What Is a WordPress Child Theme, And Should You Use One?

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You have one exceptional website. It has gorgeous design, outstanding user experience, bespoke content, and interactive and engaging functionalities. Yet you think you can do better. You can go a step further and enhance your website a tiny bit more. Still, is it worth risking messing up your otherwise perfect website just because you seek perfection? If you know that feeling, then this article is especially for you. Today, we will give you the answer to approaching this delicate task without risking your website and original design.

Fortunately, there is one truly effortless way to achieve your goal, and it’s called a child theme. This powerful tool will allow you to explore your theme’s potential, add new functionalities, update, and even change the design without your new look going online prematurely. But why would you need a child theme? Can’t you just change the regular theme and reverse it if there is a problem? Well, you can, but that’s definitely not optimal, and you will waste a lot of time, harm your stats, and, worst of all, damage your SEO. So, while a child theme is not a necessity per se, it’s a pretty handy tool if you want to touch the building blocks of your WordPress theme.

But before we get to the scenario where you will need a child theme, let’s first address the elephant in the room.

What Is a Parent, And What Is a Child Theme?

Using WordPress gives you immense advantages. One of the biggest pluses of using the CMS King is the countless themes you can choose as the basis of your design. These are professionally made website templates that can fit any niche and need. Most often, they are enough to create and operate a fully functioning website.

WordPress Dashboard open on a computer

When you want to make additional changes to the theme but you want to keep the original code intact, WordPress gives you a solution. Using a child theme, you can change anything without risking your original template.

A child theme, as defined by the WordPress Codex, is a theme that “inherits the functionality and styling of another theme, the so-called parent theme.” But what exactly are parent and child themes, and why should you consider using them?

Parent Theme

The parent theme is the foundation of any WordPress website. Whether you have an e-commerce website, an online business card, a one-pager, or anything in between on WordPress, you have a theme that encapsulates all essential files, styles, and functions needed for your website to have any structure or design. Naturally, it can operate as a stand-alone theme, and it doesn’t need a child theme. This theme is the building block of your website, as it lays down all its essentials. As a result, most people don’t even go any further than the parent theme, as it often offers everything you may need to have a fully functional website.

Child Theme

On the other hand, the child theme is an overlay of the parent theme. It mimics its functionalities, customization, and layout while allowing you to tweak them. This gives you the opportunity to play around with styles, functions, and elements without the fear of losing your customization.

As you might have guessed, a child theme needs a parent one to function, as it doesn’t have any styles and functions on its own. It only copies those of the parent, as they inherit part of their files, including styles and template structures. Thus, how good your child’s theme is will depend on your chosen parent theme.

For example, if your parent theme lacks some cornerstone functionalities that your website needs, the child theme will lack them as well. So be mindful when browsing in the WordPress theme library and pick a template that aligns with your vision and needs. This way, the child theme will have a strong foundation, and you won’t have to develop it from the bottom.

The beauty of child themes lies in their ability to safeguard your customizations. Child themes ensure that your design and code modifications remain intact when the parent theme receives updates. This separation of concerns is crucial for website stability and long-term maintenance.

Child themes are a developer’s best practice when it comes to adding extra features or styles to a WordPress theme. They should never directly edit core WordPress, plugin, or theme files except for starter themes specially designed for theme developers.

Why Use a Child Theme?

Using a child theme is more than a mere recommendation. It’s a necessity for developers who want to enhance the website’s performance but keep its customization intact. Using a child theme is the most efficient way to work on your website without compromising its security and continuity.


In fact, security is the most compelling argument for using a child theme. Whenever you update your website, there is the risk of something going wrong. You are compromising your website’s security or simply losing your customizations. The child theme acts as a protective layer, allowing you to modify the appearance, functionalities, and templates without altering the parent theme. This practice ensures that any changes you make to the child theme remain intact, shielding you from the hassle of re-implementing customizations after each parent theme update.

Furthermore, a child theme allows you to incorporate additional functionalities and templates that the parent theme lacks. This is invaluable if you want to enhance the usability of your website. It will enable you to add new features, modify existing ones, and create unique templates that align with your specific requirements.

Using a child theme is practically mandatory if you frequently change your website’s CSS. If you make these changes on the parent theme, they will most probably be erased by the next update. The child theme will house your CSS modifications so that they will be sheltered from the update.

The uses of a child theme are plenty, as are its advantages.

Advantages of Using Child Theme

Child themes are a godsend for anyone wanting to go further in their WordPress website development. Naturally, this tool has some enormous advantages.

Fallback Safety

A lot of written code

The child theme is practically a safety net. Well, not exactly, as the parent theme is the safety net, while the child theme is the acrobat doing triple axles on a tiny rope 200 feet above the ground. Yes, altering your website is not as dangerous to your health, but make a mistake and see your adrenaline rushing as if a bear is chasing you. In this sense, the parent theme offers a quick fix to any problem that may occur during your attempts to enhance your website’s functionalities.

When creating a new functionality, you must consider various scenarios and have a code to respond to every eventuality. Still, the parent theme will step in if you have overlooked anything. Its core functionalities will take over, saving your website from disruptions.

Customization Without Risk

The same goes for any customization you may want to do on your website. For example, if your brand grows, you might consider changing your typography with a unique style that’s brandable and recognizable. This is standard practice for big brands, so following their steps is a great idea.

When changing your typography, it’s advisable not to touch the main files and codes. There are many reasons for this, but mainly, any update can erase your customization and bring you back to square one. So, by using a child theme, any changes you make are safely stored within the child theme, ensuring that your customizations are preserved even when the parent theme is updated.

Safe Updates

Speaking of updates, one of the primary advantages of using a child theme is that it allows you to apply updates to the parent theme without fear of overwriting your customizations. When a new parent theme version becomes available, you can confidently update it, knowing that all your design and functionality modifications are securely preserved within the child theme. On the other hand, you can’t just ignore updates, as they often deal with security issues, breaches, and bugs. Thus, leaving your parent theme without updating is a security risk. In other words, updates are inevitable, but erasing your customization is definitely avoidable.

Offers Flexibility

Using a child template is not only about preserving your customization and functionalities during updates but also about developing them easier. The child theme is often much more flexible than the parent theme. This means you can extend the theme functionalities without necessarily writing pages of code in the process. You can selectively modify template files and functions to cater to your specific needs, effectively customizing your website without delving into complex coding.

Ideal For Beginners

Child themes are the perfect training ground for aspiring web developers or DIY website owners, who prefer to do it on their own. If you are new to WordPress theme development, a child theme can save you a lot of time while simplifying the learning process immensely. Child themes typically consist of just two files – style.css and functions.php – making them more manageable and less overwhelming for beginners. Additionally, the reduced number of files in a child theme simplifies the debugging process, allowing developers to pinpoint and address issues with greater ease.

Disadvantages of Using Child Theme

While using a child theme is a blessing in almost any case, that doesn’t mean it has no downsides. So, consider the following disadvantages carefully before going for a child theme.

Steep Learning Curve

Trying to understand something difficult

Probably the most significant disadvantage of a child theme is the learning curve. You can’t just hop on in and start changing. You need to invest some time learning the ins and outs of how to operate and program your child theme. Moreover, you need to have some, albeit basic, programming knowledge as you will change your website’s codes.

Furthermore, you must learn the ins and outs of your parent theme. This learning curve can slow down your development process, particularly if you’re new to WordPress theme development. Still, when you do end up learning what the parent theme is capable of, it becomes much easier.

Dependance on Parent Theme

Being dependent on a third party to have your website functioning is a hassle. Especially if you want to make modifications, unfortunately, child themes are extremely reliant on parent themes, meaning they can’t exist without the parent. So, for example, if you want to create a photography portfolio using a theme but you also want to add your signature style and typography to your website, you will install a child theme to a specific photography theme. But, if the theme owner discontinues the theme, all your work will be for nothing. You can’t just continue to use abandoned themes, as this poses a significant security risk to you and your customers. Thus, you must start from the bottom and build your child theme anew with a new parent theme.

So, to avoid this, you must consider only reliable themes from respected sources. This way, you will ensure that your child’s theme modifications will be for the long run.

Limited Scope of Changes

Child themes are primarily designed for making small to medium alterations to an existing theme. If you intend to perform a complete overhaul of your website’s design or introduce complex new functionality that goes beyond the boundaries of your existing WordPress theme, child themes might not be the ideal solution. In such cases, opting for a custom theme developed from scratch to align with your unique requirements would be a more suitable approach.

Slowing Down Your Website

Though not mandatory, this issue occurs if you go on and make extensive customizations on your child theme. When you customize, browsers are forced to load an additional file. Depending on how big the file is, your website speed may suffer.

To avoid this, you must find a suitable parent theme and only do minor customizations on your child theme. This way, your additional files will be significantly lighter.

Parent Theme Limitations

Not all parent themes are designed to be used with child themes. Attempting to create a child theme for a parent theme not well-suited for this purpose can result in breaking the parent theme and rendering it unusable. Careful consideration of the parent theme’s compatibility with child themes is essential before proceeding with customization.

Regardless of these downsides, using a child theme is more than a recommendation. It’s a standard for many WordPress developers. But this begs the question: if you’re not a developer, do you really need a child theme?

Do You Need a Child Theme on Your WordPress?

The answer to this question is somewhat inclusive. Not everyone needs a child theme, especially if they are happy with the parent theme’s functionalities and design. So, when do you need a child theme?

Making a decision

When Do You Need a Child Theme?

Well, first and foremost, you need one if you want to make changes to the general code of your website and you don’t want to lose it when your parent theme updates. However, you must have some CSS and PHP coding skills or at least work with someone who does.

Moreover, a child theme is a sensible choice for substantial projects that involve adding extra features, functions, or custom code to the parent theme. It provides a structured environment for managing and organizing your customizations.

Furthermore, if you are a developer trying to streamline your work while creating quality themes, you will need a child theme. This can significantly reduce your development time and enhance productivity.

Finally, if you make frequent modifications to your functionalities, design, or style, a child theme is a must. It will keep everything organized and prevent this customization from being overwritten.

When You Can Skip the Child Theme

However, if you lack any coding skills and you are quite happy with what you have, adding a child theme is entirely useless. Even if you want to add some minor changes, many themes nowadays offer adding custom CSS. For example, if you want to hide an element from a particular page, all you need to do is add a line of additional CSS code.

So, using a child theme is entirely up to you. But if you do want to make some more significant changes, we strongly suggest building a child theme.

How to Build a Child Theme

There are several ways to build a child theme. Plugins are the obvious choice. Still, they do come from a third-party user. So make sure the developer of the plugin is trusted, or build a child theme yourself. If you have basic coding knowledge, this is not that complicated. We created a step-by-step guide to help you build your own child theme so you can be sure no third party will have access to your code.

Still, before you even get to the child theme, you need reliable, fast, and secure hosting to support your work. HostArmada offers just that and more. So, check out our plans and enjoy lightning-fast speed, 99.9% uptime, and top-notch security. This is the easiest way to boost your traffic, user experience, and customer satisfaction.