In this post we intend to cover a few niche topics like what’s meant by a child theme, the reasons behind creating a child theme and the pros and cons of using a child theme.
Based on the article you will gain a firm grasp of child themes and if you should use a child theme or not?
What’s meant by a WordPress child theme?
Child themes are similar to parent themes in every respect.
A WordPress child theme is a theme that inherits all the design features of a parent theme.
Let’s say you’ve X theme. The child theme Y will be exactly same to X when it comes to design and functionalities.
So then what’s the difference?
Child themes offer something unique in the world of themes- the ability to customize it according to your tastes and not lose all of those upgrades, little tweaks and customizations when a theme is updated. It can be pretty disappointing having to lose all custom styling changes made over weeks a months. Theme updates aren’t very frequent but they do update themselves once a year or so.
The second scenario is when a theme comes with a major update to fix an exploit that gives hackers easy access to your website to take control of it and do as they please. At such junctures updating the theme turns into a necessity. And it doesn’t matter if you lose all custom styling, tweaks and design changes. Getting hacked is much more of a risk than losing design specifications.
With the introduction of parent and child themes this problem was solved. The child theme would be an exact replica of the parent features, design and the code itself. But users who could change the styling and features and also update the parent theme when an update arrives on the horizon. This allowed WordPress users to get the best of both worlds.
The biggest benefits of playing with child themes
It cuts down on the time needed to create a website from scratch. Parent themes offer customization options that can be tweaked to your desire. With the plethora of functionalities available to tweak and twist it doesn’t take long to design a WordPress site. The coding time required is much less. In most cases all a user needs to do is create a style.css file in a new folder to define the style elements of the theme. With this file in its separate folder updating the parent theme does nothing to the style elements of the child theme.
With a child theme you have the ability to modify the themes php files, and underlying code and make it uniquely your own.
You can edit the css codes.
You can edit the php template
You can edit assets like png and jpg file.
This modification is different to the changes that you make when on WordPress dashboard.
When logged in you’re allowed a certain degree of freedom to customize the look and feel of your site’s themes. But that rarely extends to the ability to edit the code.
Because if you edit the code and update to the theme comes out, all code level changes will be amiss.
WordPress themes are regularly updated and that presents a giant problem.
Are you going to rehire developers every time you want to update a theme?
Or are you going to say no to updates?
Which Parent theme should you use?
The parent theme to use should offer rich functionalities. Devoid of that you won’t be able to use a child theme.
We recommend using the Genesis framework for this.
No modification of the parent theme required
A child theme works by using the parent theme’s coding, its features and style set. Any change can be made to the child theme without ever touching the parent theme. As the parent theme updates no changes will be made to the style sheet that the child theme uses and hence the design elements are safe.
It’s easy to create a site from scratch without investing a lot of time on it or writing hundreds of lines of codes. Most templates can be left untouched with you only needing to tweak a few files.
The steep learning curve
A big problem with child themes is the learning curve involved. Especially with Genesis theme there are lot of hooks and filters to learn and master. But once learned things are easy. However you need to have the time, inclination and interest towards that..
If a parent theme runs out of funding or isn’t making that many sales developers or the company behind it may abandon ship destroying its future. There won’t be new updates and it may become prone to hacking attacks. This means you will have to start learning the ropes on another framework sooner than later and start creating another child theme.
Look for something that gets updated at least once a year and has a crucial network of developers and people backing the project. Without it you won’t have a good child theme.
There are situations that don’t always warrant a child theme. If you’re not making drastic changes to your theme and if drastic changes aren’t necessary to carry you through you might want to limit yourself to just editing the style css sheet with a CSS plugin. And that would be the end of it.
Not updating themes due to fear of loss in custom styling is a recipe for disaster.
That erects another problem.
Updates aren’t whimsical. They are introduced to allow users to get patched against vulnerabilities, before they’re exploited by hackers. Or to give its users a whole slew of options and functionalities that was not included in the initial iteration.
Given enough number of sites with a vulnerable theme a hacker will have a field day exploiting those to his advantage.
Customization is much easy with a child theme.
And you don’t run the risk of spilling milk over your hard work.