WordPress – My Real World Experience: Astra Pro Theme

Astra is a very powerful WordPress theme created by Brainstorm Force. But it does have its issues. In this article I’ll discuss my real world experience trying to use Astra Pro, the paid for version, on my personal web site KennethAdams.com and this blog.

As the basis for this effort to see if this theme, and others, can get the job done, I’ve documented my theme requirements.

About This Series of Articles

WordPress – My Real World Experience: An Article Series

Trying Something Different & Hopefully Better
I’m working on creating a series of articles on my real world experience, searching for solutions using WordPress. After 100s of hours reading 100s of WordPress articles and posts, I’ve discovered that most reviews and how to articles that I’ve found on many WordPress topics, seemed to lack insights from the perspective of someone that has actually applied the subject of the article to solve a real world requirement. And then tried to share the good practices they’ve learned. So rather than write yet another review or how to that seemed disconnected from reality, I thought it might be helpful to people if I shared my real world experience putting something to use to solve my real problems.

So these articles are not designing to replace reviews and attempt to cover lots of aspects of a particular thing or topic. But rather to share my requirements, my experience and observations, and some good practices that I learned along the way, while putting something to real world use.

Read the entire series of articles here.

Newbie or New Ideas ?
My goal is to be completely open and transparent. So with that in mind, I fully volunteer that I am a newbie to WordPress. So I am approaching it with little knowledge of the history of WordPress, and experience with how it has evolved and developed over the last 2 decades. So I fully admit that when it comes to WordPress, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

But I am coming to WordPress with a lot of engineering expertise with web technologies, publishing platforms and Content Management Systems (CMSs) – among other things. So I’m hoping that gives me a fresh look that a seasoned WordPress developer or user might not have. And perhaps that could be useful as a source of new ideas and innovation, maybe ?

And that maybe that can help people.

Can Astra Support Provide Solutions ?

I’ll be sending a link to this article to Astra support to see if and what solutions they can provide to the problems and limitations that I’m encountering with Astra Pro.

I’ll update this article with what support can provide.

Most Serious Problems I’m Having with Astra Pro

Although I require a response from Astra support to all of the requirements below that I have been able to test so far, the most serious problems with Astra Pro are list below, and therefore are the highest priority for Astra support.

The lack of support for something as basic as Align Right or Left, which is supposed to float the element right or left and allow the text to flow around it, is the most shocking. These problems have to be fixed by Astra support, or I cannot use this theme.

Support All Standard WordPress Block Editor Features

My requirements discussed in this section are documented in Support All Standard WordPress Block Editor Features.

Does Not Support All Standard WordPress Block Editor Features

This is the most basic of my requirements, to Support All Standard WordPress Block Editor Features. I’ve already discovered some essential block features that Astra is not supporting, and I haven’t even tested all of them yet.

This just does not make sense to me, for any WordPress theme, but especially for a theme like Astra Pro that I would pay for every year. It makes even less sense when you consider the Astra’s creator offers Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg for free. This is a collection of addon blocks for the standard WordPress Block Editor. Yet they are not supporting the existing basic features of the builtin blocks.

Does Not Support Align/Float Right or Left

Align right or left with images is not working with the Astra theme.

I tested an out of the box, clean install of WordPress v5.3 with the WordPress Twenty Twenty theme by the WordPress team, and also with the Astra theme. The screen shots below demonstrate the standard block features working in the standard WordPress Twenty Twenty theme, but not working in the Astra theme.

Testing an Image with Align Right – WP 2020 Theme
Testing an Image with Align Right – Astra Theme

Here is a link to this Testing an Image with Align Right page.

Other Themes That Work & Do Not Work

I tested Image Align and LuckyWP Table of Contents with some other themes.

The other older themes by the WordPress team that are part of the base WordPress v5.3 install, also have the same problems that Astra has, including Twenty Nineteen, Twenty Seventeen and Twenty Sixteen. However, the theme that I am currently using on this blog, ColorMag theme from ThemeGrill works just fine, as does Twenty Twenty.

Support All Capabilities of LuckyWP Table of Contents

My requirements discussed in this section are documented in Support All Capabilities of LuckyWP Table of Contents.

Does Not Support All Capabilities of LuckyWP Table of Contents

Astra Pro is not able to, or perhaps I just can’t figure out how, to make this work properly.

Now I realize they do offer Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg which includes a Table Of Contents block. But it just does not work properly at all. It is super buggy. Or perhaps it’s the Astra theme that is super buggy.

Here is a Testing Astra’s Table of Contents Block page with this block on it. And unlike the LuckyWP Table of Contents plugin, it offers no way to control the styling and functionality in a central place for the entire WordPress site, so that the table of contents has a consistent UX across your site. Instead all of its settings are done inline in the block settings. So even if it did work, it would not be very practical, because you’d have to manually configure the settings on every post or page that you use it.

Screen Shots of LuckyWP Table of Contents

These screen shots of the LuckyWP Table of Contents with notes on them, say it all.

Testing LuckWP Table of Contents – WP 2020 Theme
Testing LuckWP Table of Contents – Astra Theme

Here is a link to this Testing LuckWP Table of Contents page.

Complete Control Over Header & Footer

My requirements discussed in this section are documented in Complete Control Over Header & Footer.

I still have to do some testing of these requirements to determine if they are met.

Complete Control Over All CSS Styles

My requirements discussed in this section are documented in Complete Control Over All CSS Styles.

The capability to control CSS looks extremely weak in Astra Pro. The only controls I could find for Headers (H1, H2, H3 to H6) in the Theme Customizer were for Typography and Colors. These are shown in the screen shots below.

Astra Theme Customize > Global > Typography > Headings
Astra Theme Customize > Global > Colors > Content

It needs UI controls for all other CSS Properties (reference at W3Schools, MDN – Mozilla Dev Net) supported by headers. Not to mention all the other elements used by WordPress blocks and Astra theme elements.

I realize there are a ton of CSS Properties and values and so building UIs for all of them is complicated. But I think that is what theme designers need to take responsibility for, since the theme is the way to control the design of WordPress. (CSS Properties reference at W3Schools, MDN – Mozilla Dev Net)

Short of that CSS UI in Customizer, I’m guessing this is going to requiring manual CSS coding through the Customize > Additional CSS.

Complete Control Over Links Styles

My requirements discussed in this section are documented in Complete Control Over Links Styles.

Astra Pro looks pretty weak at controlling the style of links. The only Astra controls that I could find in Customizer are for link color and hover color.

Astra Theme Customize > Global > Colors > Base Colors

Sticky Menu, Header & Footer

My requirements discussed in this section are documented in Sticky Menu, Header & Footer.

Astra Did Great with My Menu Requirements

Of my menu requirements, here are the some of them that Astra Pro did really well with on my personal web site KennethAdams.com. It did well on a lot of things, but in the interests of getting to solving the problems I’ve had, I do not cover all of things it did well.

Nice Interactive Menu with Good Hover Effects

In these menus, blue is the current page and purple is the menu item being the mouse is hovering over.

Astra Theme – Primary Menu

Sticky Menu with Slightly Different Style & Transparency

Astra Theme – Sticky Menu

Complete Control Over Search UX

My requirements discussed in this section are documented in Complete Control Over Search UX.

I don’t see any controls over the search UX. The only thing I can find is to turn it on or off as the last item in a menu and a simple search style selector. As shown in the screen shot below.

Astra Theme Customize > Header > Primary Menu > Search Options

Customizable Page Headers & Footers

My requirements discussed in this section are documented in Customizable Page Headers & Footers.

I still have to do some testing of these requirements to determine if they are met.

Customizable & Embeddable Blog Post Lists

My requirements discussed in this section are documented in Customizable & Embeddable Blog Post Lists.

I still have to do some testing of these requirements to determine if they are met.

Color Coded Categories

My requirements discussed in this section are documented in Color Coded Categories.

I’d like to hear from Astra Support. How can color coded categories be done with Astra Pro ? This is a specifically designed feature of the ColorMag theme from ThemeGrill so it is not in Astra Pro. But can it be done some other way ?

Support 2 Sidebars – Left & Right Simultaneously

My requirements discussed in this section are documented in Support 2 Sidebars – Left & Right Simultaneously.

Astra Pro does not support 2 sidebars, left and right, simultaneously. Here is a screen shot of the Astra customizer section for Sidebars.

Astra Theme Customize > Sidebar

And the Astra doc How to Manage Sidebars in Free Astra Theme? states:

With Astra you get three Sidebar options; viz. the right sidebar, left sidebar and an option that disables the sidebar.

FYI: There is no Sidebar doc in the Astra Pro Modules section, so this appears to be the only doc relevant to this issue.

Nice Astra Extras

I very much like the nice extra that Astra provides. Although I haven’t tried out most of them yet, because I encountered some pretty serious problems that I documented here.

Here is a screen shot of those extras.

Astra Theme – Appearance > Astra Options > Extend Astra with free plugins

I did try out 2 of these plugins so far.

Import / Export Customizer Settings

This was handy and saved a bunch of time when moving Astra Customizer Settings from a staging WordPress to a production WordPress.

However it did have a problem with the site logo used in the menu. Although the exact same image file did exist with the same name in the Media Library of both WordPress installs, it did not come over correctly. I had to manually select the image again to fix it.

I hope that does not continue to be a problem, because I expect to use this feature a lot, to stage changes, and then bring them over to production.

Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg

These Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg are free. This is a collection of addon blocks for the standard WordPress Block Editor.

This was a nice surprise, however when testing the Table Of Contents block, I am finding that they are not supporting the existing basic features of the builtin blocks. Once again Align Right and Align Left are not supporting floating the block and flowing the text around it. I described this in more detail in the Does Not Support All Capabilities of LuckyWP Table of Contents section above.

I hope the other blocks work well, because I really want to this to be useful.

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Ken Adams

Writer, software engineer, Agile coach, Scrum Master. Check out my LinkedIn profile at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kennethbadams

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