WordPress themes today are much more sophisticated than in the past and offer a wide range of customization options. However, in many situations, we want to modify a specific function or file in the purchased template.
Of course, you can make changes directly to the template’s source code, but if you decide to update the template one day, all the changes you made will be lost, and the update will likely overwrite the files you modified.
Using a Child Theme solves this problem. A child theme allows you to make changes to the parent theme without the risk of losing them during an update. So, what are the benefits of using a child theme, and how does it work?
If you simply want to download a child theme without unnecessary explanations, you’re welcome to download a child theme from this link. Note that you need to modify the relevant details in the style.css file according to the instructions provided in step B later in the post.
Why Should You Use Child Themes?
As a general rule of thumb, it’s recommended to use child themes even if you’re planning to make minor changes to the parent theme. There are two main reasons you should consider using a child theme, especially if you plan to update the parent theme for organizational purposes in your code:
If you directly change the code in the parent theme, you’ll encounter one of the following situations when an update is released for the parent theme and you want to implement that update:
- Choose not to update the parent theme and continue working with an outdated version.
- Choose to update the parent theme and lose the changes you made.
The first option is not recommended. Beyond bug fixes and expanded theme options that updates usually provide, most website breaches occur on sites with outdated code. You can understand why the second option mentioned is a waste of time…
For Code Organization
When you add or modify code in the parent theme, you usually change code in files that can contain thousands of lines of code. Developers working on your site (or you) will have difficulty tracking these changes.
Since child themes act as a kind of fallback for the original theme, the child theme consolidates all the changes you made. This allows you, as developers, to make changes more quickly and in a more organized manner.
How Does a Child Theme Work Behind the Scenes?
So how does a child theme work? First, understand that a child theme is essentially a separate theme that relies on the main theme (the parent theme) for most of its functionality.
Child themes work at the file level. WordPress first checks if the required file exists in the child theme, and only if it doesn’t find it, it searches in the parent theme. There’s one file that deviates from this rule, and that’s the
functions.php file – this file is loaded both in the child theme and in the parent theme.
Let’s provide some practical examples and explain how you can use a child theme to modify the functionality of the original theme:
Overriding a Template File Using a Child Theme
Let’s say you want to make changes to a specific file in the parent theme, such as the
header.php file. All you need to do is copy it to the main directory of the child theme. From this point on, the file that will be loaded is the one in the child theme.
Now you can make changes to your theme’s header by editing the
header.php file in the child theme, while the original file in the parent theme remains unchanged.
If you decide to update the parent theme in the future, the
header.php file in the child theme will still contain the changes you made, so nothing will break on your site due to the update (in the context of this file).
This way, you can override any template file that exists in the main directory of the parent theme. But what if you want to override a file that doesn’t exist in the main directory but in a subdirectory?
In this case, you need to maintain the folder hierarchy in the child theme to override files in the parent theme. In other words, you need to create the same subdirectories in the child theme as in the parent theme for the file you want to override.
It’s important to understand that you can add files to the child theme that don’t exist in the parent theme. For example, you might want to create a more specific template file for a particular page or for a custom content type archive.
Overriding a Function in the Parent Theme Using a Child Theme
I previously wrote a detailed guide on how to override an existing function in the parent theme using a child theme, so I won’t elaborate on this topic again. Feel free to check it out if you’re interested…
While there are many words in this post, the steps to create a child template are straightforward and essentially involve copying and pasting, and creating a few files as I hope you’ve understood.
Creating a child template can save you a lot of headaches in the future and allows you to update the parent template whenever you want without worrying about losing your changes. Additionally, it enables you to work in a more organized and structured way in terms of code.
By the way, you’re welcome to download the child template we’ve created, but make sure to modify the code in the
style.css file according to your parent template’s directory name. If you have any tips on child templates, feel free to share them with us, and as always, you’re welcome to comment and discuss… 🙂