child theme

WordPress is used on 29 percent of the world’s websites, and one of its most flexible features is the ability to quickly change themes. Many users customize themes to their particular needs and then run into trouble when the theme updates or is found to have a major exploit. This is why it is important to create a WordPress child theme that inherits the functionality of the parent theme but is unaffected by updates and security patches. The following outlines why and when you should use a child theme along with the advantages and disadvantages.

Why Do People Use WordPress Child Themes?

In many cases, developers and designers create child themes to speed up the process of their work. The key is choosing the right parent theme or framework that has many options for customization and functionality. This will help you avoid having to touch any code or spend hours trying to make something work. The main reason for creating a child theme is for customization while being able to apply updates to the parent theme when necessary.

You can create a WordPress child theme by placing a style sheet inside of a new folder. In the header of the style sheet, you add one line of code to define the template. You can add as many templates to a child theme as you want, including those that are not part of the parent theme.

When Should You Use a Child Theme?

Using a WordPress child theme is dependent on the needs of the user. If your project has only a few requirements or is very large and complex, you should consider having a standalone theme built. Generally, a user who frequently modifies header, footer or adds to a theme’s style sheet or functions file should consider creating a child theme. You may have also considered using a custom CSS plugin. If your style modifications are minimal, a plugin will work well. If you are making major shifts in color and the placement of elements, you should consider creating a WordPress child theme.

One of the biggest mistakes in making a child theme is choosing the wrong parent theme. While all WordPress themes can become child themes, not all of them offer enough functionality to make it worthwhile. In addition, if you find yourself replacing the majority of the parent theme files, you should consider building a custom standalone theme instead. A WordPress child theme should be created and used when you need the features, functions and power of a parent theme but do not want to write the code yourself.

WordPress Child Theme Advantages

There are three distinct advantages to using a child theme –

    • Update safely – When you create a WordPress child theme, it will inherit the templates, styles and features of the parent theme. You can change the look of your site in the child theme without having to modify anything in the parent theme. When a new version of the parent theme becomes available, you can update it without losing any of your customization.
    • Extend easily – If your child theme is built on top of a framework, you gain a great deal of flexibility. You can selectively edit functions and templates without having to modify other files. You can also add functionality anywhere in the theme.
    • Fallback anytime – If you were building a standalone theme, you would be forced to code for every possible situation. With a WordPress child theme, you can always use the parent theme’s functionality if you accidentally leave out code.

WordPress Child Theme Disadvantages

One major drawback of using a child theme is the time that is required to learn the details of the parent theme. If you do not have experience using a framework, the learning curve can be steep, namely because of the filters and hooks. You have to know how to use them in order to maximize your site’s potential; however, you will only have to do this once. The first WordPress child theme you build may take a great deal of time, but after that point, you will become faster at creating custom themes for your site.

Another risk of using a child theme is the developer of the parent theme may decide to stop working on the project or discontinue a feature that you need. In some cases, a major change may be introduced that breaks your child theme. Since WordPress themes are open source, someone else in the community may step up and continue work on your parent theme. If you need a removed feature, you do have the option of adding it to your child theme because you already have a copy of the code. As a last resort, you can stop upgrading the parent theme, but this may make your site vulnerable to exploits. Updating is always recommended.

Final Thoughts

WordPress child themes are an excellent way to utilize the functionality of a powerful parent theme while adding your own customization. By knowing exactly what you need for your site and its design, you can choose the right parent theme and get the most out of the experience.

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