The Protostar template is included with the Joomla 3+ installation files. If you install your Joomla site from the Joomla 3+ download files from Joomla.org, Protostar will be the default front end template for your website. The other free included template is Beez3. Protostar is a very basic template, with very little styling and a simple framework of module positions. It uses Bootstrap 2 for its responsive design to work on a variety of screen sizes. It only has a few settings that you can change in Template Manager.

3rd party templates are those that are specifically created to work with Joomla, but created by people outside the Joomla Community at Joomla.org. You can often get a complete Joomla installation package that includes the template and when you install Joomla this way, the 3rd party template will be the default template. They will also offer a version of the template that you can upload into an existing Joomla website, just like you install any Joomla Extension. There are free 3rd party templates and others that you must pay for. These templates may or may not come with support.

The question becomes: Which template is best for your website?

Ask yourself the following questions before going too far with a new Joomla installation:

Do I want a website with styling and functionality that is ready to go right out of the box?

Do I have the time and knowledge to style the Protostar template to look how I want it to?


Protostar

The Protostar template has almost no styling applied. The few features that it does have are:

  • Select a template color: You can pick a color for certain elements of the web site.
  • Background Color: You can change the background color
  • Site Logo: Upload a logo that will be a link to the home page
  • Title: Enter a site title
  • Description: Add a site description
  • Google Font: Specify if you want to use a Google font for the headings and site title, and enter the name of the font
  • Layout: Select a static or Fluid layout

That's it. Those are the only template settings that you can select from Template Manager. Any other changes must be made by editing the actual template files: index.php, templateDetails.xml and the style sheet.

If you have a good command of CSS, you can style your Protostar template to appear as you wish. If you understand the Joomla interface adequately, you can add and modify module positions. This requires a good knowledge of HTML and an understanding of PHP and the Joomla API.

Some developers want this blank canvas that they can change as they want. If you aren't a full fledged web developer or you don't have the time to make the modifications, you likely should look into a 3rd party template.

Another reason developers my choose to use Protostar is if they are handed a layout for the website from the graphic department that they then need to develop into a website. It may be easier to start with a blank canvas and develop it how you want than to take a 3rd party template and modify it to look like the .psd from the art department.

The Protostar template is new with Joomla 3. It was designed by Open Source Matters, part of the Joomla! community. It will keep up with the Joomla upgrades. 

If you make internal modifications to the Protostar template files, you need to worry about these changes being overwritten when you upgrade Joomla. You need to make the changes in a methodical fashion so that you can replicate them when you upgrade Joomla. You also have the option of copying and renaming your Protostar template, but then you won't benefit from any upgrades to Protostar done by Joomla.


3rd Party Templates

3rd party templates can provide you with an absolutely stunning website that will be all set up and ready to go for you. These templates will already have the layout set up, a variety of fonts to choose from, module positions that are styled to look correctly and hopefully a responsive layout for a multitude of devices.

Things to consider when selecting a 3rd party template:

  • Is the provider legitimate? Research the provider through the Joomla community, see what feedback there is.
  • If the template is free or provided at a low cost, but will it function properly? 
  • Will the provider keep up with Joomla upgrades in the future?
  • Is it well built or will it make for a slow crashy website?
  • What are the options for changing the template so it appears unique?
  • Does the template offer any special features like slideshows or social website connectivity?
  • Will the provider give any support if you have questions or problems? Is there a forum for posting questions about the template?