In this article, I’m not going to go over how exactly to create and implement a child theme in WordPress.
If you’re looking for a child theme step-by-step, there is a crazy in-depth “How-To” on the Smashing Mag Child Theme site…
In fact, I don’t really have a new recommendation that hasn’t been seen before on the internet. Although, I do have a great one… it’s not “new”.
I’m simply going to offer some ideas and suggestions I have when it comes to intelligent WordPress development.
My whole goal for this article is to get you to understand how important child themes can be. I hope I can help you to realize how much time and frustration a simple backend update can save you overall.
Table of Contents
What’s Your Point?
Whether you’re a developer, designer, or site owner, child themes are a hassle that has ended up saving me tons of time since I started implementing them in all our builds.
Originally, they were a pain in the butt to format and set up, but over the past few years, some amazing WordPress developers have created tools that made the once laborious task pretty simple.
Nowadays, to get your WordPress child theme set up, you can use one of our favorite plugins that make setting it up pretty dang simple!
The plugin: Child Theme Configurator
All you have to do now is head to that plugin page and hit the big blue button at the top that says “download” and you’re 90% of the way there.
My Child Theme Epiphany.
Here’s why I think anyone working with WordPress should use child themes in WordPress…
A while back I built an eCommerce site for a client… back before I understood the importance of redundancy when it comes to WordPress backups and the power of child themes.
Once the initial site was up and all the pages and content was there, we started getting very specific in the verbiage used on the site to drive conversions for their offerings.
We sat on the phone for an hour or so perfecting every period and piece of punctuation.
Then I set to work to translate all we talked about into the needed code.
If you’ve ever worked with Woocommerce and WordPress, you know that it can be a little touchy, but at the same time, easily moldable if you can find the right PHP code to alter.
You can’t, like most of the rest of a site, simply change the HTML. Woocommerce is built on PHP and you have to alter the core code if you want a different output. Actually changing the PHP strings to output the text you want. Basic, but a bit of a pain if you don’t know where to look.
Here’s where the “child theme for life” moment comes in… after taking basically a full day worth of work to set up the verbiage exactly as the client requested, I went to sleep happy.
All was fine for a few months until… there was a theme update!
I didn’t think twice… the latest backup was 2 days prior and I just moved forward with the upgrade to make sure the site stayed secure and up to date, then deleted the last update and made a new one when things were done installing.
A few hours later, I got a call from the client stating that their Woocommerce product pages weren’t right… I thought they were crazy until I looked.
Sure enough, all those hours of work that I had put into changing all that PHP was gone… and I had just replaced the only copy of the WordPress database that had it!
I felt sick…
I didn’t have any documentation of the copy they requested originally, the only version was on a piece of legal pad that was discarded long ago!
My only saving grace was the Wayback Machine… I was able to get a few screenshots of the most important phrases and recreate the work again.
I know… for the more experienced… it was a total “face-palm” moment.
It gets better…
I thought that everything was fine. Crisis averted… it was technically my fault so I wasn’t going to bill the client for the extra work.
I got everything where it needed to be… my ducks were in a row… I was so stressed that I didn’t really think past “just get it fixed!”…
Bad… a couple weeks later… new update… boom… GONE AGAIN!
I did it again! I felt like an idiot (still do), but at least this time, I was smart enough to not delete the backup and reinstate all the work I had done… TWICE!
So, Child Themes Saved You?
From that day forward, I realized that if you’re going to make edits to the core code of WordPress and/or Woocommerce (if you’re working on an eCommerce site using Woo… it’s inevitable ) you better have a safety net in place!
That means at least 2 backups at all times off server AND a child theme in WordPress.
As Nike says, JUST DO IT.
Putting It Into Practice.
If you’re working on site, especially for clients, it would be one of the smartest things you’ve ever done to use a child theme.
Especially if you’ve touched a line of the core code… it’s only a matter of time till you work goes up in flames.
Take it from me…
I was stubborn and didn’t want to take advice from pretty much EVERY development site I visited up till that point.
It bit me in the ass.
Learn from this old dog…
Listen, my child… USE A CHILD THEME IN WORDPRESS!
The Child Theme Caveat.
So… I’ve updated my opinion on this… I’m still a bit believer in Child Themes with Woocommerce, I’ve just had an easier time making things work with child themes.
However, if you’re making changes to just the WP core, I’ve come across another plugin that saves the extra work of installing a child theme and simply lets you edit the core code… and take it with you wherever! (This is pretty important if you like changing themes often)
Code Snippets is a great option that takes a handful of steps out of the process if you’re making changes to your WP core.
I’d need a little more time to test with Woocommerce, but for now, if you’re not going to make a ton of changes or you want to be able to export and import them across different sites, this is a great option!
I hope this little story of terror and stupidity helped you in some way.
Let me know your thoughts below on Child Themes, their uses, or their usefulness at this point!
Adam is a digital veteran, early adopter, brand and business builder, and former unfulfilled Pog collector. (Actually, I’ve never owned Pogs.) With decades of knowledge and experience in online advertising and consumer behavior, he aims to spread the knowledge he’s collected with any and all who will listen. He’s also the creator of Painted Brick Digital in Scottsdale Arizona, an agency that helps clients push through the 8+ figure mark.