Always use a child theme- it’s easy!
Your WordPress installation is made up of several parts:
- The WordPress software
- A MySQL database
- A Theme
Each does different things. And when it comes to updating, and auto-updating, you want to make sure you don’t break things.
First tip- always backup your site before doing any updates, theme changes or plugin installs. We’ve fallen in love with the UpdraftPlus backup plugin. We consider it an essential plugin for every installation- and you don’t need to buy the premium version, the free one works fine.
So, now that you have your installation backed up, it’s time to make a child theme. What is a child theme? It’s a copy of a few key files from your theme that hold your customizations. This way, when you update a theme, you won’t lose any of your custom files.
Now, that’s not to say updating a theme will lose customizations- many themes come with theme options for customizations and these files won’t be touched in an update, however, best practices still say create a child theme. If you’ve mastered FTP and a file management tool, you could do this manually- but there are plugins that will do this for you faster and easier.
The one we’ve come to like is Child Theme Creator by Orbisius although it’s not always perfect. Some of the “premium themes” have additional files that are required- and even come with their own installable child themes. Carefully look at your themes installation notes to see if yours falls into one of these categories.
Once you’ve created your child theme- you activate it, and go about your merry way modifying your theme in any way you like.
The safety and security of being able to upgrade your parent theme, without losing customizations is now yours.