There is a lot of misconception when it comes to WordPress themes.
People often tend to advice others to make a so-called ‘child theme’, when you change the theme settings. But this is not necessary, and what I often see is that it leads to a lot of confusion among new users of WordPress.
Let me start of by explaining how a theme works:
Perhaps you purchase a theme via www.themeforest.net, or you choose one of the free themes you can get directly from their site.
These themes have some settings for logo, colors, page construction, etc., which you of course customize, until you are satisfied with the result. Because that’s what a theme does – it’s a design that gives you some customization options.
And now we’re getting to the real question:
When you update your theme to a newer version, will these settings be deleted?
The short answer is no – they won’t.
If you upload a new version of your theme or simply click the ‘Update’ button, some new files will be loaded, along with the updated version, to your site. However, the settings you have chosen will remain the same.
As this is the case for the vast majority of WordPress users, there is no reason why they should bother reading about – let alone creating – a child theme.
That being said, there are some cases where one will need to have a child theme. This is for instance the case, should you wish to change the code in the theme files – say you need to make a custom theme design. If you change these files, the changes will be lost at the moment an update adds new theme files and thereby overwrites the old ones. In that case, it’s important to make a child theme, which is actually just a folder where you place your altered files. Doing so makes it possible to overwrite the files in the main theme (the so-called ‘parent theme’), while the changes are stored in the child theme and therefore are active on the site.
But only a very little portion of the new users in WordPress would choose to edit theme files without hesitation.
So, I usually formulate it this way: If you do need a child theme, you already know it. Because one doesn’t ‘just fiddle’ with the code in the theme files – and if you are a developer, you ought to know that the changes should be made in a child theme.
So, to sum it up:
No, you do not need a child theme if you only change settings in your WordPress backend.
Yes, you should create a child theme if you intend to make changes in the theme files. Otherwise, your changes will be overwritten. But in that case, you are probably already working as a developer and therefore know all there is to know about child themes.
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