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In this course, we'll be building child themes, so it's important to answer that question right off the bat. What is a child theme? If you think about your WordPress site, what decides how the WordPress site looks is your theme. Your theme decides what it looks like and how it behaves, and if you want to change the look or behavior of your site, you change your theme. A child theme is a theme that you attach on top of an existing theme, and the child theme augments the behavior or look or functionality of the original theme.
I like to think of it like one of these modeling kits. You get a kit, you can use it the way it is; right now it's a boat, but in some cases you may want to change it, and you can take the kit and change it into something else, like a helicopter. All I am doing is simply taking the pieces from the boat and reorganizing them into something else. It looks different, but it's all the same stuff. And I know this looks like a really silly comparison, but it's a valid one, because any theme you install is a set of functions and styles and features that are put together in a certain way, and you can take any of these features and remove them or move them around or reconfigure them into something else.
So what you're doing with a child theme is rather than taking features from scratch and building something entirely new, you're taking an existing model and just changing the pieces you don't want, or adding new features where you want them. And that brings us to that important question, when do you use a child theme? The simple answer is you want to use a child theme anytime you have an existing theme you like and you just want to make changes to it, or if you're going to build something new but you have a theme that looks almost or close to what you want.
The reason why you want to build a child theme instead of a parent theme is simple; the parent theme is a complex machine that works really well. If you want to make a new theme, you then have to build that entire complex machine again. But if you build the child theme, you're borrowing all the complex features from the original theme and you're just adding on or changing what you want to change. And if someone ever decides to upgrade the parent theme, you can upgrade it and get all the new features in the upgrade without breaking anything. If on the other hand you took the original theme and you modified it, and upgrade comes along and you do the upgrade, you lose all your modifications.
So by splitting your modifications into a child theme, you protect your own modifications while using the original theme and getting all the upgrades. It's a simple choice; if you want to use a theme and you want to make any change, even if it's a really small one, always use a child theme. Now let's get started.
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