If you’ve spent any time at all in the realm of WordPress, you’ve probably heard about “child themes.” You can go to numerous websites and find child themes for Divi, StudioPress, GeneratePress, and any other WordPress framework you can think of. But what is a child theme?
Essentially, a child theme is a stripped-down derivative of a given WordPress theme. The creation of a child theme copies all the elements and functionality of the original theme but allows you to make changes, edit code, etc., without affecting the integrity of the original theme. All of your changes are made within the child theme; the original theme is left untouched.
So, why is a child theme important?
Great question, glad you asked. If you are building a website without creating a child of your theme, your changes, alterations, code edits, et al. are directly affecting the theme itself. Not such a big deal — until it is.
One of the great things about WordPress is that the community is constantly improving and upgrading how WordPress and its themes and plugins function. These updates often mean changes to the underlying structural code of a theme. If you have altered a theme without creating a child, those updates will very likely break (for lack of a better word) your website.
How? Well, in altering the theme, you changed the code. Updates also change the code. And updates, being based in the original code, take precedence over your changes. Therefore, updates may overwrite the changes you made, messing with the look and function of your site. However, a child theme handles all of your changes while the original theme maintains its inherent integrity by staying up-to-date with the new code. Your site keeps functioning and stays updated, and keeps looking how you want it to look.
I just won’t update the theme
Okay, that seems like an easy solution, especially if you’ve already spent a ton of time working on your website without creating a child theme. But remember, WordPress and its plugins are updated on a regular basis, too. Not updating your theme might work for a bit, but eventually, updates to other parts of the website puzzle are going to outstrip your theme’s functionality. Leading, once again, to a “broken” website. Fixing it is going to require a lot more work in the long run than just creating your child theme in the first place. Even if it means starting over now.
Creating your site’s child theme
There are a couple of options when it comes to creating a child from your site’s original theme. You can go about creating a directory for the child, along with a stylesheet.css and functions.php, and writing all the necessary code to ensure your site works properly. If you want to go that route, be sure to check out what the WordPress Codex has to say on creating child themes.
Personally, I’ve never seen a need to reinvent the wheel. I use the Child Theme Creator by Orbisius plugin to do all of my child theme creations. A few clicks and filling in some fields, and the plugin does all the hard work for you. I’ve had great success using this plugin over the years with a variety of themes, up to and including Divi and GeneratePress.
Do NOT under any circumstances uninstall your original theme after creating your child theme. The child theme only handles the changes you make to your site; the original theme keeps everything else in check.