May 31, 2021
WordPress Theme Editor: A Beginner’s Guide
A WordPress theme refers to a bundle of files that includes images, style sheets, and code. It defines your website’s visual appearance and determines the site’s functionality.
However, themes don’t always include everything that a website may need. That’s why it’s good to know how to customize them to include more functions and improve user experience.
This article will explain how to use the WordPress theme editor to achieve the website you need. It will also name several other methods you can use to customize your WordPress website safely.
What Is a WordPress Theme Editor?
A WordPress theme editor refers to a simple text editor inside the WordPress dashboard. It allows users to customize theme files, whether it be attaching an additional sidebar, making it mobile-friendly, or embedding custom videos on the header.
You can access the theme code editor via Appearance -> Theme Editor. The right-hand side of the window shows a list of template files the theme includes. Clicking on one of them will show the theme editor’s code, where users can start making changes.
To select other themes to modify, simply navigate to the top right corner of the screen and click on the drop-down menu.
However, selecting another theme here will only open the theme files and won’t activate the theme. If you wish to activate one, go to Appearance -> Themes.
Once you’re done customizing the theme, click on the Update File button. A good thing about the WordPress theme editor is that it will prevent people from accidentally saving unwanted changes when there are errors in the code, allowing you to go back easily.
However, be sure to edit the files correctly and be careful when pasting code snippets. Pasting the code incorrectly might result in syntax errors and lock you out of your site.
If you’re a developer and you’re working for a client, it might be best to disable access to the theme editor. Doing so will prevent unwanted errors as a client might not realize the potential risks of editing the source code.
Additionally, disabling access to the theme code editor can prevent hackers from injecting malicious code into the site.
Always create backups if you’re customizing theme code. Learn how to create WordPress backup with our guide.
Other Ways to Customize Your WordPress Theme
Aside from using the theme editor, there are several more ways to edit your WordPress website’s appearance.
Using Page Builders
Many WordPress themes are compatible with various page builders, such as Elementor, Divi, and Beaver Builder. Most builders offer a drag-and-drop functionality too, which allows you to customize the theme without manually changing a single line of code.
To customize your site using a page builder, simply install one that is compatible with your theme and use the provided options to start modifying your pages’ design.
Although page builders come with lots of flexibility in tweaking your website’s content, considering the downsides is also essential.
WordPress builders convert the layout into specific shortcodes that are plugin-specific. That means when you deactivate the page builder plugin, the shortcodes won’t work, and you will lose your design.
Additionally, shortcodes can also affect your site’s page loading time negatively.
Editing the Theme Files
Another way to customize a WordPress theme is by editing directly from the theme files. To do so, go to the hPanel dashboard and click on File Manager.
- Proceed to find the public_html folder.
- Click on one folder labeled wp_content -> themes.
- This folder contains all themes you have downloaded for your WordPress site. Double click on the file name of the currently active theme you want to edit.
- Then, select the theme file you want to customize and click the Edit icon on the menu bar.
- This will open the text editor that can be used to customize the code to your needs. Once you click on the Save button, the changes will be updated on your site.
The list of theme files can vary depending on the theme. However, every WordPress theme will include these essential files:
- Stylesheet (style.css) – design-related features, including fonts, colors, and layouts.
- Functions.php – features, and functionality of the theme, such as widgets and custom logos.
- Template files – a combination of HTML, template tags, and PHP code that generate your website’s content.
Utilizing WordPress Plugins
If it’s only a basic function that your site is missing, installing an additional plugin will be sufficient. There are thousands of options in the WordPress plugin directory, ranging from eCommerce and security plugins to social media integration and SEO optimization.
To make sure you install the right plugin, it is essential to pay attention to when the plugin was last updated, user rating, and compatibility options with the latest WordPress version.
Additionally, if you simply want to edit the theme’s style and design, use a plugin like CSS Hero. This plugin generates a copy of the stylesheet and overrides the original. It allows users to modify your website’s design and style without touching the theme’s original files.
Installing a Child Theme
A child theme acts as a sub-theme that inherits all characteristics of the parent theme. It overrides the parent theme’s features and functions, allowing users to make changes without losing the parent theme’s core functionality.
It also helps to preserve your edits when the parent theme gets updated.
A child theme has its own style.css and functions.php files and is stored in a separate directory from the parent theme. There, you can add new files and make changes to styling, layout parameters, coding, and scripts.
Extra Tips When Editing a WordPress Theme
Although editing the original code using the theme editor gives you complete control, it also comes with the possibility that your site can crash and lose the necessary pieces of code.
Not to worry, as the section below will cover a few safety practices to follow before you begin customizing your WordPress theme.
Always Create Backup Files
Creating a backup of your WordPress site is important when you’re making significant edits. It can prevent you from reworking the settings and customizations from scratch if anything goes wrong. Instead, you can simply download the backup files and have your site back up and running.
Sometimes you may not need a full backup. In this case, saving a copy of the stylesheet.css is a good idea. If something goes wrong, you can delete the file and upload the original to overwrite the changes.
Set Up a Local Testing Server
When you’re customizing the code or using a child theme, it’s always recommended to do it on a local server first. Doing so allows you to preview any customizations you make before applying them to your live site.
There, you can test the edits you’ve made to your WordPress theme and check your website’s content, such as pages or posts. Once you’re comfortable with the changes, you can upload them to your live website.
Use Version Control
With version control, users can track and undo the changes within your WordPress website. It also lets you restore previous versions and saves you the hassle of doing manual edits.
Version control comes in especially handy if you work within a team, as it’s also an excellent tool for collaborative work.
As a flexible CMS platform, WordPress gives its users a plethora of customization options, including the WordPress theme code editor. It provides an easy way to access the theme source code, allowing you to tweak your site’s design.
However, the text theme editor is only recommended if you have the right coding skills, as it can potentially break your site, losing any adjustments made before an update. Alternatively, there are other methods that involve fewer risks, like installing a plugin based on your needs and creating a child theme.
All in all, whichever method you choose, make sure to consider the safety tips mentioned in this article to get the best results. Good luck!