Making child themes part of your business development best practice.

In part one of this series on child themes, I discussed the hows and whys of child themes. Hopefully you understand what they are and why you should use them. In part two I want to discuss the various ways you can access or create child themes as well as show you some cool things you can do with a child theme.

A quick note to the reader, this article is aimed at Divi designers and developers. If you don’t use Divi most of this article will still be relevant, but some of it will be very Divi specific. Also, before we continue, I would like to point out that I wrote a supplementary article to part one discussing the basics of a WordPress theme. If you don’t know how a WordPress theme works I recommend you read that article first before continuing with this one.

Everybody caught up? Right, let’s crack on then shall we…

There are three ways you can get a child theme, buy one off the shelf (from any of the Divi related marketplaces), roll your own using a number of child theme makers available, or create one yourself from scratch (DIY). Lets look at all three options.

Off the shelf

Off the shelf child themes are great. You get a pre built child theme customised with the developer’s choice of style and functionality included. What is quite unique about most Divi child themes is that you also get demo content included with the theme. The ease at which child theme developers can create demo content using the Divi builder and the recently upgraded portability system means you literally get a fully functioning website out of the box. All you need to do is update the content, replace images and tweak some styles here and there and your site is ready to fly. If you want to get a website up and running quickly, these off the shelf child themes are just what you need.

Roll your own

What I like to call a ‘roll your own’ child theme is one that you create using one of the online child theme creators. There are a few options available out there, just Google ‘divi child theme’. These are a pretty cool intermediary step. What the child theme creator does is ask you to input a few fields and it will generate a child theme archive for you to download. This child theme has the most basic of functionality (mostly just rewriting the Elegant Themes footer credits) but it is a great way to see the basic inner workings of a child theme and learn to build your own from there.

Do it yourself.

Otherwise known as ‘developing a child theme’. This is how the pros do it. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against either off the shelf or roll your own child themes, but if you really want to understand not only child themes but WordPress themes and/or theme development, then you should really be developing your own. Not only does it give you a skill that is sought after, but it will open up a whole new avenue of WordPress and Divi customisation, giving you endless scope to create unique websites for your clients.

Now, as this series of articles is focusing on how to do it yourself, lets learn how to create a child theme.

The very basics.

All of what I am describing here you can read about in the WordPress documentation on child themes. In short, a child theme simply inherits the layout, styling and functionality of the parent theme but gives you the ability to override any of this layout, styling or functionality. A child theme only needs two things to be considered a child theme:

  • a directory (or folder) to contain the child theme files
  • a style.css file

The name of the directory is irrelevant. WordPress recommends naming it after the parent theme (eg ‘Divi-child’) but this is not required. Mostly developers prefer to name it after the site its being used on or give it a descriptive name based on it’s content. It honestly doesn’t matter. What does matter is what is inside your style.css file.

The header of the style.css contains the most important part of the child theme, the parent theme registration. This is placed inside CSS comments at the top of the style.css file.

/*
 Theme Name:   Divi Child
 Theme URI:    http://example.com/divi-child/
 Description:  Divi Child Theme
 Author:       John Doe
 Author URI:   http://example.com
 Template:     Divi
 Version:      1.0.0
 License:      GNU General Public License v2 or later
 License URI:  http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-2.0.html
 Tags:         light, dark, two-columns, right-sidebar, responsive-layout, accessibility-ready
 Text Domain:  divi-child
*/

Now the only really important part of this is the Template field. To ensure that this is registered as a Divi child theme you need to set Template to Divi. The rest of the fields are not important for a child theme to function, but it’s a good idea to at least give your theme a Theme Name and Version. If you are developing themes for client sites or to sell, its also useful to include the Author URI, as a link back to your site. Finally, while it is not a requirement to do so for the theme to work, because your child theme extends WordPress, which is licensed under the GPL, you should also include the License and License URI, as your child theme will also fall under the GPL.

You can literally start copying template files from your parent them (in this case Divi) to your child theme and edit them to achieve the effect you require. Some of the common things you can do is:

  1. Copy the footer.php file to edit the footer credits (probably the question that is asked the most by new Divi builders)
  2. Copy the archive.php file to change how the default blog archive is displayed.
  3. Copy the /includes/social_icons.php file to add additional social media icons to your header or footer.
  4. Copy the 404.php to create a custom 404 page for your site.

Quite honestly the sky’s the limit. Any file that is ‘auto included’ in the Divi theme can be overridden by copying it to your child theme and making the changes you require. You can also use the Template Hierarchy to create other files in your child theme to change how Divi renders certain views, for example creating a category.php file to enable how your category pages are rendered.

Working with style.

So obviously seeing as you have a style.css in your child theme, you’re going to want to also use it to add custom CSS to the site you are working on. As mentioned in part one, this is a quicker way to add custom CSS to your child theme and in my opinion easier to manage and tweak. For this to happen you’re going to need to add a functions.php file to your child theme. By adding this file you can queue up the parent and child style sheets, as well as use it to add any custom PHP functionality to your child theme, and therefore your site.

A good methodology is to simply always create a functions.php in your child theme with the following PHP.

<?php
function my_theme_enqueue_styles() {
    $parent_style = 'divi-style'; // This is the 'parent-style'.
    wp_enqueue_style( $parent_style, get_template_directory_uri() . '/style.css' );
    wp_enqueue_style( 'divi-child-style', get_stylesheet_directory_uri() . '/style.css', array( $parent_style ) );
}
add_action( 'wp_enqueue_scripts', 'my_theme_enqueue_styles' );
?>

What this does is the following

  1. Registers a function called ‘my_theme_enqueue_styles’, to be fired when the WordPress ‘wp_enqueue_scripts’ action is fired.
  2. Enqueues the parent theme style sheet (in this case the style.css from the Divi theme)
  3. Enqueues the child theme style sheet (in this case the style.css from your child theme) and makes it dependant on the parent style

It’s important to note that the parent theme style needs to be loaded as well as the child theme style, and in which order, so that the child theme styles override the parent theme styles, should they be applied to the same HTML elements.

Once that is done you can do ahead and start adding custom CSS to your child theme style.css. As I’ve said before this is the recommended way to make large CSS changes to your Divi site.

Fully functioning.

But what else can be done with the functions.php file? Well this file really acts like a plugin file for your child theme. So you can add pretty much any custom functionality to your child theme in this file. Some examples include:

  1. Creating a function that will allow you to edit the contents of your footer credits from the WordPress Customizer
  2. Pre populating your new Divi site with common Divi settings
  3. Adding custom widgets
  4. Adding custom functionality to your Divi site, like custom modules or layouts.
  5. Customising the WP admin area

The sky is the limit really.

Active stations

Once you have created your child theme you will need to install it within WordPress. This is done by uploading an archive (zip) of the child theme directory via the Appearance -> Themes menu in your WP admin area (just like you would any other theme) and activating it.

A simple example.

I thought I would round of this article with a simple example of (more or less) all the things I’ve discussed above. I’ve created a simple child theme that registers two additional customiser settings for editing the Divi Footer credits. It also contains some custom CSS for the footer, just to show how custom CSS is implemented. You can download it from the GitHub repository.

For the next article in this series I will dive into each of the functions of the example child theme as well as add some more cool Divi specific things that can be done. I’ll also look at some of the comment WordPress specific things you need to know about, like actions hooks and filters.

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. What if I already have a fully-functioning Divi e-commerce site? Can I simply add the .css file to it, and use it as the “child” theme, and download a copy of the Divi theme in a different folder to serve as the “parent”.

    Or is it the parent that is the “website” and the child modifications merely override the parent. I’m confused. 🙁

    Reply

    1. Hi Decli, it is the second. The child theme is merely there to ‘extend’ the parent theme, to provide the ability to make layout and style changes to the parent theme, without having to edit files in the parent theme.

      So if you already have an e-commerce website built on the Divi theme, that doesn’t have a child theme, you can create and activate a child theme using the files I’ve described in the post to extend the Divi theme beyond what it does.

      I hope this makes sense now?

      Reply

  2. Hi Jonathan, thanks for creating such a great resource for Divi devs.

    With WP child theme’s usually you can ‘cache bust’ the child theme style.css so you can refresh the site and see your changes. You just have to change the version number in the style.css file and upload it.

    It’s all here: https://developer.wordpress.org/themes/advanced-topics/child-themes/#3-enqueue-stylesheet

    However I notice in your example you don’t include the php to add a version number the style.css

    wp_get_theme()->get(‘Version’)

    I added it but it doesn’t refresh the style.css

    I don’t suppose you know how to ‘cache bust’ the style.css file of a Divi child theme?

    Reply

    1. Hi Mark

      I usually don’t ‘cache bust’ in the code as I rely on browser tools do to the ‘busting’ for me. I also didn’t add it to the article as that is more of an advanced topic. But yes, you can add the version number.

      To make sure this works you will need to ensure that you have set a Version number in your Child theme style sheet header. Also, if you are developing the child theme, then the version number wont update each time you make a change to the style sheet, so during development instead of using wp_get_theme()->get(‘Version’) you could do something like use the PHP mktime() function. This will generate the current unix timestamp in milliseconds. This means that it will be a unique number each time you load the style sheet, and therefore it will reload the style sheet every time.

      Just remember to change it back to wp_get_theme()->get(‘Version’) before you release the child theme into the wild. 😉

      Reply

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