WordPress Child Themes Tutorial

WordPress Child Themes Tutorial

Do you need a child theme?

If you’re not satisfied with the customization options that the WordPress theme you’re using provides then you have to take matters into your own hands. Even if that theme gives you hundreds of options (like our themes do) there’s still something which probably doesn’t get your boat floating smoothly enough.

Or maybe you’re the extra creative type that really needs to make everything his own and is never satisfied. Or maybe you’re a serial killer, coming from a broken family, with a long history of drug and alcohol abuse and you’re just starting your first blog about hand-crafted torture equipment and we all know how picky serial killers can get. Too specific? Let’s move on.

Why do you need a child theme?

Yes, you can edit theme files directly, but then, when you make an update you’ll lose all your customizations and blame the theme developers for it. Or, option no. 2: you can choose to never update the theme after you make your changes. But that way you lose all future bug-fixes and extra features that come with future theme updates. Not to mention that one day you might completely forget about your customizations and hit that ‘Update’ button without giving it a second thought. Who are you going to blame then, ha? Ha? You’ll need a mirror for this one.

This is why it’s better to never touch theme files and unconditionally love and embrace WordPress’ child themes. It may take 5 minutes out of your life now but it will save you a lot more in the long run.

Can you handle the truth a child theme?

If you want to get things done your way, if you want the ultimate customization power at your fingertips you will have to go the extra mile. Don’t worry, it’s not an actual mile nor a kilometre – it’s more like a couple of yards/meters and we’re here to walk that distance with you. Multiple times if we have to.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • As you’ll have to add a few files to your server, you’ll need FTP access to the server and a FTP client (we’ll suggest one). This is recommended but not 100% necessary because after creating the child theme folder on your local machine you can archive that and upload it via WordPress (semi-manual installation). More on this later.
  • You’ll also need a text editor to edit those files (we’ll suggest one as well)
  • Basic understanding of CSS and maybe HTML and PHP. But these can be learned as you go especially since you’ll be copy-pasting and editing, not creating things from scratch.
  • A couple of minutes out of your busy blogging schedule

So basically you don’t have to know anything and if child themes sound just like what the doctor ordered and you want to get a solid grip on them, you are welcomed to move on to page 2 of our tutorial. It will take you on a step-by-step journey through WordPress child themes at the end of which you will have a solid understanding of anything child theme related.

If, on the other hand, you just want to create a child theme as soon as possible, we’ve also provided a WordPress Child Theme cheat sheet. It’s a one page go-to resource of everything you need when creating a child themes. So, what will it be? The blue pill or the red one? (actual color names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved)

About Kay

The creative mind behind Cryout Creations. In charge of all you see and a lot more. Has all the great ideas but never enough coffee to make them all happen; also the lead bug designer.
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19 Responses to WordPress Child Themes Tutorial

  1. Mehul Boricha says:

    Thanks. Helped a lot to understand child themes. Keep posting :)

  2. Morgan says:

    Nice tutorial, thanks!
    What about modifying a class like the one we can find in tempera/includes/widgets.php? It seems to need a different procedure. Any tips?
    Thanks

  3. Girl Friday says:

    Hi, sorry would you kindly clarify then:

    If I make my changes in the Nirvana Settings and the Nirvan Custom CSS window…will I LOSE those changes if I update the Nirvana theme in the future???

    If I want to use a font OTHER than Google fonts or the supplied Nirvana fonts, will I need a CHILD THEME?

    and

    Am I able to install other plugins, for example, a Portfolio plugin that I like?? Will I need to have a Child Theme for that?

    I’ve used Child Themes many times with another theme company, where the Child Theme was INCLUDED with the core theme. I made CSS edits, etc. to the Child Theme, and occassonally, some php code (for Excerpts, for example).

    I’ve never used a theme where I had to CREATE a Child Theme, so I am a bit unclear on what happens to the core Nirvana theme changes that I would make under Nirvana Settings.

    thanks very much, great theme, and excellent Forum support!!

  4. Ryan says:

    Thank you for the info. If all your edits are made in the theme options panels, and the only edits above that are custom css in the custom css section of the theme options panel, is a child theme necessary?

    • Kay says:

      Hi Ryan,

      If theme settings and custom CSS are enough to make your changes then you don’t need a child theme. Only if you need heavier changes like editing actual code, creating new functions etc, then you’d need a child theme.

  5. Lauren says:

    This is excellent. I have been in need of a child theme, but was always a little apprehensive to start one.

  6. Rick says:

    Just started the tutorial, and got to the point where you recommend FileZilla. Not a bit fan of that program. It stores FTP credentials (site, user name, password) in a plain text file in the user’s folder. Easily accessible by anyone (or any hacker). Big security hole.

    I’d recommend WinSCP. Fully encrypted access, including a master password that you can set up. FileZilla works as an FTP client, but the plain-text user credential file is a big no-no for this computer security dweeb.

    If you want details on the security hole in FileZilla, I wrote about it two years ago here http://securitydawg.com/insecure-filezilla-ftp-program/ . I’ve stopped using it since then. They may have fixed it, but the developers didn’t think it was a problem two years ago, and weren’t going to fix it then.

  7. Christian says:

    Is every Theme able to handle a child-version? Might be a silly question, but I bought the “make”-Theme from TheThemeFoundry and by doing like described in this tutorial, wordpress reports that the child-theme cannot be activated because the parent theme is missing. But both folders exist: “Make” & “Make-child” and the style.css in the child-folder is like explained above ….. hm??

    • Zed says:

      We don’t usually answer questions that are not related to our own creations, but themes need to be written to support child theme advanced functionality override. Otherwise, all you’re able to change via child themes is CSS and the standard page/section templates.
      Also, the parent theme name is case sensitive, so “make” and “Make” are two different parent themes.

  8. This might sound like a stupid question, but what is the purpose of a child theme? Is it placed on a subdomain or what exactly?

  9. Framed Recipes says:

    Thanks. Great introduction to child themes. Now I need to get my hands dirty…. :)

  10. Pam says:

    Is Mantra compatible with the Hueman parent theme?

  11. This is just what I have been needing to educate myself on, Thanks so much! I’ve been able to use theme options for most of the websites I’ve worked on but was really in need of a child theme for my current project and saw the Cryout updates on the Tempera theme options page – it’s like you knew I just needed this short tutorial to acquaint myself with child themes :-)

    First time using the Tempera theme by the way and I love the adaptability – will definitely be using it again!

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