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What Is a WordPress Child Theme? Pros, Cons, and More

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Are you wondering what a WordPress child theme is and whether you should create one?

WordPress child themes let users and developers customize their WordPress sites without losing their customizations when a theme update is rolled out. However, they come with some advantages and disadvantages that you may want to consider.

In this article, we will explain what a WordPress child theme is and help you decide whether or not you should be using one.

What is a WordPress Child Theme? Pros, Cons, and More

What Is a Child Theme in WordPress?

In WordPress, a child theme inherits the functionality, features, and style of another WordPress theme, also called the parent theme.

When you customize a child theme, the parent theme won’t be affected. That’s why many developers use child themes to preserve their theme customizations that could get lost if the parent theme was updated.

The first step in creating a child theme is to choose a good parent theme. You can use any WordPress theme as a parent theme, but some themes are more suitable than others.

For example, theme frameworks make excellent parent themes. They include the core functions of a theme but not the styling.

These theme frameworks allow designers and developers to easily create many different child themes that are styled differently without having to rewrite a lot of the same functions.

Genesis theme framework

It’s also good to choose a theme that has the look and customization features you need for your website to achieve its goals. This way, you won’t have to make a lot of changes.

If you are interested in using a child theme, then you can read our guide on how to create a child theme in WordPress.

Why Use a WordPress Child Theme?

As mentioned, many developers use a WordPress child theme to preserve their customization options when there is a theme update. In this case, your parent theme will get updated, but it won’t affect your active child theme.

Not to mention, child themes can protect your website against potential WordPress security issues. If the parent theme turns out to have significant bugs in an update, those won’t affect your child theme.

Theme updates

For developers, using a child theme is also a fast and efficient way to customize a WordPress website. They can quickly implement custom styles, template modifications, or additional functionality without modifying the parent theme’s core files.

Pros and Cons of Using WordPress Child Themes

Like most things, there are advantages and disadvantages to using a WordPress child theme. Let’s take a look at the advantages first.

Advantages of a WordPress Child Theme:

  • Safe Updates: By using a child theme, you keep all your custom changes separate from the main theme. This means you can update the parent theme without losing your customizations, as they are safely stored in the child theme.
  • Easy to Extend: A child theme built on a powerful theme framework allows a great deal of flexibility without writing a lot of code. You only need to modify the template files and functions that you wish to customize.
  • Fallback Safe: When you create a complete theme, you need to think about every possible scenario. When you don’t code for something in a child theme, then the parent theme’s functionality is available as the fallback option.

Disadvantages of a WordPress Child Theme:

  • Learning Curve: You need to invest time learning about the parent theme, especially when you have chosen a robust framework with its own hooks and filters. However, once you know the parent theme, you will be able to create custom websites in no time.
  • Parent Theme Dependence: The parent theme developer may abandon the theme. Technically, you can continue to use it even if abandoned, but it may not work as well. Also, consider using reputable theme frameworks like Genesis with a good track record.

The pros and cons of using a child theme will also depend on the theme you’re using as a parent theme, so let’s take a look at that next.

The Importance of Selecting a Good Parent Theme

The reason why it’s important to choose a good parent theme is to save time.

We often hear from beginners making the mistake of selecting a parent theme that doesn’t offer much functionality. They end up having to override most of the parent theme files.

Let’s say you choose a parent theme and decide you don’t like the way the footer looks. So, you create a new footer.php file. Then you decide you don’t like the way the header looks and create a new header.php file.

Template Files Used in a Theme

Before long, it becomes clear that you shouldn’t be using that theme as a parent theme. Instead, you could use it as a starter theme that you turn into your own custom theme.

Another option would be to choose another theme that’s much closer to what you need. This way, you don’t have to make so many changes to your child theme.

Should You Use a WordPress Child Theme?

If you are a developer, then you can use a child theme to reduce your development time when working with clients or creating your own theme.

Developers need to streamline their workflow while creating quality themes. Creating a child theme will often help you accomplish that.

Many of the sites that we build are child themes of the Genesis Theme Framework. But in some cases, we do build a standalone custom WordPress theme, such as when a project is very complex or very simple.

If you are a user, then we recommend child themes only if you find yourself constantly adding new functions to your theme’s functions.php file or are constantly modifying its style.css file.

During a WordPress meetup talk, one reader asked us about the best solution for adding custom styles. They wondered whether using a child theme or a custom CSS plugin is better.

The answer to that depends on how savvy and comfortable you are with technology. It also depends on how many customizations you are making.

A custom CSS plugin like CSS Hero works fine if you only need to modify the styles of a few elements. But if you find yourself changing the entire color scheme, for example, then you definitely should consider using a child theme.

Customize CSS

Another option is using WPCode. This plugin allows you to make changes to your functions.php file and other theme files without directly editing the code.

That way, you can run header and footer scripts without worrying about losing your customizations or breaking your website.

WPCode Pro version

For more details, you can see our guide on how to use custom code snippets in WordPress.

We hope this tutorial helped you learn what a WordPress child theme is and whether creating a child theme is a good fit for you. You may also want to check out our list of the best WordPress page builders and the best WordPress block themes for full site editing.

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Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff at WPBeginner is a team of WordPress experts led by Syed Balkhi with over 16 years of experience in WordPress, Web Hosting, eCommerce, SEO, and Marketing. Started in 2009, WPBeginner is now the largest free WordPress resource site in the industry and is often referred to as the Wikipedia for WordPress.

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105 CommentsLeave a Reply

  1. Syed Balkhi says

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  2. Jiří Vaněk says

    I have considered child theme to be a necessity for some time. Although I used to mainly use the WPCode plugin, sometimes it is necessary to insert some code into function.php as well. I’ve found it very helpful to use a child theme so that I don’t end up losing all my customizations just to update the template. In addition, I use a very simple plugin for this, which allows me to insert personal data into the template. It looks much better when the customer sees a template named after their website in their wordpress.

  3. Moinuddin Waheed says

    Thank you so much wpbeginner for clearing my doubts regarding child themes.
    I have always used the parent theme for creating websites and blogs and have never used child theme as I was of no clue about how a child theme works.
    I have a small doubt though. Having a child theme and making large changes in its functionality and changing in functions.php and styles.css, where does all these files gets stores?
    as when we update parent theme it remains intact and to my surprise it gets pushed to the parent theme as well.

    • WPBeginner Support says

      Those files would be stored in the child theme’s folder. Child themes use the styling of the parent theme and override with any specifics that you include in the child theme but the child theme does not make direct changes to the parent theme if you decide to change to the parent theme.

      Admin

  4. Arischvaran Puvanesvaran says

    Hi! Thanks for the tutorials. How should I determine when to use a FSE theme or a block theme for a site?

    • WPBeginner Support says

      There is no guaranteed better between the two, it is a question of personal preference :)

      Admin

  5. Bob Scarborough says

    What happens if I’ve already created custom headers and footers and then I create a child theme,

  6. DAVID Barnes says

    Please could you tell me we have just added a child theme to our theme whilst making changes to the style of the website, when this is complete do you keep the child theme active or do you revert back to the main template and make this active again.
    Hope this makes sense

    • WPBeginner Support says

      You would want the theme that you customized to be the active theme. That would normally be the child theme that you customize.

      Admin

      • David Barnes says

        Amazing thank you for the quick response this has to be the best website in regards to all word press related topics, it has been a gold mine of information as I navigate my way through the learning process of webdesign. VInaka

  7. Anchal says

    Hey I have a question. Does making and activating a child theme affect (drop) SEO ranks of an already ranking website that is live?

    • WPBeginner Support says

      It would depend on the specific changes but it should not affect your site’s SEO for the most part.

      Admin

  8. Adam says

    Hi, Great article on child themes. It’s exactly what I needed. Just one question? Am I right in thinking that you don’t have to install the child theme when you initially install the parent theme? That you only install it the instant you need to customize the function.php or parent theme template files?

  9. Robert A Lopez says

    Question! When activating a parent theme and a child these, do I activate both themes in my dashboard? Or do I just activate the child theme and leave the parent theme deactivated?

    I ask because, if I activate both, will I be able to determine which one is the child theme within the dashboard?

    • WPBeginner Support says

      You would want to activate the child theme and leave the parent theme deactivated. The child theme will use what it needs from the deactivated parent theme :)

      Admin

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