What is a WordPress Child Theme?

How many times you have found a website or forum talking about how to customize your WordPress website and they refer to WordPress themes as child themes?

WordPress Parent and Child Themes

A parent theme refers to the current theme that is active on your website. On the other hand, a child theme is a copy of your parent theme, mainly used to customize it.

What?

Yes, a child theme is some kind of a copy of your parent theme:

  • It inherits all the functionalities and styles of its parent.
  • Allows you to safely customize it.
  • And in some cases, override parts of the parent theme too.

What about the WordPress Customizer?

The WordPress customizer is a good way to apply changes to our theme, allowing us to edit some sections, colors, fonts, headings, etc. But it has its limitations too.

When we want to add a new template for a custom post type, change the way a part of our blog is displayed or add a new custom section, the odds are that we need to modify our theme directly. Using a child theme is the best way to do it.

Why do I need a WordPress Child Theme?

Now we know what a parent and children themes are, but why do you need a child theme?

Update your parent theme safely and don’t lose your customizations

If you customize your parent theme CSS files, or add a custom function to your functions.php file, whenever you update your parent theme all your changes will be lost, because the update will overwrite all the old files with new ones.

As we said before, a WordPress child theme allows us to customize and override our parent theme. That is, we can add custom content to the styles, add new files, modify the functions.php file, and we won’t lose our changes.

And last but not least, working with a child theme won’t stop us from updating our parent theme because we don’t want to lose our customizations. That means, we will be receiving the latest features and security and performance updates from the theme creators.

Debug new features easily

With a WordPress child theme, it’s easier to add and test new features and customizations. A child theme is only composed of two files, unlike a parent theme that can be composed of lot of files.

If our parent theme works flawlessly, then we added something and a bug appeared, it must be located in our child theme.

With this simplicity, it’s simpler to track down bugs and erratic behaviors in our custom code.

Customize what you need, the parent takes care of the rest

One of the best advantages of using a WordPress child theme is that we only customize what we need. That means, we don’t need to worry about all the other files and parts of the theme.

Whichever peace of code that we don’t customize or override using the child theme, will use the parent code as a fallback. Yes, our parent still got our backs.

Disadvantages of using a WordPress Child Theme

Now we know what can be done with a WordPress Child theme. Everything has its pros and cons:

  • In order to get the most out of a WordPress Child Theme, we need to know a little bit of coding.
  • We need to learn how our parent theme works, so we know how to modify it.
  • The parent theme can stop using a feature that we are using in the child theme, so it’ll stop working. It’s not common, but still a possibility.

Summary

In this post we learned what a WordPress Child Theme is. How it can be used to extend and customize our current WordPress theme, and why would we need to use a child theme instead of customizing our parent theme directly.

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