How to Upgrade a WordPress Theme Even if it is Customized

Posted on Dec 26 2015 by in customizable wordpress themes 

Website themes add value and variety to a website but over time, they require upgrades to keep up with any new features and keep security patches up-to-date. It is possible to upgrade a WordPress theme without too much technical know-how, and there are many ways to do it.

Before you begin anything, you need first to back up the theme files. You are going to be replacing and updating theme files, and you never know whether something will go wrong. Backing up the current theme and database is very important since it will allow you to go back to the old theme and start afresh.

You can do this by manually copying the entire WordPress directory onto your computer using FTP and then backing up the database using a plugin. If this feels like a lot of work you can use a third-party backup site that will do all the work.

Automatic upgrades

This is the most straightforward method to upgrade a WordPress theme. Premium themes usually come with their upgrade instructions from the providers. For themes that were obtained from the WordPress Theme Repository, two easy methods will work. You can go to the WordPress dashboard>Appearance>Themes. If there are updates available for that theme, you will see an alert banner. Simply click on ‘update now’.

You could also go to Dashboard>Updates. You will see a list of available updates, including those for themes. Click on the theme to be updated and then on ‘update themes’. This method can be used to update more than one theme.       

Upload and replace an existing theme

Many theme providers say that for users to upgrade a WordPress theme, they will need to upload a new version of the theme to replace an older version. If you try this by going to Appearance>Themes>Add New and then try to upload manually a new version of a theme that is already existing in the theme’s directory, you will receive an error message saying that ‘the destination folder already exists’.  This is expected because the two folders in the themes directory have the same name.

You could solve this using one of two ways:

  1. Login to the website via cPanel or FTP. Delete the old theme first and then upload the new one.
  2. Deleting a theme seems very drastic so if it worries you, rename the old file. Login to the website, go to wp-content/themes and then look for the theme you want to replace. Rename it and then upload the new theme. The two themes will appear on the interface, but the names on the folders and the version numbers will allow you to tell them apart.

Uploading a Customized Theme

Customizing a theme takes time and a lot of effort. Losing all this is very easy when you upgrade a WordPress theme. To keep our hard work from going down the drain, you will need to create a child theme. This is a theme that takes on the functionality of another theme known as the parent theme. A child theme lets you make changes to the functionality of the parent theme.

A child theme also allows you to make changes to a website without interfering with the parent theme’s code. This means that you will be able to update the site without losing any customizations. If you made customizations but didn’t use a child theme but still want to upgrade a WordPress theme, you will need to use the below options.

Upgrade a WordPress theme by uploading only changed files

Not using a child theme means that you might have made changes to the theme’s code. Look at the updates in the new theme version to find out whether they are far-reaching. Go through the readme file or changelog.

If only a few files have been changed, you could upload and overwrite them. If the updates happened to fall on any customized files and you still remember the exact lines of code you changed, go to Appearance>Editor and make the same customizations again.

Re-customizing the new theme

This can be done using the same method laid out above. This will be possible if you saved the previous customizations somewhere or if you remember them. It may seem like double work so to avoid having to do it again create a child theme and keep everything intact for the next time you upgrade.

If you want to upgrade a WordPress theme but don’t remember the previous customizations you will have to do a little more work, but it can be done. You can use a program that will compare the two versions of your theme.

It will help you find the differences in the two files, and you will easily be able to copy the snippets of code for the customizations to where you want them. Once everything is done put everything in a zip file and upload it onto your site by going to Appearances>Themes>Add new.

Check out a number of different themes so that you can change or even upgrade a WordPress theme to give your site some new life.