Mastering WordPress theme development in 2023: A step-by-step guide
WordPress theme development becomes easy when you are aware of how to use it. In this article, you will be able to learn about creating the theme with simple tricks and tips, and the importance of customizing the WordPress theme.
There are multiple themes available on the WordPress website for you.
However, you may choose to pay a premium for professional usage of the
WordPress theme. If you are wondering what is the need to create your
Here is an answer. Though WordPress is open source and has so many themes available
for you, with a custom WordPress theme you can make changes to your website. In this
article, we will guide you through simple tips and tricks to develop a WordPress
theme without any hassle.
To start with WordPress theme development, all you need to make sure of is the
environment you will be using to create a theme and CMS installed on your computer.
It will be an added advantage if you are aware of the basics of HTML, CSS, and
your theme on WordPress.
What do you need to create a WordPress theme?
To develop a custom WordPress theme, you need to install WordPress and have a
development environment configured with Apache, PHP, and MySQL. You can
always update the database credentials and download WordPress from the official
Now, let us learn about the structure of the theme you want to create. In general, a
WordPress theme is just like any other page created using HTML and other template
files that include-
header.php: Contains the header code that sends raw data from a server to a
client or browser as header information with the request to acknowledge. The header
< !DOCTYPE html>
footer.php: Has the footer code that contains the copyright stating Proudly
powered by WordPress. In code, html> represents the end of the code.
sidebar.php: it is to understand the location where the buttons added on the
side of the page are configured.
style.css: Style always controls the visual presentation and layout of the
index.php: This should always be present inside the theme folder. The index
contains the settings displayed on the home page.
single.php: Single.php folder contains codes about single pages detail of all
types of posts except static page that has fixed codes.
page.php: This folder contains codes that display the content of a single
archive.php: Shows the list of articles and pages that are created by the user
and placed in the archive.
functions.php: This is the folder that helps you locate some functions that
add more functionality to themes, such as the logo, menus, color, thumbnails,
scripts, and stylesheets.
404.php: This folder is to track the error codes that the requested file was
With the help of these folders, you can easily customize each template file. Now,
based on the templates hierarchy, WordPress will select and generate the templates
Now create a new folder for the components within your WordPress themes folder before
starting WordPress theme development from scratch.
Important Tip: The folder’s name shouldn’t be the same as another theme’s name.
Additionally, if you plan to share your work, check that there’s no theme
with the same name on the WordPress.org Theme Directory.
Simple steps to create a WordPress theme
Once you are aware of the templates that can be used to develop a theme, let’s get
started on how to develop a WordPress theme in these steps.
Setup a local environment
First, you need to create a local environment for your WordPress. The environment
here refers to the server that you are willing to install on your computer. Using
this server, you will manage and develop local WordPress sites. A local site is the
best way to develop the theme without altering the live site by any means.
You can use any local environment available such as Local by Flywheel, WampServer,
XAMPP, MAMP, Vagrant, Laragon, Laravel Valet, InstantWP, and many more. Most new
creators choose local as it’s the fastest and easy way to install a local version of
WordPress for free. This is compatible with both Mac and Windows computers.
Steps to set up local environment
Choose your platform >> add your details >> download
When the installation is complete >> open the program on your
Now, configure your new local environment.
Once setup is ready, your new site will look and perform exactly like a live
Download and install your starter theme
You have several starter themes available on the internet such as Astra, WP Bootstrap
Starter, Underscores, Naked, Responsive, Quark, _tk Starter, Joints WP, Sage, HTML5
Blank. However, we are using Underscore to make it easy for you to understand.
All you have to do now is, go to the website and name your theme.
Click Advanced Options to customize the base theme.
Here, you’ll be asked to configure your new local environment.
Now, fill out the information, such as the author’s name, and provide
the theme with a description.
Different components of WordPress
As discussed, and mentioned in the requirements for creating a theme for WordPress,
all you need to do is understand the templates and make use of them. Apart from the
requirements discussed above, another important element is the Loop folder.
You can refer to the Loop as the main content of the site that appears in most
of the templates that display content. For example, index.php or sidebar.php. it is
one of the complex subjects to analyze, if you are using underscore, the Loop will
already be integrated into your theme environment.
Configuring your theme
We all know the theme imprints highly on-site functionality. Here we’ll see a few
basic customizations that can be done.
Improve functionality using hooks
Hooks are nothing but the code that is added to the templates to run PHP on
various areas of the site to display information that is required.
Generally, Hooks are applied directly to the WordPress core software,
however, some are useful for theme developers as well to customize the theme.
Let’s see the most common Hooks applied in customization and their use-
wp_head(): Adding < head> in the header.php. It helps to run a few functions
like style, scripts, and other information when the site loads.
wp_footer(): this is added just before ending < /body> tag. Used to add Google
Analytics code for your website.
wp_meta(): Used in the sidebar.php to make use of additional scripts.
comment_form(): Included in comment.php just before the file’s closing < /div >
. this is useful in displaying comment data.
Add styles with CSS
CSS or Cascading Style Sheets outline the appearance of all content on your
This can be accomplished using the style.css file in WordPress. A basic
of the code has already been implemented in the folder; however, you can edit and
the files to see various effects.
Export the theme and upload it to your site
Now, the built theme has to be tested to make sure it works appropriately. To verify
you can make use of a free application for WordPress theme unit
test data. Here, you will be using a set of mock data to upload on your site
to verify if all the content data and style are intact.
Once testing is completed successfully, now it’s time to export it.
To export the customized theme, you need to find the location of your website on your
local system. You can always find the customized theme in the folder called
Websites, inside your default Documents directory.
Now, open the website’s folder and access /wp-content/themes/, here
find your customized theme.
You can make use of any compression tool to create a .zip file. All you need
is right-click on the folder selected and select compress “your folder”. You
be able to find your folder with the name of your theme.
When your folder is zipped successfully, it’s ready to be uploaded and installed on
WordPress site just like others have been installed at the start. If you are happy
your result you can upload your code in WordPress Theme Directory!
Tips and tricks for custom WordPress theme development
Make sure to have a backup of your website before customizing
It is always suggested to keep a backup of your site before editing your WordPress
It is to make sure if anything goes wrong, you can easily restore from your backup.
Do not edit WordPress code directly
If you are not a professional
WordPress developer like Webomindapps, try to edit the theme without
editing the core code. Simple coding errors can risk your entire website and can
inaccessible. If you are a beginner, it is suggested to make use of Theme
Customizer or a page builder to create a WordPress theme.
Always make use of the staging site for editing
This is a safe way for you to test your customization for your site. A staging site
the name itself suggests, is a copy of your site. Once you set up a staging site,
can update or test new plugins without affecting your original site.
Creating a responsive design
A responsive design is very much important for any site as most people use multiple
devices to view a site. Since smartphones, desktops, and tablets vary in their
size, creating a responsive design becomes a necessity. Make sure you change
the site, your WordPress Theme should look apt on all screens.
Why should I customize WordPress themes?
By customizing the WordPress theme, you give a unique appearance to your
It becomes easy to recognize your site and the audience tends to remember
unique functionality of the site.
Increases brand reputation and recognition.
Provides contented user experience and aesthetic designing enabling easy
How to customize a site using a child theme?
It can be said that WordPress has both Parent and Child themes.
Where a parent theme holds a complete pile of theme files. A child theme inherits
all the features and functionalities of a parent theme.
Using a child theme is the simplest and easiest way to create a WordPress theme
design mistakes . With this approach, you can safely implement all the
necessary changes and not worry about any data loss. You can also keep your site
safe while trying any trial-and-error codes or plugins as the changes don’t reflect
on the parent theme.
Steps to create a child theme
To create a child theme, set up style.css and functions.php files.
Place set-up files in a separate folder within your WordPress file structure.
You will now see the folder named after your Child theme.
Now, you can create templates and apply various modifications.
When the parent theme is updated, the alterations you made in the Child theme will remain intact.
You can also create a child theme using a plugin like the Child Theme Wizard. Once completed, it gets automatically activated. You can locate it under the Tool section in your dashboard.
Not navigate to Appearance > Themes and activate your child theme.
Now, you can start editing your WordPress by applying changes to the child theme.
Be it a personal website or a business website, WordPress can always benefit you in a wide range by offering too many options to help you set up your website globally.
Although it’s easier to use pre-installed themes, it doesn’t help your business as every other website looks similar. Therefore, it creates a need to build a theme that gives a unique appearance to your website. With all the detailed views on WordPress theme development, you should be able to develop your work WordPress theme.
Webomindapps is a profound enterprise serving successfully since 2013. Based
in Bangalore, it offers expert solutions in web designing & development,
e-commerce, mobile & web app development, digital marketing, and SEO across