How to Change a WordPress Blog Theme

by Martin Malden

Important update – 30 June, 2009

This post was originally written when WordPress 2.6 was the current version. We’re now on WordPress 2.8, so I’ve created a video demonstrating how to change themes on WordPress 2.8 – you can find it here.

I saw a question in a forum today where someone asked how to change a WordPress blog theme without losing all the articles they’d written. I figure that if one person asks the question others would probably like to know too – so here’s a quick explanation.

Firstly, on the question of losing your articles:

your articles are stored in your database files and your theme is stored in your system files.  These are separate areas, so nothing you do to your theme will cause your articles to be lost.

Even if something in your theme causes your articles to be displaid strangely, that will be a theme problem.  Your articles will not be lost or changed.

If you find yourself in this situation the best bet is to re-activate the default WordPress theme and start again from there.

So – how to change your theme?

The process for changing a theme on WordPress.com blogs and WordPress.org (self hosted) blogs is the same, except for one thing: with WordPress.org blogs you have the additional option of finding (or buying) themes that you like and uploading them.

Here’s the process for changing pre-installed themes on both WordPress.com and WordPress.org (WordPress.org generally only has 2 of these:  Classic and Default):

  1. Log in to your blog’s admin area
  2. Locate and click the ‘Design’ link – usually the third item from the left in the main menu. (Note: from WordPress 2.7 on this is called ‘Appearance’, not ‘Design’).
  3. In the sub menu, make sure you’re in the ‘Themes’ view
  4. Browse through the themes that are available and click on one that you like – it will bring up a preview screen.
  5. If you like the theme click the ‘Activate <themename>’ link at the top right, and if you don’t just click the close button at the top left and continue your search.
  6. That’s it.

Additional points for WordPress.org blogs:

  1. Locate and download themes that you like from the web.  The WordPress.org site has lots, but you can also do a search for WordPress themes and add in the type of theme you want – e.g. WordPress travel themes.
  2. Unzip the files to a location on your hard disk.  When you view the location you unzipped them to with Explorer, you will see a folder – this contains your theme files
  3. Upload the theme folder to your server from the location where you unzipped them, placing the folder in the /wp-content/themes directory.  If your blog is located at www.myblog.com then your themes directory will be at www.myblog.com/wp-content/themes
  4. The theme(s) you uploaded will now appear in the list of options when you visit the Design > Themes page in your admin area.  Follow the steps I set out above for changing your theme.

That’s it – all done.

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