax is more complex than it needs to be. Continue reading