A safe way to test changes in a WordPress theme

If you run a self-hosted WordPress blog, sooner or later you’ll come to the point where your needs will be so specific no plugin would be able to meet them.

On top of that, too many plugins may slow down your blog. Plus some plugins, conflicting with each other, may crash the blog completely (you’ve experienced it already, right?).

Learning to code is a natural way to move from plugin chaos to a better blog management.

Editing the style via CSS style sheet in the worst case may spoil the look of your blog. Editing the code that replaces a plugin or adds a functionality can lead to a danger of turning entire blog into an error page.

But there is an easy way to avoid that. You can test changes in your WordPress while visitors of your blog will see the active theme.

How to make changes in WordPress blog safely

A solution is a great plugin written by Vladimir Prelovac, called Theme Test Drive.

What? Another plugin? Well, this one will help you get rid of a bunch of other ones. It will let you continually test new functionalities that could replace specific plugins.

Let’s say you are happy with your current theme, but want to add a sidebar widget using a very specific query to list posts from your blog. No plugin can do that, but you have found a right piece of code to put into the sidebar.

So, how to start?

1. Download and install Theme Test Drive plugin.

2. Go to your WordPress installation via ftp server and locate the folder with the current theme. The path is:


3. Duplicate the theme folder and give it a name. Let’s say it will be “test”.

4. Now, you can make changes to the test theme either via WordPress admin dashboard or directly on ftp. To see the result, simply go to the address of your blog, and add an extra url handle.

For a home page it will be:


For a single post:


You can test any page of your blog, including archives or search pages, the only thing you have to do is to add ?theme=test at the end of the url.

Once all changes are made, you can copy changed files to the desktop and then to the current theme. Let’s say you’ve changed style.css and sidebar.php. Upload these files to your active theme and let them replace old style.css and sidebar.php.

• • •

At the beginning, coding may look scary, but once you overcome first problems and learn the basics, you’ll realize this is the right way to evolve.

At the lowest level, modifying blog’s files is all about copying and pasting the right piece of code in the right place.

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