Overview of WordPress Themes

WordPress is well known for the thousands of free and paid themes that are available for it, but a lot of misconceptions exist about what a theme is. In this lesson, I help you understand better why they're so important and also help you navigate through the constantly changing array of themes out there on the Web.


A theme is a set of files, graphics, and scripts that, in simplest terms, controls the look of your site. You can add or remove themes from WordPress with the click of a button, giving you great flexibility when it comes to updating the look of your site. But themes do far more than provide the design for your site.

In fact, design is almost secondary as web developers take on greater and greater challenges in building sites that go way beyond the basics of a blog or business card website. The template files that make up a theme are taking on increasingly complex roles as WordPress gets used now as a full-fledged content management system. Figure 27-1 on the right shows all the files and folders that make up one of the most sophisticated free themes at the moment — Suffusion—and on the left, you see the files for Kubrick, the old default theme for WordPress.

I talked about some of this in the opening lessons, but it's worth making clear again here. WordPress themes have two distinct roles:

  • Functionality
  • Layout/Design

The functionality of a web page is all about how you gather and organize the content. WordPress ...

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