WordPress is the most popular CMS and is now used for creating millions of websites as well as blogs. There are some basic steps that any WordPress website owners can take in order to make their life easier and their website more reliable when using WordPress. In our series of WordPress Basic Help articles we hope to help you along to make the most of your WordPress website.
WordPress Child Theme is a dummy theme that references your website to the main/original theme, therefore allowing you to protect all your customisation from being wiped out in any Theme Upgrade.
The advantages of WordPress Child Theme are many but the main benefit of Child Theme use is to Protect your Customisation. When you use a Child Theme you make all your customisations including those in CSS, PHP files, etc. within the WordPress Child Theme and not the main theme.
This means when you come to update your main theme, your customisation is protected and is not overwritten by the new version of your theme.
This is the most basic mistake most novice user make. Don’t feel bad, we see plenty of WordPress websites that have been set up by professionals that have failed to take this simple step. Despite many themes suggesting use of Child Theme and even including them in their package, you will be surprised how many people do not use it.
When WordPress is called upon to deliver content to your visitors, it looks for specific files that make up the target page. For example, it will call for header.php (for the header!), footer.php (for the footer!), CSS (Cascading Styling Sheet), etc.
When you use a Child Theme, WordPress makes the first call to the Active Child Theme. If it finds what it needs (PHP file or CSS), it will not call on the Main Theme unless the elements or file it requires are not found in the Child Theme.
Therefore, if you want to customise your Footer (footer.php), you need to copy that file to your Child Theme folder first and then edit it as you wish. The same applies to header.php, CSS, etc., which means any file you want to customise (edit), you must first copy from the original file into the Child theme folder, and then edit and save.
Once you do this, when your WordPress needs these files it will be able to find them within the WordPress Child Theme, including all the changes you have made, hence it will not make a call to the original theme for these files.
When you update your WordPress theme to the latest version, you will overwrite all the original theme files. This means any edited files will be overwritten. If you are using a Child Theme and have saved all your edited files in the Child Theme folder, they will be left intact despite updating the main Theme. As the edited files are still in your WordPress Child Theme, it means WordPress will still call the edited files and not the original theme files.
This is a neat trick which allows you to protect all your customised changes during Theme updates, and one of the key benefits of using WordPress as against Joomla or Drupal which are unable to use the same concept.
Even when using developers, insist that they create a Child Theme and ensure all your customisation is done within the Child Theme and not in your main WordPress Theme.
Child Theme protects your CSS and PHP customisation, therefore you must ensure all changes to files are carried out within the Child Theme and not on the main theme in order to protect them during future upgrades.
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