WordPress is the most popular CMS for several reasons. One of them being the huge number of themes that are available for it. Sometimes it can be overwhelming when deciding which theme to use. More often than not, it might be difficult to find a theme that meets all your requirements. WordPress developers will often end up customizing themes on their own.
WordPress themes will need to be updated periodically, for all sorts of reasons such as incompatibility issues with the latest WordPress updates, security fixes, bug fixes, etc.
But what happens to the customizations you made to the theme when you update it? If you update the theme all your changes are lost. This is where WordPress child themes come in handy.
What is a WordPress Child Theme?
Just as the name suggests, children inherit characteristics of their parents but also have their own individual characteristics. Similarly, WordPress child themes inherit the style and functionality of their parent themes but have their own unique properties as well. WordPress child themes are the recommended way of customizing WordPress themes.
If you are going to be modifying the
functions.php file or the
style.css file of a WordPress theme, then it is recommended to use a child theme. Child themes allow you to customize WordPress themes without the fear of losing changes when a parent theme gets updated.
In a nutshell, it may seem this is a superb way of customizing themes however, there are pros and cons of using WordPress child themes.
Pros of using WordPress Child Themes
- Deliver projects faster – There is ever-growing competition in the WordPress niche. You need to be able to deliver projects faster while maintaining your costs. Sometimes it can be a great idea to use premium WordPress themes for some of your projects. Most of them cost an average of $50 and have a well-written code. However, premium themes will only do part of the job. Often, they will fulfill 80% of the client’s requirements. To complete the other 20% you can use a child theme to customize the parent theme to the client’s requirements. This way you can deliver projects faster without having to start from scratch each time. You will also use less effort when delivering a project thereby allowing you to keep your prices low.
- Stay up to date – The need to keep WordPress core, themes and plugins always updated cannot be stressed enough. Using a child theme, you can easily make changes to your theme and when the parent theme needs to be updated you will not lose the changes.
- No FTP required – Making changes to WordPress parent themes will need you to download the theme’s files via FTP or cPanel. You will then make the changes offline and re-upload the files. This can sometimes be a time-consuming process. With WordPress child themes, you can make changes right from the WordPress dashboard. This will help save time.
- Re-use changes in other WordPress installations – After working on several WordPress projects you can easily get used to a few themes and want to re-use those only for future projects. There is nothing wrong with that. Using child themes will make the process of making changes and customization even easier for your future projects.
Cons of using WordPress Child Themes
- Steep learning curve – To create and work with a child theme you will need to learn hooks and functions of the parent theme. This can sometimes be a steep learning curve. But once you get a good knowledge of them, you can easily work child themes. Often parent WordPress themes will have samples of child themes that you can analyze to learn the hooks and functions.
- Slower website speed – Creating a child theme means users are required to load an extra file each time they visit your website. If your changes are major, sometimes this can result in a slower website. You also need to be careful with the code and ensure it is not bloated. Bloated code can also result in a slow website. A slow website can have detrimental effects on your search engine optimization efforts.
- Abandonment of the parent – This is the biggest risk of using child themes. WordPress projects can get abandoned by the developers. This will mean you will not receive further updates for your theme and can easily become a security vulnerability. There can also be compatibility issues in the future for example, when WordPress gets updated and your parent theme has compatibility issues after the update. It is advisable to use a theme or framework that is popular, has community support and is periodically updated.
- Limitations of the parent – Not all parent themes are designed to be used with child themes. Sometimes creating a child theme for such a parent, can result in breaking the parent theme.
Child themes come in handy when you want to customize a theme based on the framework of an existing theme. Using a child theme or not will depend on how skilled you are in WordPress. You will need some coding and technical knowledge to be able to use child themes. If the changes you require are minor, then it might be a better idea to just use a CSS plugin to introduce minor changes. If the changes are fundamental and you find yourself changing core files of the parent theme, then you might be better off with using a different theme or creating a new one altogether. Essentially child themes are suitable in a situation where the changes are not too minor nor too major.
The pros of using WordPress child themes outweigh the cons. There are easy ways to circumvent the cons. For example, as mentioned earlier you can avoid using less popular projects to avoid the issue of abandonment.