This post is part of a series of WordPress framework reviews where we assess and compare the frameworks that received the most votes in our Best WordPress Framework poll. Check out the wrap-up or take a look at the reviews for Headway, Ultimatum, Divi Builder, or Gantry.

Update 7/9/16: Gantry has released v5.3 which includes inheritance. This addresses one of our major concerns with the framework. We’ll update the review at a later date but you can find out more about the update here.

The Gantry framework has been around for years. Developed by RocketTheme, It powers a large number of WordPress websites and practically all of RocketTheme’s many premium themes. There are two major versions in the wild; 4.x and 5.x. We’ll be reviewing the latter as it’s the future of the framework.

Gantry WordPress Framework Review

The Gantry Framework

Gantry Layout Manager

The Gantry layout manager is simple to use but powerful.

Gantry installs as a plugin in WordPress and requires the installation of the Timber plugin. The requirement of Timber isn’t listed on the download page and if you try to use Gantry without it you’ll see an error notice. Why not include the Timber library in the framework, or at least link to it from the download page? Seems like an odd choice and it certainly can raise an eyebrow the first time you install Gantry, but it’s easy enough to install.

Once you’ve got Gantry and Timber installed, you’ll need to install a theme. Unlike other frameworks, you don’t create a new template or theme from scratch. Instead, you download and install the free Hyrdrogen theme (or pay for one of their premium themes) and modify it to suit your needs. Although it’s possible to create your own Gantry theme, it’s not an easy process and RocketTheme even warns that it may “conflict with terms and conditions provided by some third-party theme providers.”

Once you have a theme installed you can start playing around with Gantry. The framework uses Outlines to control the layout of content and allows you to assign different Outlines to different types of content easily through the best designed assignment interface we’ve seen to date. You can assign an outline to pages or posts individually, in bulk, by category, by tags, and so on. It’s basically an improved version of Gantry 4’s assignment system and that’s a good thing.

Gantry's Assignments Interface

Framework developers take note: this is how you build an assignments interface.

The “Base Outline” is the default and applies to anything that doesn’t have an override assigned. Most of the functionality of Gantry is found here – styles, settings, content defaults, layouts and assignments. Creating a new outline simply copies and overrides the Base Outline for any content that it is assigned to. It’s a system that works well and is easy to manage, but has a fatal flaw: there isn’t any inheritance. That means that you can’t set a row or particle (module) as global to work the same way throughout the site.

For example, let’s say you have a header. Pretty much every website does. You have your header setup just how you want in your Base Outline and then you create a new outline for your pages and another one for your posts. Those outlines are copies of the Base Outline, but if you change the header in any of them, it only affects that header. Not the others. This means you’ll need to make the change in every outline that contains that element every time you make a change.

The developers of Gantry are aware of this limitation and have been planning a fix, but as of now the issue is present and it’s a deal breaker. One of the selling points of any framework is the ability to easily build custom layouts quickly that are easy to manage and adjust and that simply isn’t going to be the case on a Gantry powered site until inheritance is added.

Another weakness of Gantry is responsive design. Although the Hydrogen theme is responsive out of the box, customizing that is going to require some work. Let’s say you have a header for desktop that doesn’t quite work on mobile. You’ll have to create a second header – in each outline – and use CSS classes to hide one on desktops and and make the other visible on mobile. Simple toggle buttons integrated into the options for sections, rows, and pixels would be a much better solution.

The hits keep coming. Want to add a new section to your layout? Code it. Need to export your design to another theme? Not possible; if you switch to a different Gantry theme, all of your work stays in your existing theme. Gantry includes a menu editor that could use some polish and feels like an after thought compared to the layout manager and other areas. It does add the ability to customize the look and feel of the menu more than you can do without code in the default WordPress menu editor, but it needs some work to be more intuitive.

Gantry Templates

Gantry itself is free and open source, but you’ll need a theme to actually use it. You can download and install Hydrogen for free which gives you a simple theme to build off of but not much more. The developers are planning to create a new default theme and an interactive demo site, but that’s probably down the road a bit.

You can also purchase a premium theme that uses Gantry 5 from RocketTheme. These come with custom particles and additional sections, but are functionally the same as Hydrogen. The premium themes also contain a lot of “Simple Content” particles – basically fancy text blocks – which may make things a bit more laborious from a design standpoint.

In a way the simplicity of Hydrogen is a strength. It helps you understand Gantry without bogging you down with someone else’s idea of how a site should be designed. It doesn’t come with many pre-made outlines and the presets are just different color schemes but that’s probably enough to get most people started in Gantry. To us, Hydrogen feels like a stop-gap measure; something between a fully fleshed out free theme and the ability to create a theme from scratch.

Conclusions

RocketTheme has a lot of experience with frameworks and it is evident in their latest offering. Gantry 4 was a solid effort used for years by people all around the world and Gantry 5 is a worthy follow-up that just isn’t complete yet. Once inheritance is added, the user interface becomes a little less dependent on CSS classes, and they add the ability to create a theme from scratch within the graphical interface of the framework, Gantry is going to be tough to beat.

In our benchmarks Gantry had a very strong showing; it even topped the default WordPress theme in page load times for the About Us page and the homepage. This shows that the code is clean, well optimized, and should scale well on larger sites. We’re looking forward to future updates.

WordPress Frameworks Benchmarks

 

Methodology

A new WordPress installation was created for each framework using the latest version of WordPress (4.4.2) and the framework as of early April, 2016. Each was a clean install using the ZIP from WordPress.org and a separate database, but all running from the same server. No further optimization was enabled, and no caching was configured. Only the plugins required by the frameworks and/or their templates were added and the two plugins included with WordPress were removed.

We considered manually re-creating a generic layout using each framework but decided to implement templates created by their developers instead. Not only did this reduce the already lengthy testing and review process, but it allowed us to test the frameworks using templates the developers themselves deemed high quality and suited to their audience. In order to have comparable test results we chose templates that were similar in design and made sure that all content ran off of our test server rather than being pulled from third party sites.

YSlow Grade

"YSlow grades web page based on one of three predefined ruleset or a user-defined ruleset. It offers suggestions for improving the page's performance, summarizes the page's components, displays statistics about the page, and provides tools for performance analysis."

  • WordPress - Twenty Sixteen 93% 93%
  • Gantry - Hydrogen 92% 92%
  • Headway - White Wash 91% 91%
  • Elegant Themes - Divi 90% 90%
  • Ultimatum - Clean 89% 89%

Google Page Speed

"When you profile a web page with PageSpeed, it evaluates the page's conformance to a number of different rules. These rules are general front-end best practices you can apply at any stage of web development."

  • Elegant Themes - Divi 97% 97%
  • Ultimatum - Clean 96% 96%
  • WordPress - Twenty Sixteen 94% 94%
  • Gantry - Hydrogen 93% 93%
  • Headway - White Wash 87% 87%

Page Load Times - Homepage

After installing each framework and a simple template/layout we measured the page load times of each three times using GTmetrix.com and averaged the scores to come up with a final value. The clear winner here is Gantry and their Hydrogen theme, which impressively outscored the default WordPress Twenty Sixteen theme.

1.13s Gantry - Hydrogen WINNER

1.29s WordPress - Twenty Sixteen

1.41s Elegant Themes - Divi

1.60s Headway - White Wash

1.92s Ultimatum - Clean

Page Load Times - About Us Page

For a more apples-to-apples comparison we also tested a simple About Us page with each framework. This consisted of the default header/footer, three paragraphs of lorem ipsum, and a single image. As you can see, the rankings were largely the same. The surprise was that two of the five frameworks actually had slower sub-pages than homepages.

0.93s Gantry - Hydrogen WINNER

0.97s WordPress - Twenty Sixteen

1.63s Elegant Themes - Divi

1.71s Ultimatum - Clean

1.72s Headway - White Wash

What We Tested

Here's what each homepage looked like after it was setup on our test server.

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