One of the reasons why WordPress is the leading CMS on the web is the availability of so many themes. Be it free themes or premium ones, choices are wide. It takes less than a minute to get one installed and gives the site modern looks. But hardly will you find a theme that meets all your requirements. Quite often, you will want to customize some aspects of your theme to have that special touch you are looking for. If you change your theme, you are in for a hell of a ride when you update the theme next time. Let’s say you are using the Twenty Sixteen theme and made some changes to the footer. As soon as you update the theme, all your changes will be lost. This is when a WordPress child theme comes to the rescue.
What is a WordPress Child Theme
Here’s the official WordPress definition
A child theme is a theme that inherits the functionality and styling of another theme, called the parent theme. Child themes are the recommended way of modifying an existing theme.
What that simply means is a theme which obtains it functionality, features and styles from another theme. Just like a child which inherits from its parents, a child theme can inherit all or some properties from its parent theme. The child theme has its own unique properties which set’s it apart.
All themes in WordPress which allow a theme to inherit from it are parent themes. They have child themes which depending upon the implementation, may or may not inherit all the features and functions. Back to our update situation. This time, let’s say you made a child theme of Twenty Sixteen and applied the custom footer changes to the child theme. This time, when you update Twenty Sixteen theme, all your changes will still be available. You can now safely enjoy the enhancements and security fixes applied to your theme while retaining your changes.
Pros of WordPress Child Theme
Everything comes with its own pros and cons. Let’s have a look at the pros of child themes first
If you make changes to a theme directly, then all your changes could be gone as soon as you update the theme. Creating and editing a WordPress Child theme is the way to go when you make changes in WordPress themes. This ensures that all your customizations stay intact when parent them is updated.
You can create custom WordPress theme’s in fractions of a time using child themes. You don’t need to create the base code every single time. You can start with a theme as the base and create multiple versions, each with different functions and customizations to serve different clients.
A child theme based on a quality parent theme will be highly flexible. They come with built-in widgets, extra functionalities and more. Complex operations can be achieved using just a few lines of code.
Creating a theme from scratch is a tedious process. You need to cover all possible use case scenarios. While using child themes, you can rest assured that there will be fallback code available if you don’t implement it yourself.
Cons of WordPress Child Theme
As good as child themes are, they are not perfect. Here are the cons of a child theme
Most of the quality parent themes aka theme frameworks have a steep learning curve. Quality theme frameworks come with their own set of hooks, filters and functionalities that you must get familiar with. Without knowing them, you can forget about saving time.
You might end up biting more than you can chew if you select a wrong parent theme. Some themes are complex. They offer extended functionality. You don’t need such rich features every time. If you are just looking to add a box shadow to the header, maybe a simple CSS plugin will be sufficient. On top of that, they load lots of extra CSS and JS which might end up slowing down your site.
Parent theme reaches end of life
Things can go horribly wrong if the developers of the parent theme decide to end its support. If you don’t know the parent theme inside out, things will mess up in times of a security vulnerability. In such a case, you will have three options, stay vulnerable and hope no one notice it (good luck), try and fix it yourself or recreate the entire project with a new parent theme.
Before you start using a child theme, ask yourself whether a child theme is worth the trouble or not. Sometimes a plugin like JetPack will offer more features than you need. So no point choosing a child theme. Sometimes you may end up completely rewriting the parent theme. If you do, then you are better off creating your own theme framework. Just remember that you don’t need parent themes all the time and not all parent themes are good parents.
Now you know what a WordPress child theme is and the advantages and disadvantages of a child theme. We hope that you found this tutorial useful. Do share with us your opinions in the comment section below.