When you want to customize the appearance of a theme, the first place you should
look is the style.css file. But if you need to make more dramatic changes—for example,
revamp the layout, change the information in the post list, or add new widget
areas—you have to go further. Your next step is to consider the theme’s template files.
A typical theme uses anywhere from a dozen to 50 templates. If you crack one
open, you see a combination of HTML markup and PHP code. The PHP code is the
magic ingredient—it triggers the specific WordPress actions that pull your content
out of the database. Before WordPress sends a page to a visitor, it runs all the PHP
code inside it.
Writing this code is a task that’s well beyond the average WordPress website owner.
But that’s not a problem, because you don’t need to write the code yourself, even
if you’re building a completely new theme. Instead, you take a ready-made page
template that contains all the basic code and edit that file to your liking. Here are
two ways you can do that:
• Change the HTML markup. Maybe you don’t need to change the code in the
template file at all. You might just need to modify the HTML that wraps around
it. After all, it’s the HTML (in conjunction with the style sheet) that determines
how your content looks and where it appears.
• Modify the PHP code. You start with a template full of working code. Often, you
can carefully modify this code, using the WordPress documentation, to change
the way it works. For example, imagine you want the list of posts on the home
page to show fewer posts, include just post titles or images instead of content,
or show posts from a specific category. You can do all this by adjusting the code
that’s already in the home page template.
Of course, the more thoroughly you want to edit the PHP, the more you need to learn.
Eventually, you might pick up enough skills to be an accomplished PHP tweaker.
UP TO SPEED
The actual syntax of the PHP language is beyond the scope of
this book. If you want to develop ninja programming skills,
there are plenty of great resources for learning PHP, whether
you have a programming background or are just starting out.
Don’t rush off just yet, however, because while learning PHP
will definitely help you customize a WordPress theme, it may
not help you as much as you expect.
Learning to customize a WordPress template is partially about
learning PHP (because it helps to understand basic language
details like loops, conditional logic, and functions). But it’s
mostly about learning to use WordPress’s functions in PHP
code (see the Note on page 493 for more about WordPress
functions). For that reason, you’ll probably get more practical
value out of studying WordPress functions than learning the
entire language, unless you plan to someday write dynamic
web pages of your own.
To get started with WordPress functions, check out the function
reference at http://tinyurl.com/func-ref. To learn more about
PHP, start with the absolute basics with the tutorial at http://