If you are new to WordPress and about to develop your first website; you may be wondering what a WordPress Child Theme is and if you really need one. If this is your first project in WordPress, and therefore it is likely a simple design, then chances are you don’t need a child theme and you may be better off without one. Let us help you determine what path you should take:
What is a WordPress Child Theme?
Hopefully you are already to the point that you understand what a WordPress theme is but for those who don’t; in short a theme is a template that defines the general parameters and functionality of the website. This includes everything from the page width, to the menu location, the fonts, colors, and every function. It is the code that controls every aspect of your site. You can use these themes (a.k.a. templates by some) to quickly get your website up and running using an existing theme.
Now let’s assume you want to change some of these parameters, perhaps you don’t like the menu location, the logo location, or the number of footer widgets. In most themes you would need to rewrite some code to make these changes to the theme itself. Then a year later the theme is updated for security reasons, and your changes are all lost when you install the update.
Not so if you use a WordPress Child Theme! If you create a child of the original theme and in turn make it the active theme, the changes will reside in the child and the original theme will remain intact. Therefore, if you update the parent theme, your customizations in the child theme will not be lost. Without getting into too much detail, basically a child theme inherits all of the features and functionality of the parent theme code, and then it adds your customizations into the code.
When Should I Use a WordPress Child Theme?
For a novice, the answer may be never! You have so much to learn about WordPress Basics that you should keep things as simple as possible initially. For more advanced users, the answer is a little different. You may find a theme that has most of the functionality you are looking for but you need to tweak the design to suit your specific needs. In this case, using a child theme can dramatically speed up the design process.
Consider using a Child Theme in these scenarios:
- You anticipate that you will be constantly adding new functions to your functions.php file.
- You anticipate making regular changes to your style.css file.
- You need to develop a custom theme that is similar to an existing well-coded theme.
- The number of changes is not too extensive. If you end up modifying a large percentage of the code, you are better off starting from scratch, and developing an entirely new theme.
What are the Advantages or Disadvantages of Using a WordPress Child Theme?
- Easy Updates: When you install an update of your parent theme, the customizations you made in the child theme remain unchanged.
- Easy Extensions: You can add new functionality without reworking all of the other template files.
- Safety Net: If you develop new functionality in your child theme that simply works improperly, you can always fall back on the parent theme as a safety net.
- Steep Learning Curve: Depending on the complexity of the parent theme, there may be a steep learning curve. If you develop your own theme you will know it inside and out.
- Abandonment: If the developer of the parent theme abandons the theme you may find yourself starting over from scratch.