The eXceptional Child: Understanding Child Themes & How They Can eXtend Your WordPress Site


A WordPress child theme is a WordPress theme that inherits its functionality from another WordPress theme–the parent theme. Using a child theme is the best way to customize an eXisting WordPress theme because you don’t lose the ability to upgrade the theme when new functionality and security updates are released.

A WordPress child theme works in tandem with a regular WordPress theme template; the child theme actually won’t work without the parent theme. The main theme provides the styling, page templates and general look and feel of the site, while the child theme provides any changes and customization.

Before child themes, there was no easy way to upgrade the theme template files when a theme update or security patch was released. This meant your website was susceptible to security vulnerabilities, and you would miss out on the cool new functionality the theme author released. To make the update, a developer was required to comb through the changelog file of whatever update was released and manually update the files that did not affect the customization work. As you can imagine, this was a slow and imperfect process.

The WordPress community decided to solve this problem by introducing the concept of a parent theme and child theme. A child theme in WordPress inherits all the functionality, features and the code of the parent theme without making any changes to the parent theme itself. This allows users to change the styling of the parent theme and to customize theme features (such as updating the functions.php or theme-specific CSS) without losing the ability to update the parent theme.

In theory, any WordPress theme can have child themes. Of course, some WordPress themes make better parents than others.

A good parent theme (sometimes also referred to as a theme framework) usually contains its own action hooks and filters. This allows designers and developers to create a robust custom WordPress site using child themes in a fraction of the time.

Advantages to Using a WordPress Child Theme

WordPress website developers use child themes to speed up the time it takes to design and develop a website. With a good parent theme, a WordPress developer can drastically reduce the time needed to launch a new website. Good parent themes offer a lot of functionality and customization options, meaning we don’t need to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch. Good examples are column and formatting shortcodes, contact form shortcodes, and an easy-to-access back-end area to quickly add things like custom CSS tweaks and widgets.

Whether your website is a built-from-scratch custom WordPress site, or uses an off-the-shelf, professionally designed theme template, we definitely recommend using a WordPress child theme. Contact us today to learn more about creating a custom child theme for your WordPress site!