This the Second Presentation in Our ‘Back To WordPress Basics’ Series
Our November Austin WordPress “Back to WordPress Basics” series continues with How WordPress Themes Work. WPATX has seen our membership climb this past year and the majority of our new members are new to WordPress. The questions our new members are asking have reminded me of the level of conceptual confusion that I felt when trying to envision and understand what the various aspects of WordPress were doing and why.
This WPATX Beginner’s class will be devoted to learning the vocabulary and structure of WordPress themes. The goal of this class is to help our community of WordPress Beginners really understand what a WordPress Theme does, and how it does it, and has been designed for new users of WordPress and those who have been using WordPress a while and would really like to know, ‘How WordPress Themes Work’.
A Brief Review of How WordPress Works
A page on a WordPress website isn’t static; it’s dynamic. That means each page is created on the fly — every time it’s visited, built from bits and pieces pulled from separate files and from your website’s database. All of your sites unique information (including your site name, your blog posts, and every single comment) is stored in a MySQL database.
That information is retrieved from the database using the programming language PHP. Then, the retrieved information is displayed via your theme’s template files, using HTML and CSS. Just reinforce this concept —each WordPress page, brought up in a browser is dynamically created — every time it’s visited, built from bits and pieces pulled from separate files and from your website’s database.
What is a WordPress Theme?
A WordPress theme changes the appearance of your website, often including its layout. Changing your theme changes how what a visitor sees when they browse your site on the web.
What Can WordPress Themes Do?
WordPress themes take the content and data stored by WordPress and display that content in the browser. You decide how your site content looks and is displayed when you choose a WordPress theme. There are many options available when you are choosing a theme for your site. For a beginner, the best, safest FREE source for Themes is https://wordpress.org/themes/. All of these themes have been vetted as secure, and you can access these themes right from your WordPress Dashboard.
Your WordPress theme can have different layouts, such as fixed-width or responsive; using one column or two. Your theme may give you options for where and how you want it to be displayed. If the theme you have chosen is responsive, it can display your site’s content differently on various sized devices (phones, tablets, PCs). Some themes may have custom typography and design elements using CSS, while others may give you special areas for other design elements like images and videos. A WordPress theme is more than color and layout. Well designed themes improve visitor engagement (UX/UI)with your website’s content…in addition to being beautiful.
What Are WordPress Themes Made Of?
At their most basic level, WordPress themes are collections of different files that work together to create what you see, as well as how your site behaves. As this is a concept that is better explained visually, I will use the images, Nick Batik developed for this presentation.
Can a Theme Be Changed?
WordPress makes it very easy for users to change themes…BUT…Every theme has its own unique set of features and options, so it may take some time to set up.
What Are the Easy Things to Change?
WordPress comes with a built-in navigation menu system. Each WordPress theme defines theme locations where menus are displayed. That’s why when you switch your WordPress theme, there will be new menu locations. The menu you previously assigned to a theme location might need to be reassigned.
Widgets allow you to easily place different elements in your WordPress theme’s sidebars. When you change your WordPress theme can deactivate your active widgets. Some themes will automatically show default WordPress widgets. Widgets with customizations will be placed under the inactive widgets section and can be added back to your new theme’s sidebars.
Your theme defines what is will display on different types of pages (home page, blog page, list page, etc.), and where that content goes on that page. If a theme does not have a page type or style that you want, it can be done but you need to hire a WordPress programmer.
What Are the Things I Can Change By Myself?
Many Themes have a WordPress Customizer. This is a feature that allows WordPress Users to tweak theme settings using a WYSIWYG interface to customize the theme including changing the colors, fonts, text and other customization options.
Best Practices for Making Changes to a Theme
The first best practice we need to stress is knowing the difference between a Parent Theme and a Child Theme. This is a critical concept. All themes – excluding child themes – are considered parent themes. A parent theme is a complete theme which includes all of the required WordPress template files for the theme to work.
A Child Theme is an extension to a theme that you create so you can make changes to it. A child theme allows you to change small aspects of your site’s appearance yet still preserve your theme’s look and functionality. A child theme inherits the look and feel of the parent theme and all of its functions, but can be used to make modifications to any part of the theme.These customizations are kept separate from the parent theme’s files. Using a child theme lets you upgrade the parent theme without affecting the customizations you’ve made to your site.
What You Need To Remember About Child Themes
- Child Themes make your modifications portable and replicable
- They keep customization separate from parent theme functions
- They allow parent themes to be updated without destroying your modifications
- Child themes allow you to take advantage of the effort and testing put into parent theme
- Using Child themes saves on development time since you are not recreating the wheel
Themes vs Templates — What is the Difference?
A template defines the layout of a particular type of page, such as your blog page, home page, and list pages. All the pages that use a template will be formatted exactly the same. A Theme is a collection of templates.
Theme Functionality vs Site Functionality
When you want to add functionality to your site, you do so by installing a plugin. Plugins work regardless of your theme. Even if you change themes, they still work. Some advanced themes include integrated, built-in plugins, cool until you change themes, then functionality goes away
How Will Your Theme Choice Affect Special Content?
If your WordPress site will have special content, such as images, video or audio test the theme before permeant install. Anther best practice is to read reviews of the theme as it relates to its ability to handle special content.
I have included a link to my Slide deck below. I’m sorry if the transfer from Keynote to PowerPoint format sometimes does odd things to the headers and some images. The images used to illustrate, How WordPress Theme Work, were provided by Nick Batik, Pleiades Publishing Services. We look forward to seeing you at an Austin WordPress Meetup soon. Drop by https://www.meetup.com/austinwordpress/ for the class schedule. If you have additional questions you can always DM me through the Meetup Messaging system.
Follow me @sandi_batik / @WPATX / LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/hsandrachevalierbatik