Before you install your new WordPress theme, there is one thing you should consider before you activate it and begin setting up your website, because what you decide from this point on will either save you headaches or give you one (or many).
If you are 100% sure you will NEVER make any changes to your theme files, whether it’s editing, deleting, or adding code, then you can probably move on and pass on using a child theme. The only exception I would make to this, is if you plan to ONLY modify CSS. At which point you can simply use a plugin like Simple Custom CSS, or if you use Jetpack, you can use their Edit CSS modul. However, if you think that you might make modifications to theme files, then I recommend using a “Child Theme” for your website, and here is why…
You spend many days or even weeks setting up your new theme with custom modifications to the theme. When done, you are happy from the time and effort you just spent putting your website together. Now you find out the theme has an update, so you update the theme and discover your custom changes are lost!
You installed a child theme and currently using it to make all your theme custom modifications you wanted. When done, you are happy from the time and effort you put into your site. Now you find out there is a theme update, so you update it and you are “still happy” because you did not lose your custom work you spend so much time doing.
What Happens When Updating a Theme?
When you update a theme, whether it’s from the WordPress dashboard when you get an update notice, or if you update a theme manually, every theme file gets updated. This means that any file(s) that you modified will be overwritten and lost!
When you use a child theme, all your modifications will exist in that, not the parent theme (the actual theme). So whenever you update your parent theme, you won’t lose anything because your custom modifications are in the child theme.
Why is it Important to Decide Before Anything?
As I mentioned, any modifications made to the parent theme will be lost whenever there is an update, but if you use a child theme, you won’t lose them. This is why it’s important to think ahead when you first install your new theme, especially before you start to build your website.
If you were to start off with the parent theme and you’ve made a bunch of custom changes to your theme, only later you discover that you will lose everything whenever there is an update, you will find yourself in a bad situation because you’ve done all this work, only to risk losing it. So you decide that you will “now” use a child theme. Well, now you have extra work to do now because not only do you have to move your changes over to the child theme, you will also be required to redo all of your theme customizer settings and options!
Why You Lose Customizer Options
When you activate the child theme, WordPress will see this it as a new theme activation, therefore, all of your customizer settings will be lost and will fallback to the the default settings. This is not a theme related side-effect, it’s a WordPress side-effect when you change themes because technically it’s a new theme being activated.
This is why before you do anything, give some serious thought to the possibility that you might make some custom changes to the theme. It doesn’t matter if it’s today, tomorrow, next month, or next year, if you feel there is a chance that you will want to modify something, I recommend you start off with a child theme.