What is a WordPress Child Theme and Do You Need One?

do you need a wordpress child theme

Should you be using a WordPress child theme? Today we’re going over what a child theme is and the pros and cons of using one, so you can decide if you should use one on your own WordPress website. 

What is a WordPress Child Theme

What is a WordPress child theme?

Child themes allow WordPress developers and users to customize websites quickly. 

A child theme takes on the style, function, and features of the WordPress parent theme. The child theme can be customized without making changes to the parent theme. 

Creating a child theme runs the gamut from simple to quite complex. The simplest way to create a child theme is to create a new folder with two files, style.css and function.php. On the more complex side, child themes can house as many files as the parent theme (or more). 

Choosing a good parent theme is vital for creating a child theme. Select a theme as close as possible to the end appearance and function you desire, to limit the changes you need to make. 

Any WordPress theme can be used as a parent theme, but the suitability of some are higher than others. Theme frameworks, which include all the functionality of a theme but not the styling, make great parent themes. Theme frameworks save developers time by allowing them to create child themes with different styling without having to rewrite functions each time. 

Why Use a WordPress Child Theme?

If you have a killer parent theme, child themes allow you to drastically reduce the time it takes to build a WordPress website. Theme frameworks are a great starting point because of their vast functionality and customization options.

Keeping your theme up to date is easy with a child theme. When you update a theme, you normally lose all customizations, but if you use a child theme your customizations are protected when you update the parent theme.

The Advantage and Disadvantages of Using a Child Theme

There are pros and cons to using a WordPress child theme, let’s start with the benefits. 

Pros of Using a Child Theme

  • Worry-free updates: When using a child theme, you don’t modify or customize the parent theme, so you can update the parent theme without worrying about losing your customizations. All customizations are stored in the child theme. 
  • Saves you time: If your child theme is based on a theme framework you’ll have a ton of flexibility without writing a massive amount of code. You only need to modify the functions and files you want to customize.
  • Fail-safe: If you overlook something and forget to code for it in the child theme, the parent theme’s functionality acts as a fail-safe. This frees you from having to consider and code for every possible situation, like you have to do when building a complete theme.
Advantages of using a wordpress child theme

Cons of Using a Child Theme

  • The learning curve can be steep: You need to know your chosen parent theme or theme framework well. It will take time to learn a robust theme framework, BUT this is a temporary disadvantage. Once you’ve learned the framework, you’ll be creating websites in a fraction of the time it took you before. 
  • Dependency: You are dependent on the parent theme which can be risky if the developer drops a function that you need or abandons the theme altogether. Choose a reputable theme framework to head against this disadvantage.

The pros and cons are highly dependent on your choice of parent theme. Choosing a good one is essential. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

Why it’s Important to Select a Good Parent Theme

Choose a parent theme with a high level of functionality. If you don’t, you will end up overriding the majority of the files in the parent theme. 

If you are building a website, and you don’t like the way the header looks or functions, you would build a new header.php file. If you didn’t like the footer, you would do the same. Before long, you’ve rewritten most of the parent theme, and it becomes clear that it doesn’t really meet your needs. 

Choose a parent theme that’s as close to what you need as possible, so you don’t have to massively rewrite the child theme to meet your needs.

Should You Use a Child Theme?

If You’re a Developer

If you’re a developer creating your own WordPress themes, using a child theme just makes sense. You’ll massively reduce your development time while still being able to create quality themes. 

If You’re a User

Because of the steep learning curve, we recommend using a child theme only if you often add new functions to your functions.php file or find yourself modifying the style.css file on a regular basis.

If you’re tech-savvy and comfortable with technology, you’ll probably be ok using a child theme. However, there may be better options based on the number of customizations you are making.

If you only customize a few elements, then a custom CSS plugin should meet your needs. When it comes to larger customizations, such as changing the entire color scheme, you should probably use a child theme. 

If You Use RAEK to Collect Your First-Party Data

The best practice for installing RAEK on your website is to use the RAEK WordPress plugin. RAEK is a super lightweight plugin that doesn’t create or interact with anything, so you don’t need to worry about it affecting the functionality of your website. 

If you are unable to use the RAEK WordPress plugin, it’s best to insert the RAEK code script into a child theme, so the customization won’t be lost when your theme is updated. 

Hopefully this article has given you some guidance about what a WordPress child theme is and whether you should use one or not. 

Looking for more WordPress tips and tricks? Check out our list of the best email marketing WordPress plugins.

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The RAEK Team

RAEK was built by a group of digital marketers on a mission to help small businesses grow and easily utilize their first-party customer data.