WordPress Theme Template & Directory Structure

Update: We’ve created a second edition of this article, with updated code samples and coverage of the latest theme development techniques. Check it out at WordPress Theme Template & Directory Structure. It’s part of The ThemeShaper WordPress Theme Tutorial: 2nd Edition.

While the most minimal of WordPress Themes really only needs an index.php Template and a style.css file (or just the style file if it’s a Child Theme) most WordPress Themes need something a little more solid.

Our new minimal will include 6 files. Make a folder in wp-content/themes/ for your theme—for this tutorial I’ll be using “your-theme” but it can be whatever you want—and create the following files in that new folder (don’t worry, they’ll be blank until the next few steps).

Now let’s open up the last file we created, style.css, in a text editor. The first thing we need to do is add a section at the top of this file bracketed by what are called CSS “comments” (these guys: /* and */). It’s here that we need to put the info that tells WordPress about your theme. Without it, your theme won’t show up in the themes panel.

Theme Name: Your Theme
Theme URI: http://example.com/example/
Description: A search engine optimized website framework for WordPress.
Author: You
Author URI: http://example.com/
Version: 1.0
Tags: Comma-separated tags that describe your theme
Your theme can be your copyrighted work.
Like WordPress, this work is released under GNU General Public License, version 2 (GPL).



Something to note: a lot of this is optional. Really, you just need the Theme Name. But if you ever plan on releasing your theme, or if you’re making a custom theme for someone, you’ll want to start out including most, if not all, of the rest. At the very least, I want you to feel free to mess around with it.

Once you’ve got that done you can activate your theme and navigate to your test site. We’ve made the ultimate blank theme! Things should start to get interesting right about now.

Building In Your HTML Structure

Now we get to use our HTML structure from the previous lesson. But first a mini-lesson about WordPress and Templates.

WordPress really only needs 1 template file, index.php. We can, and will be adding a series of template files that can be used instead of index.php for certain situations (single posts, category pages, etc.), but at the very beginning, index.php is all we’ll need.

Now, index.php and all it’s related brothers and sisters (which we’ll get to) make the web pages we see in our browser. They’re files with some HTML and HTML-outputting-PHP but in the end they make web pages.

Let’s think of web pages like stories, something with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Well, when we write out our index.php file (and later our single.php, category.php, etc.) we’re going to concentrate only on the middle bit. But! We’re going to call in the beginning bit and the end bit. We may have to always be redoing our middles but we’re only going to do the beginning and end of each web page once.

Header.php and Footer.php

Get the HTML structure we worked on in the previous lesson and copy everything up to and including

into header.php and save it. It should look like this:

<div id="wrapper" class="hfeed">
	<div id="header">
		<div id="masthead">

			<div id="branding">
			</div><!-- #branding -->

			<div id="access">
			</div><!-- #access -->

		</div><!-- #masthead -->
	</div><!-- #header -->

	<div id="main">

Now, copy everything after, and including,

into footer.php. It should look like this:

	</div><!-- #main -->

	<div id="footer">
		<div id="colophon">

			<div id="site-info">
			</div><!-- #site-info -->

		</div><!-- #colophon -->
	</div><!-- #footer -->
</div><!-- #wrapper -->


I bet you can guess what we have to do now. Copy everything from our HTML structure inside the #main div into index.php. It should look like this:

		<div id="container">

			<div id="content">
			</div><!-- #content -->

		</div><!-- #container -->

		<div id="primary" class="widget-area">
		</div><!-- #primary .widget-area -->

		<div id="secondary" class="widget-area">
		</div><!-- #secondary -->

With only two small additions we’ll have a perfectly invalid WordPress Theme but we’ll be on the right track. We need to call in the header and footer to your theme.

At the top of index.php, before anything else, add the following template tag.

<?php get_header(); ?>

I think it’s pretty obvious what this tag does. It gets the header. But while we’re here, take a good look at this template tag if you’re new to PHP. I want you to notice a few things. First, our PHP function call—get_header()—begins with . Secondly, while our call is only 1 line long it ends with a semi-colon. Small, but important stuff.

Alright! Can you guess what function call we’re going to put at the bottom of index.php?

<?php get_footer(); ?>

Yep. Now we’ve got our main file that WordPress looks for, index.php. It has all the middle bits of our web page, but the top calls in the beginning bits, and the bottom calls in the ending bits.

Reload your page in the browser and check out the source code (View > Page Source, in Firefox). Look! It’s your code!

You’re on your way to making your first WordPress Theme.

How To Create a WordPress Theme

This post is part of a WordPress Themes Tutorial that will show you how to create a powerful WordPress Theme from scratch. Read it from the beginning and code yourself up something awesome.

WordPress Theme Tutorial Introduction
Theme Development Tools
Creating a Theme HTML Structure
Template and Directory Structure
The Header Template
The Index Template
The Single Post, Post Attachment, & 404 Templates
The Comments Template
The Search Template & The Page Template
The Archive, Author, Category & Tags Template
The Sidebar Template
Reset-Rebuild Theme CSS & Define Your Layouts

Creating a WordPress Theme HTML Structure

Update: We’ve created a second edition of this article, with updated code samples and coverage of the latest theme development techniques. Check it out at Creating a WordPress Theme HTML Structure. It’s part of The ThemeShaper WordPress Theme Tutorial: 2nd Edition.

Now we’re starting to get into the real meat of WordPress Theme development: coding the HTML structure.

The Goals of Any HTML Structure

When coding a web site you should have 2 goals in mind: lean code and meaningful code. That is, using as little markup (HTML tags) as possible and making sure that the markup is meaningful by using semantic class and ID names that refer to their content, not how they “look” (class=”widget-area” instead of class=”sidebar-left”).

Now, when coding a WordPress Theme (or any template for any Content Management System) a balance is going to have to be struck between lean markup, with very little structure, and what’s called Divitis; including too many unnecessary div elements in your code. In other words, too much meaningless structure.

You’ve probably seen the div tag before if you’ve looked at the code for a website or any WordPress Theme. Think of them as containers for HTML code—containers that are very handy for manipulating HTML code with CSS. Obviously we’re going to have some. But we don’t want too many or ones without meaning. And we want enough structure—using the div tag—that we can reuse our code for multiple blog and site layouts. We want to code something we can come back to and use again.

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WordPress Theme Development Tools

Update: We’ve created a second edition of this article, with updated code samples and coverage of the latest theme development techniques. Check it out at WordPress Theme Development Tools. It’s part of The ThemeShaper WordPress Theme Tutorial: 2nd Edition.

Before we get started building any WordPress Theme we’re going to need to get our development tools in place. In this post, we’ll run through the best of the best and build ourselves a cross-platform WordPress Theme test environment that would do a professional Theme developer proud.

A Local Test Server: XAMP or MAMP

The best place to develop your custom WordPress Theme is off the web, on your home computer. To do that though you’ll need to turn your computer into a “local server”, essentially approximating the program suite on a regular web server (Apache, MySQL and PHP). This means you can install WordPress on your home computer.

Installing these separate server programs can be technically challenging but luckily for us there are a couple of free programs that will install and manage all this for us.

If you’re on a Windows computer you’ll want to try out XAMP.

If you’re running a Mac you’ll want to download MAMP. It’s what I use and it does the trick.

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How To Create a WordPress Theme: The Ultimate WordPress Theme Tutorial

Update: We’ve created a second edition of this popular tutorial! It contains updated code samples, coverage of the latest theme development techniques, and more. Check it out at The ThemeShaper WordPress Theme Tutorial: 2nd Edition.

In only 11 individual lessons this WordPress Theme Tutorial is going to show you how to build a powerful, up-to-date, WordPress Theme from scratch. As we go along I’ll explain what’s happening including (for better or worse) my thinking on certain techniques and why I’m choosing one path over another. Essentially, I’ll be teaching you everything you need to know about WordPress Theme development.

Skip to the Table of Contents.


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Using Action Hooks in WordPress Child Themes

In this post we’ll review how to write a PHP function and go over the basic idea of how you can use Action Hooks in your WordPress Theme. We’ll take a look at a practical example of injecting a Welcome Blurb into your Theme without touching the existing code and we’ll also look at how to remove existing content being injected into Theme Hooks.

Packing Up A Function

Action hooks are in a lot of WordPress Themes nowadays. There’s a good reason for that but you’re probably wondering what the big deal is right? They’re such a big deal because firstly, they’re incredibly easy to use and secondly, because they’re extremely powerful.

If you want to get started with them we’re going to have to take a look at how to write a PHP function again. Don’t worry, we’ll keep it pretty simple.

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Using Filter Hooks in WordPress Child Themes

In this post you’ll learn to take advantage of Filter Hooks in your WordPress Child Themes. Filter Hooks are an essential weapon in your WordPress Theming arsenal. With them you’ll have almost complete control over the HTML created by your WordPress Theme—without touching any template files.

Warning: things will get a little technical on this one but hang in there—you’re about to become an expert in this stuff.

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Modular CSS in WordPress Child Themes

In this post you’ll learn how to leverage modular CSS in your WordPress Child Themes by looking into another directory with @import or the tag. We’ll be making a Child Theme called Chiron that will use the modular CSS of the Thematic Theme. A theme you can use as the basis for further customization—and for following along with future posts in this series.

You’ll also get a brief introduction to the concept of using Filter Hooks in your theme—something that we’ll be looking at more closely in a later post.

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WordPress Child Theme Basics

In this post you’ll learn all the basics of WordPress Child Themes: WordPress Child Theme file structure, how to make any WordPress Theme a blank framework, how to import Parent Theme CSS styles, how to override Parent Theme styles, and how to override Parent Theme Template files. You’ll also learn that all of this is incredibly easy and within your grasp and that it might just change how you think about WordPress and Theme development.

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WordPress Menu Tricks

In this post I’m going to show you how to take WordPress Menu Editing to the next level. You’re going to learn how to use Primary and Secondary menus in your WordPress theme; Add descriptive sub-title links to your menu items like some popular WordPress themes and sites; Filter the menu of a WordPress theme; Add special CSS classes to wp_page_menu; and finally, how to hand-code your own WordPress menu for the ultimate in control.

Here’s how to make your WordPress menu jump through hoops.

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Take Complete Control Of Your WordPress Menu

I don’t normally post lists of plugins but for the first time ever my WordPress menu is completely controlled by WordPress itself in a smooth and efficient way. All thanks to some awesome plugins that you need to put in your WordPress management arsenal—right now. No more custom coding. No more hurried hacking when I change themes. Install these 3 plugins and stop worrying about your WordPress menu.

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