WordPress Theme Development

Your Guide To Custom WordPress Theme Development

Sometimes the only way to get the look and functionality you need out of a theme is to build it yourself. However, that can be overwhelming, especially if you do not have any experience with custom WordPress theme development. Fortunately, the process is fairly straightforward. It requires a minimal degree of technical knowledge and experience with web development.

What is a starter theme?

A starter theme is a stripped down theme that you can use as the foundation as you create your own. With a starter you are able to begin development on a strong framework and then build from there. This removes the need to start a theme from scratch, which would be time consuming and unnecessary. It will also help you gain a deeper understanding of how WordPress is built and how it works.

Set up your local environment

The first step of the entire process is setting up your local development environment, which is basically a server that runs on your computer. This is necessary when working on WordPress sites. Alternatively you can buy a domain and work on a website online, but then you will have to deal with speed issues. You have many options in terms of local environments, but one of the most accessible is a software called DesktopServer. Once installed, it should allow you to set up a site in minutes.

Install the starter theme

You also have many options when it comes to starter themes, but one that we would recommend is Underscores, which is perfect for beginners. You will have to add a theme name, slug, author, author URI and description, and then click the Generate button. The starter theme will be created and packed in a .zip file, which you can download and unpack on your computer to get started.

Understand how WordPress works under the hood

Before you start customizing the theme, you should know a few WordPress basics in order to be fully effective. Each template is made up of template files, which determine the look and layout of the content on the site. For example, you have the header.php file which will define your header and display it across all the pages on your site.

WordPress will display different templates on different pages based on the template hierarchy. This hierarchy basically goes through your template files in a certain order to determine which page best matches the URL entered by a user. So for example, if a user wants to go to www.example.com/about, the hierarchy will first check for the literal URL, and if it can’t find it it will default to a “missing” page or a page that is higher in the hierarchy, which in this case it would be www.example.com.

Configuring the theme

Themes are not purely cosmetic – they can have a tremendous impact on the functionality of a website. To understand how to control this functionality, you need to understand the concept of hooks. Hooks are keywords that you can use to call a certain action from WordPress’ codebase. Think of it like this: instead of having to code a function every time you want to work with the header of your website, you can use the wp_head() hook and then add your code. You can find all of these hooks in WordPress’ documentation.

In order to improve or change the style of the theme you can use CSS, which stands for Cascading Style Sheets. This is a programming language used in conjunction with HTML to add flare to a website. Every website on the internet uses this language. You can edit the CSS of your theme by modifying the style.css file in your theme directory, or you can do it from within WordPress. Using CSS, you can change text color, image displays, the menus and navbars, and even make your theme responsive so that it displays properly across all devices, mobile and desktop.

Are you interested in building a WordPress website for your company?

Working with a custom theme will allow you to fine tune your website and have total control over what functionality you implement. However, it is more expensive and it will take more time. Alternatively, you can work with an existing theme and customize that. If you are simply looking to build a business website, or even a straightforward eCommerce store, the latter option is usually the better choice. If you would like to find out more, or if you are interested in building a website for your company, contact us today.

Beau Brewer

Beau Brewer

I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to gain experience (20+ years) in Advertising. I possess the unique ability to "hand craft" corporate identity, website design, and graphic design by applying my experience to create a perfect combination of printing, marketing, and design.
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