What You Need to Know about Child Themes in WordPress


A survey conducted in 2013 by a private company specializing in WordPress themes showed that 85% of their clients customize their themes in one way or another. The statistic is very encouraging, given the fact that WordPress openly promotes its open-source roots and ease-of-use for customization. However, there may be something you are unaware of as a WordPress user with a customized theme: you do not have to constantly reapply your customizations every time an update wipes out your work. Just use a child theme instead.

Theme updates are the bane of existence from many a WordPress site owner who has laboriously pored over line after line of code making customization changes. All it takes is one theme update to wipe out hours of work. Unfortunately, there is nothing theme designers can do about it. When a WP theme is updated, it completely overwrites all of the files on your server. As we said, a child theme is the answer.

What It Is

A child theme is a brand-new theme created from an original source, also known as the ‘parent’. Let us say you are currently using the Twenty Thirteen theme for your WordPress site. You can create a copy of that theme, establish it as a child theme, and make all the modifications you want. When the original Twenty Thirteen is updated, it never touches your child theme. All of the changes you made are left intact.

Lest you think that a child theme forever languishes without being updated, think again. All you are doing with a child theme is changing the aesthetics – what people see when they log onto your page. The nuts and bolts of your child theme are taken directly from the parent, so they are updated when the parent is updated.

Creating a Child Theme

You can create a child theme either manually or with a WP plugin. The manual method involves creating a new theme folder with a new ‘style.css’ file. The ‘style.css’ file is where you make your aesthetic modifications that can include everything from colours to fonts to the templates you choose to use. You can then upload your completed child theme and activate it the same way you would any other.

Don’t feel like creating a child theme manually? You’re in luck. Quite a few WordPress plugins do the job for you with the click of a mouse. ‘One-Click Child Theme’ is but one example. With this plugin installed and activated, you can instantly create a child of the theme currently activated on your site. Just give it a new name, modify the ‘style.css’ file to your liking, activate the theme and you’re done.

If you are tired of the aggravation of losing all of your modifications every time your WP theme is updated, consider using a child theme instead. Child themes can save you a ton of work by protecting all of your modifications from updates. There is one caution, however: creating a child from an existing child theme (also known as grandchild theme) is not recommended. You are better off starting out with a brand-new child theme if you do not like the modifications you made to your original.

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