Advanced WordPress Theming: A Deep Dive into Theme File Structure and Template Hierarchy

WordPress Theming

When you come across the topic of advanced WordPress theme development (templates), one of the first definitions you will have to deal with is “WordPress template hierarchy.”

WordPress determines which template or group of templates should be used to show the page based on the query string. The information in the link to each section of your website is contained in the query string.

WordPress looks through the template hierarchy until it locates a matched template file. WordPress:

Determines which template file to use by:

  1. Determines which page is being requested by matching each query string to a query type (such as a search page, a category page, etc.);
  2. Selects the template according to the hierarchy of the template;
  3. Searches the current theme’s directory for template files with given names and uses the first one that matches, per the hierarchy.
It only makes sense to move forward with understanding how this definition works.

What Is WordPress Template Hierarchy? Why is it Needed?

Based on the definition, a hierarchy is a branching structure that defines what is primary and what is secondary. Each component of a WordPress site has a template, which can change depending on the theme, as it is a dynamic website.

WordPress loads a page in response to each query that is generated.
Hence, WordPress uses the template hierarchy mechanism to decide which template files should be loaded first to show the chosen webpage on your website.

An advanced WordPress theme development theme consists of so-called templates. The WordPress hierarchy is those internal rules that are hardwired into the internal logic (core) of WordPress, which will determine in which situation and which template to use (which one will take priority).

These rules determine which HTML code will eventually be seen by the user who has requested the WordPress site.

Why Do We Need WordPress File Hierarchy?

There’s a reason for that, and the reason is the flexibility of advanced WordPress theme development. Thanks to the WordPress file hierarchy, we can customize the look and feel of the site that will be displayed to the user under different conditions.
This makes the code much more straightforward and avoids a lot of “If – That – Other” constructs.

Creating a template file is much easier than writing a sizeable logical structure of code. Creating a template is the way professional WordPress theme developers decide to go. If you want to manage your advanced WordPress theme development flexibly, mastering the logic of how the WordPress file hierarchy works for you might be necessary. With understanding it, many things make sense, and you can manage your theme flexibly and efficiently.

WordPress Template Hierarchy Based on Page Type

Most WordPress websites employ the following seven categories of pages:

  • Front page template files
  • Single posts
  • Single pages
  • Custom post types
  • Search result pages
  • Category and tag pages
  • 404 error pages

Front Page

The first place users arrive on your website is the front page. Although front page designs vary from site to site, they all adhere to the same general concept. This indicates that the following files load in the following order whenever a query string relevant to the home page is generated:

  • Front-page.php
  • Home.php
  • Index.php

Single Posts

The individual postings are considered singles and use a hierarchy of single post templates.
Depending on the degree of flexibility, the template hierarchy for single posts may be complicated. However, for single postings, the fundamental template hierarchy is as follows:

  • Single.php
  • Singular.php
  • Index.php

Single Pages

Single-page templates can have a complicated template structure, just like single articles. The single page’s fundamental template hierarchy is as follows:

  • Page.php
  • Singular.php
  • Index.php

Custom Post Types

To offer your brand a distinctive touch, advanced WordPress theme development enables you to create custom post kinds for your website. Custom post types have their template hierarchy and are arranged in the following manner to assist in retaining users on your website:

  • archive-{post_type}.php
  • archive.php
  • Index.php

Search Result Pages

A search option is present on almost all WordPress websites. The search results page uses a straightforward template hierarchy, as shown below:

  • Search.php
  • Index.php

Category and Tag Pages

WordPress creates category and tag-specific group pages. Pages for categories and tags may contain various components and have their template hierarchy. Because of this, the template hierarchy of category and tag pages can be flexible and sophisticated.
The category page’s basic templates appear as follows:

  • category–{slug}.php
  • category-{id}.php
  • category.php
  • archive.php
  • index.php

404 Error Pages

WordPress displays a 404 error page whenever users attempt to access a page that doesn’t exist. Even though the page can’t be changed greatly, you can still alter the template to suit your requirements.
The hierarchy of the 404 error page templates is quite straightforward and looks like this:

  • 404.php
  • Index.php

Purpose of Template Hierarchy in WordPress

To change our WordPress blogs, we require a template hierarchy. A template hierarchy may also be required for the following reasons:

  • Tell WordPress which template files from a theme to utilize at any time.
  • You have the advantage of changing your themes to suit your needs.
  • It improves the user’s comprehension of the theme.
  • It maintains order in the WordPress platform.

What are WordPress Template Files?

WordPress pages are designed and developed using template files. Headers and footers are a couple of instances of template files. A template in WordPress gives your content’s presentation a framework. It’s a file produced by your WordPress theme that may be used to modify the appearance of certain articles or pages on your website. Themes have different templates. Moving a WordPress installation from one server to another without disrupting its operation is known as WordPress migration.


If you want to create custom themes and alter the WordPress theme file structure, it helps to understand the WordPress template hierarchy. You can quickly locate the appropriate template files to update and customize. You may now comprehend how template hierarchy functions once you have configured your WordPress hosting and have your servers running. The WordPress template hierarchy’s rigid naming system is one of its best features. Hence, advanced WordPress theme development is simple once you understand the template structure. For a quick visual reference for theme creation, you can refer to the WordPress theme hierarchy.

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