What is a WordPress Child Theme?

A WordPress child theme is a sub-theme that inherits all of the styles and functionality of a parent theme. By using a child theme, you can customize a theme without making changes directly to it. All of your custom changes would be made to the child theme and those changes would override matching design, features or functionality in the parent theme.

Why use a WordPress child theme?

I started using child themes to prevent problems with theme updates breaking custom code added to a theme. When a theme developer releases an update they’re either adding functionality or fixing a problem with the theme. Whenever you install the update, it overwrites all of the core theme files and will also overwrite any custom stuff you’ve added to those files. That is why updating a theme will sometimes break parts of a WordPress website.

With a WordPress child theme, your custom code is located in the child theme, which acts as your site’s main theme. You install both the parent theme and the child theme inside your WordPress installation (both absolutely have to be there for the child to work), then activate the child theme as your theme. The child theme will pull in (aka inherit) all of the styles, functions and features of the main theme but custom code built into the child theme will take precedent over matching styles and functions in the parent theme. Because of this setup, theme updates won’t break your custom styles and functions.

How do you get a WordPress child theme?

There are three main options – you can create a child theme if you’re a good coder, use a plugin to create a child theme or buy a theme that comes packaged with a child theme. I’m not going to go into detail about how all of these options work but will plan to post a video on my YouTube channel covering each. If you pay for a theme it will usually come packaged with a child theme.

I would recommend setting up a WordPress install that you can uses to play around with child themes before attempting to use one on a production website. There is a bit of a learning curve and there can be problems. After you learn how to use them, they’ll save you a lot of time and trouble!

– Tom

Tom Broadwater
TCE Media
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