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How to Find Which Files to Edit in WordPress Theme

Recently, one of our readers asked how do you find which files to edit in their WordPress theme? If you are new to WordPress theme development and want to customize your theme, then you need to learn which template files in your theme you need to edit. In this article, we will show you how to easily find which files to edit in WordPress theme.

How to find which WordPress theme files to edit

Template Files in WordPress Themes

WordPress themes control how your website looks to your users. Each theme contains several template files which control the appearance of a particular section or page in your WordPress theme.

For example, single.php file controls the appearance of single posts on your website. It is not the only file to do that.

If your theme does not have a single.php file, then WordPress will look for alternate templates like index.php to display the page.

Most beginners are not familiar with template hierarchy in WordPress. This makes it harder for them to figure out which files to edit when they want to customize their themes.

Having said that, let’s see how to easily find out which files to edit in your WordPress theme.

Finding Template Files in WordPress Themes

First thing you need to do is install and activate the What The File plugin. For more details, see our step by step guide on how to install a WordPress plugin.

The plugin works out of the box, and there are no settings for you to configure.

Upon activation, you need to visit your website and you will notice a new ‘What the file’ menu in WordPress admin bar.

What the file menu in WordPress admin bar

Now you need to just take your mouse over to the menu item, and it will display a drop down menu listing the template files used to display this page.

Template files used to display this page

Clicking on the file name will take you to the default WordPress file editor where you can edit that particular file.

However, we do not recommend using WordPress file editor to edit theme files because there is no undo option. If you accidentally lock yourself out of your website, then you would have to use a FTP client. That’s why we always using a FTP client and plain text editor to edit your files.

Making direct changes to your WordPress theme is also a bad idea. Those changes will disappear when you update your theme.

If you are just adding some CSS, then you can add it as custom CSS in WordPress. For all other changes you should create a child theme.

‘What The File plugin’ can help you locate the theme files that you need to copy and edit in your child theme.

Note: The menu item added by the plugin in the admin bar will be visible to all logged in users, and it has a link to an external site. You should only use this plugin in development environment.

We hope this article helped you learn how to find which files to edit in WordPress themes. You may also want to see our guide on how to test your WordPress theme against latest standards

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Reader Interactions

7 CommentsLeave a Reply

  1. Installing this plugin made my life easier. However, some of the themes just leave something like these:

    $has_sidebar = is_active_sidebar( ‘single-blog’ );
    do_action( ‘mytheme_page_header’ );

    and even some functions which I can find nowhere:

    Is there any way to find these things ?

    • You would need to manually go through the files manually, normally those would be found in the functions.php file


  2. Hi,
    nice article,
    but what if the files are not available in child theme which I have to edit ??

  3. If you copy template (.php) files to your child theme (so you can edit them and not lose your changes when the theme is updated) then what happens if the file you copied and edited is updated by the theme developer? Do you then lose the benefit of their update?

  4. How about this same kind of tool for finding out which style sheets are being applied?

  5. I had hoped to use these directions to change the Post Office Mailing Address line at the bottom of my blog. However, installing and activating the What The File plugin produced no discernible results. Nothing new appeared on my Menu Bar. Also, to be honest, your instructions left me in the dark about how I would see the plugin displayed when viewing the blog page I wished to see. (Also, I’m already a subscriber via an alternate email address).

    • Hi Bond Shands,

      Each WordPress site uses a couple of templates which are loaded on each page. For example, the header and footer templates. In order to change your postal address you will need to edit the footer.php file. However, make sure that you backup your WordPress theme before making any direct changes.



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