The Protostar template is one of the two front end templates that come included with a Joomla 3+ installation. Protostar is a fairly simple template, but it is responsive for proper display on a variety of devices.

You have the choice of using one of the two included templates for the front end or installing a 3rd party template. This is a choice that you should make early on when developing your site. Different templates will display your content in very different way and may affect how you organize that content.

The Protostar template is a good starting point if you just want to make a few changes to the appearance and functionality of the site. It is like a blank canvas. You don't have to know a great deal about the Joomla API statements and PHP as you would if you created a template from the ground up.

Protostar as a base for a customized template

If you have the time and the knowledge to build your own template from scratch, the Protostar template can be modified to look pretty much however you wish. It pulls together the basic components of Joomla and the PHP and Joomla UI are already present. 

Appearance

You can modify the basic appearance of Protostar fairly easily if you understand CSS style sheets. You can change colors, fonts, backgrounds and column widths simply by adding or editing lines in a style sheet.

Layout

If you want to do major changes to the layout or add module positions, you can do that as well. You will need to edit the index.php and possibly templateDetails.xml files. To make changes at this level you should have a good understanding of HTML markup. There is PHP scripting in index.php that is essential for the site to load properly. You should at least know enough to understand basic concepts of PHP.

Functionality

If you have a good understanding of the Joomla API, you can change these settings in the Protostar template. You can make changes to the index.php and add Template Overrides. The Joomla API are the bits and pieces of the Joomla interface that pull in other information from the core files to create the web page.

Joomla Updates

If you do any modifications to the Protostar template, you run the risk of losing these changes when you upgrade the cory Joomla files. You need to take proper precautions to not lose your customization. Add a custom style sheet and keep a log and comment any changes that you make to the template files. You may also choose to copy and rename the modified Protostar template so that Joomla upgrades won't overwrite the files.

Using 3rd Party Templates for your Joomla site

3rd Party Templates are templates that are ready to go. You don't have to do any styling. You can just start adding your own content. There are free templates and those that come at a cost.

3rd Party Templates may be simple or quite complicated. They may have many settings to make your site look unique. These settings may include font choices, colors, layout and backgrounds. These templates may have a large range of positions for your modules or other special ways to present the content.

There are pros and cons to using 3rd Party Templates.

Pros

  • the template is ready to go, you don't spend time with major styling
  • they may have some very nice features or options that add to the appeal of your web site
  • they may be specifically designed to work with other extensions, such as eCommerce, social, forums, etc.

Cons

  • there may be a cost for the template, or you may find you need to add other paid for extensions to get the functionality that you want.
  • the template may not be available for the next major upgrade for Joomla
  • they can be rather complicated
  • the core files may have extensive overrides that cause problems with some Joomla features
  • you are relying on the expertise and abilities of other developers
  • they can add security risks or other vulnerabilities

Things to watch out for when using 3rd Party Templates

Do your homework before installing 3rd party templates.

  • Choose templates from reliable sources. 
  • Be sure the template you choose works with the latest release of Joomla
  • Look at reviews for the template you choose.
  • Do a search in the Joomla forum to see if there are many posts with problems associated with the template.
  • Is there support for the template if you run into problems?
  • Is there a forum to research or post questions?
  • Will the template provider keep up with new releases of Joomla?

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