How to Update WordPress Themes Without Losing Customization

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WordPress themes are easy to customize, with drag-and-drop functionalities, blocks, patterns, and a powerful customizer; even beginners can build incredible websites quickly.

You can add custom scripts and codes, modify theme files, and extend themes’ core functionality and features.

But what happens to your custom customizations when you update the theme to the latest version? 

Are you going to lose your custom CSS customization?

In today’s tutorial, I will show you how to update WordPress themes to the latest version without losing your customizations. 

Why Updating WordPress Themes is Important 

Like the core WordPress software, your theme must update regularly to gain access to new features, enhance security, fix bugs, improve compatibility, etc.

In this section, you will learn why you must endeavor to update your WordPress themes regularly when it’s available. 


Enhancing security features is one of the reasons why regularly updating your WordPress themes is crucial. 

As the most popular open-source content management system, WordPress is the target of hackers and security vulnerabilities. Not regularly updating your themes could expose your site to malware infection security breaches and give hackers access to exploit your site files. 

Another step you should take towards security measures is ensuring you only download and use themes from reputable developers. 

You should mainly install themes available in the theme directory with significant positive user reviews and downloads, which should be regularly updated. 


When developers push theme updates, they often include performance improvements compared to the previous version. These improvements could focus on reducing theme weight and HTTP requests, combining files, SEO-optimized themes, or using fewer scripts to ensure the theme loads faster. 

Running the latest theme version ensures your website runs at maximum performance.

For instance, after upgrading to Astra 4.7.0, I noticed a significant improvement in loading time (296 ms compared to the 598 ms previously) on one of my blog homepages. 

Pingdom testing tool results for website homepage

Features Upgrade

Often, theme updates introduce new features, customization, and design capabilities. You must be running the latest version to access these new features, which can further enhance your website’s look, SEO, and user experience. 

Many theme developers are now incorporating AI features or capabilities into their products; unless you’re using the latest version, you may not experience the innovation.

For example, Kadence AI lets you create custom designs and write content, while Astra enables you to build a complete website with its AI website builder powered by ZipWP. These features were not possible in previous versions of both themes.

So, updating to a new version is an ideal practice if you want to keep up with the latest theme technology.

Compatibility Issues

Another benefit of regularly updating your theme is compatibility with other WordPress products. WordPress core and some plugins require theme compatibility to perform at optimal levels. 

Since WordPress core updates happen a few times per year (two to three times), the theme developer must test their products against WordPress’ new version to ensure stability and compatibility. 

If a theme has not been tested with WordPress’s latest version, you’ll get a warning message during installation. This is for themes you’re downloading via the repository. 

If you’re downloading from external sources, you’ll need to confirm theme compatibility with WordPress’s latest version from your developer. If they can’t answer this question or provide a vague response without reference to testing and performance data, you might need to look for other options.

Steps to Consider Before Updating WordPress Themes

As easy as it looks, there are best practices or steps to consider before updating your WordPress theme. Though very rare, a theme update might negatively impact a WordPress blog.

Generally, updating your theme incorrectly might affect the design, user experience, URL structure, etc., so it’s necessary to undertake these steps before updating your theme to its latest version.

  • Backup Your Website—Create a complete website backup using a plugin or your hosting provider’s tools, including files and databases. This gives you a safety net in case something goes wrong during the update and you must revert to the previous version. Some web hosts automatically do the backup on a schedule; you must check to ensure it contains your blog’s current version.
  • Check Theme Compatibility—Not all themes are compatible with the latest version of WordPress. Before updating, verify if your theme developer has tested it with your current version. Look for information on the website, documentation, support forums, or theme page. 
  • Consider Child Themes – Using a child theme is crucial if you’ve customized your theme’s code directly (not recommended). A child theme inherits styles and functionalities from the parent theme (the one you’re updating) but allows you to customize without affecting the parent theme’s files. This way, your customizations won’t be overwritten during the update. Learn more about what a child theme is. 
  • Test on a Staging Site—A staging site replicates your live website in a separate hosting environment. Ideally, test the theme update on the staging site first. This lets you see how the updated theme looks, functions, and interacts with your plugins before changing your live website. If your web host does not have staging, you can use a test site or a plugin like WP Staging to create a clone copy of your site. 
  • Review Changelogs – The theme developer might have included a changelog outlining changes, bug fixes, and any known compatibility issues. Reviewing this can help you anticipate any potential problems and prepare accordingly.
  • Schedule Updates During Low Traffic Periods – Theme updates can sometimes cause temporary downtime and unexpected outcomes. To minimize performance disruption on your user’s part, schedule updates when your website traffic is typically low. You can check your website analytics to figure out when traffic is usually low on your site. 
  • Update Plugins—While at it, Consider updating your WordPress plugins. Outdated plugins, especially page builders, can conflict with theme updates, so ensuring everything is current can help you avoid issues. If a plugin is not compatible with WordPress core, it could also not be compatible with your theme’s latest version.  
  • Test Your Website Thoroughly—Once you’ve updated the theme on your live website (or after testing on a staging site), you must test all functionalities, layouts, headers, footers, and web forms to ensure everything works as expected. This is a crucial step, as you might not be aware of incorrectly displaying CSS styles, layouts, design, or background color unless you test it thoroughly. 

These steps can minimize the risk of problems and ensure a smooth and successful WordPress theme update.

Note: Creating a staging site is an important step in the list above. It’s not just for testing theme updates; it’s also necessary for other development purposes, such as debugging, testing applications, and evaluating plugin performance. 

Depending on your web host, you may already have access to staging features. Cloudways, my web host, offers free staging management, which you can access from your dashboard. 

You need to log into Cloudways, locate the application you want to clone and click Staging Management from the menus. 

Cloudways staging managements

Next, click “Launch Staging Application” to begin the process. In the dialog popup box, select the server to clone the application and proceed to the next step. In this step, you must ensure the server has enough storage to accommodate the website copy. 

Cloudways staging application credentials

Cloudways will check the Staging requirements before starting the process. 

Depending on your blog database size and files, it will take a few minutes. Once the process is completed, you can access the site using the password and username and edit it in a safe and private environment. 

How to Safely Update WordPress Themes 

Keeping your WordPress theme up-to-date is crucial for security, bug fixes, and new features.  But safety first! Here’s a comprehensive guide considering various methods for updating your theme.

Depending on your situation and experience level, you should carefully review each option and only explore the one you’re comfortably handling. 

Note: If you’ve made custom changes to your WordPress theme files, you need to create a child theme and copy the custom script. Although I’ve discussed this above, it is worth revisiting here. 

Besides, most themes will prompt you not to make direct code modifications to your parent theme to avoid overriding during updates or even causing unexpected theme functions. 

Away from that, let’s discuss three ways to update your WordPress theme without breaking your site.

Method 1: Updating Directly from the WordPress Dashboard 

This is the simplest method to update WordPress themes without risk. It is suitable for themes downloaded from the official WordPress theme directory. This process most suits beginners and offers a one-click theme update. 

You will receive a notification via your admin toolbar if a theme update is available. Simply click on the update icon to proceed to the updating page.

However, before you click on the update theme button, remember to back up your site. Alternatively, check if your web host has the most current version of your site content. 

Once your site is backed up, go to the WordPress dashboard and click updates. The next screen shows you a list of available theme or plugin updates. If multiple theme updates are available, you can check all themes for WordPress to run the updates simultaneously. 

Backup Your Website: It can’t be stressed enough! Use a plugin or your hosting provider’s tools to create a full backup (files & database).

  • Navigate to Appearance > Theme> select your theme and hover over it.
  • You should see an “Update Now” button if an update is available.
  • Click “Update Now” and follow any on-screen instructions.
  • WordPress will automatically download and install the update.
  • Test Your Website – After the update, thoroughly test all functionalities, layouts, and forms to ensure everything functions as intended.

Method 2: Manual Update Using FTP Client

This method offers more control over the update process and is helpful if the update is outside the dashboard or for themes downloaded from external sources.

A theme downloaded outside the WordPress theme directory may not offer updates via the admin dashboard. In such a situation, you will need to do it manually. 

So, the first thing to do is get the updated version from the theme developer or vendor (wherever you get it). Download the zip file and extract it from your computer.

Next, you need to back up your website. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. 

I’ve discussed the importance of regular website backups a few times in this tutorial. Ensure you always have a backup copy of your site whenever you make significant changes or update core functions. 

Now that your site is backed up, the next step is to use an FTP client like FileZilla to connect to your website’s server. You can download the free version of Filezilla online. It’s a desktop application. Once downloaded, launch the app and enter your server credentials to connect.

You need to locate your theme folder on the server. It’s usually in the folders “/public_html/wp-content/themes.”

FileZilla interface connecting to a website server

If you don’t have access to the old version of the download files for the theme you’re using, you need to download it before replacing it here. Having a backup copy of your website theme is ideal whenever you’re updating to the latest version. 

So, once you’ve completed the download, simply replace the theme with the updated version on your computer. It will automatically override the theme files and apply the updates. 

Your site should be running on the current latest version of your old theme.

Method 3: Update Theme via cPanel.

This method is also applicable if you’re using a theme that is not in the WordPress theme directory and not getting updates via WordPress. 

But if your web host offers cPanel features, you can change or update the theme there. 

First, download the latest version of your WordPress theme to your computer, just like you did in the step above. Make sure to unzip the download files.

Next, log into your host cPanel and locate File Manager. Click File Manager and locate the Public.html folder. Click the folder >wp-content> themes

cPanel - File Manager label

Next, locate the theme you want to update from the list on the main page. 

cPanel interface

Right-click on the theme, and click compress from the options. This action will prompt you to download the theme files to your computer. You should proceed if you want a copy of the old theme version as a backup in case something unexpected happens. 

So, you can reverse the situation and make changes without losing your site’s appearance. 

Once the download is complete, delete the theme folder in the cPanel and upload the latest version you downloaded to your computer. 

After the upload, view your site’s front end to ensure you’re running the latest version. If all goes right, your site should automatically run the updated version.

However, in rare cases, if the theme is not automatically updated on your site, you should go to the admin dashboard > Appearance> Theme> and activate it.


Do I Need a Child Theme to Update Every Time?

You don’t need a child theme to update your theme if you don’t have custom customization. A child theme is only necessary when custom scripts and modifications are made to the parent theme. 

What Customizations are Most likely to be lost During an Update?

Code edits made directly to the theme files (outside a child theme) are most at risk of loss. This includes changes to functions.php, style.css, or other core theme files.

Is there a way to back up all my customizations at once?

Some plugins might offer backup functionalities for theme customizations, but it’s generally safer to focus on child themes or manually copy specific code snippets. Best, run a full sale sitewide backup from your host or use a backup plugin like Jetpack backup – VaultPress.

Can I update my Theme Through the WordPress Dashboard and Still keep Customization?

It depends. If you’re using a child theme to add or edit core theme files, updating through the dashboard generally won’t affect your customizations. However, it’s always recommended to back up your website before any updates. 

How do I Automatically Update WordPress Themes?

Kadence auto updates

WordPress provides automatic theme updates; you can enable the function by going to Appearance>Theme and selecting the theme you want to set to auto-updates.

Next, click the “Enable auto-update” link as shown in the image.

Note: Your host might also have automatic updates for plugins and themes; you should contact your web host if you’re in doubt.


Updating your WordPress theme introduces new features, such as developers’ security patches, bug fixes, compatibility, and performance features. However, updates override existing customizations if you’ve made custom edits to the core theme files. 

This is where knowing how to update the WordPress theme without losing any existing customization comes in handy. This article advises ensuring you follow the right updating methods for your situation.

Most importantly, having a full-site backup is essential in all situations. It protects you from losing your site content in case of disaster. 

Web hosts like Cloudways automate website backup and offer staging as part of their hosting package. So, you don’t have to worry about accidentally breaking your site or unintended consequences. 

You can access the most recent 14-day website backup available anytime. 

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