Will I lose everything if I change my WordPress theme?
No, you won’t lose everything. WordPress has been designed so that themes can be changed. All functionality that is WordPress core or plugin related will remain intact when you change your theme, anything that is theme-specific will be gone. Here’s how it works —
What happens to my Page & Post content?
One of the beautiful things about WordPress is that your website content is stored in a database. This means that you can change your WordPress theme and you won’t have to add all of the content again.
WordPress pages and posts are standard in WordPress so you don’t have to worry—they won’t disappear. This includes all of the comments in your blog, your blog categories, and tags, all of this will remain safely stored in the WordPress database.
What happens to my Plugins?
Plugins add functionality to WordPress and most plugins should work independently of your theme and you should be able to continue to use them with your new theme. But some plugins have been built for use with a specific theme. For example, a few weeks ago we highlighted plugins that extend the WooCommerce Storefront theme. These plugins will only work with this theme.
Will my media library images need to be uploaded again?
No need to worry. The WordPress media library files won’t be affected by a theme change. Before changing your theme, take a copy of any images stored in your theme folder outside of the media library that you want to reuse with the new theme.
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Theme differences — What you need to know
Each theme is different so when you change your theme you need to know what the differences may be and know how to prepare for them.
Themes change the appearance and the function of your website. Some elements that may be different from one theme to another include:
- widget areas (sidebars, header, footer, home page)
- menu locations
- page templates
- styling associated with website elements
- custom post types that have been created by or added to your theme
- theme-specific shortcodes
- theme-specific widgets
- scripts added to your theme
I changed my theme and now everything looks broken!
When you first change your theme you may think that everything has broken. Don’t worry, you probably just need to reset a few things.
Widget areas will have different names in different themes. When you change your theme, widgets may move to inactive widgets or to a different widget area. Head over to Appearance → Widgets and rearrange them in your new theme’s widget areas.
Your new theme will offer different Menu locations with different names from your old theme. Your menus will still exist in Appearance → Menus, but you will need to assign them to the new theme’s menu locations.
Custom Post Types, Short codes, Scripts
Be careful that you don’t get locked in to a theme. No matter how perfect the theme is now, the day will come when you want to change your theme.
Themes should focus on design and presentation. Website functionality is handled best by plugins, not themes. The official WordPress.org Theme Developer Handbook says:
Any theme you create should not add critical functionality. Doing so means that when a user changes their theme, they lose access to that functionality.
So if all themes follow this guideline, you won’t have to worry about losing functionality when you change your theme.
Custom post types are often created by web developers within the theme they are building, but it is better to use a Custom Post Type plugin so the functionality stays regardless of theme. Justin Tadlock has written about the theme Lock-in problem and specifically about custom post types and shortcodes. If the theme you are currently using has created custom post types, you will need to recreate them with a plugin. The content won’t be lost, it still exists in your WordPress database, you just can’t get at it until you recreate the custom post type.
What this means is, before you change your theme, determine what is theme-specific and needs to be replaced by a plugin.
If scripts such as your google analytics tracking code were added in your theme options panel or directly into the header.php file then you’ll lose your tracking when you change your theme. Switch over to a plugin such as the free Google Analytics for WordPress plugin by Yoast.
Some Advice Before Changing Your Theme — Start in a Staging Environment
Before you start playing with a new theme, clone your site to a development staging area. Good web hosts such as WPEngine and Flywheel, offer one-click staging environment as part of their hosting service. This makes it easy to leave your existing site live and try out the new theme in a staging area without any worries about what might happen.
You may also want to read our tips for choosing a WordPress theme.