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The WordPress Series: How to install a theme

The WordPress Series: How to install a theme


Installing a theme is something that everyone dealing with WordPress had to go through. In this article, we’ll take a look at what the different options are and which one to choose.

installing a wordpress theme

You’ve spent days looking for the perfect theme for your WordPress site and you finally found one (if you haven’t yet, we highly recommend visiting our article on how to choose a WordPress theme). You’re ready to kickstart your project - all you have to do now is install it. However, you’ve never done it before, so a little help would be appreciated. No worries - we’re here to do exactly that today!

Where to start with installing your WordPress theme?

For starters, you need to consider if you have a fresh WordPress installation or you’re changing an existing theme. If it’s the latter, creating a backup point would be a good idea.

The installation itself is pretty straightforward. You can proceed in three ways, so we'll take a look at all of them, in order to choose the most suitable for your case.

The first two are rather simple and it shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes, however, there are cases where the more complex option is to be used. This happens mostly if the theme is too big in size or due to other specific technicalities of the theme or your hosting.

How can you proceed? Basially, you have three options:

  • You can use the default WordPress theme search
  • You can upload the compressed file in your WordPress
  • You can upload the theme through FTP

Use the default WordPress theme search

This is the simplest method, though it can only be used with the free themes provided in the WordPress directory. Follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Admin Menu > choose Appearance -> choose Themes

wordpress theme menu

  1. At the top left corner you will see a button “Add New” - click on it

  2. From the directory that will load, choose the theme you like

All the themes are presented with thumbnails, which are designed to show you the general look of the respective theme.

The default category that will pop up is "Featured" but you can switch to the others from the top menu - there are tabs featuring the latest themes (by date), most popular (by download0 or favorite themes. The Favorite category is actually a personalized one, and themes there will appear only if you bookmark them from the WordPress repository on WordPress.org .

The last item on that menu is the Feature Filter, which, as you may have guessed, will allow you to filter the themes by specific aspects:

  • Layout – how many columns will the theme have (one, two), is the sidebar left or right etc.
  • Features – what kind of features must have - customizable elements, front-end editor etc.
  • Subject – topic of the theme such as blog, news, shop

Once you've selected your category (or filters) the available themes according to them will appear.

wordpress free themes

When you see a theme that grabs your attention. move your mouse over its window and a button will appear - “Details & Preview”. Click on it if you want to see the preview and some details such as rating and description. Keep in mind though that if you have no content on your site, the theme will likely not look as on the thumnail.

Once you've chosen your theme, all you have to do is click on the "Install" button you will see in the bottom right corner (when you position your mouse over the theme). If you've opened the Preview, an installation button will aslo appear at the top left corner.

install wordpress theme from repository

Now it will just take a few moments and your new theme is ready - voilà!

In order for the theme to be applied, you need to click on the "Activate" button that will be prompted. Keep in mind that if you skip this part, the theme will be there but you will keep seeing the old design.

If you somehow exited this window, the simplest way to find your freshly installed theme is to revisit the menu Appearance -> Themes. Go to your theme, move the mouse over it and click on “Activate” .

RELATED ARTICLE: 60 WordPress Plugins you need on your site

Upload a compressed file directly through WordPress

The second method is also quite simple, however, it's more suitable if you've purchased a theme (or gotten a free one that isn't available in the directory)>

This usually means that you have a file that you need to somehow upload in WordPress. The steps are quite similar:

  1. Go to the Appearance menu item > Themes
  2. Click on the button “Add New”
  3. A new option will appear “Upload Theme” (exactly where the Add New button was)

upload a wordpress theme

  1. Click on “Choose File”
  2. Select the .zip file from your computer
  3. Click on “Install Now”

It's very important that your theme is in .zip format - WordPress will not accept any other. If you try to upload a different type of archive - say .rar - you will likely receive an error message

It will take a couple of seconds to install your theme; after WordPress is done with the installation, a confirmation message will appear asking you if you want to preview the new theme, activate it or just return to Themes Page.

Upload a WordPess theme via FTP

Sometimes neither of these methods will work; perhaps the theme will be too big, or there will be some other kind of limitation that will not allow you to upload your WordPress theme directly through the admin.

wordpress error theme

In such case, there is a third option, which isn't quite user-friendly, but it's almost fail-safe. The issue there is the use of an FTP client, whose layout scares many non-technical users, but really, the client works a lot like a computer operating system. Basically, it allows you to upload and move around files on your server the same way you would move around folders in your Windows, only using specific logins.

If you are unfamiliar with the FTP use, you can check our detailed article on how to install Filezilla - one of the most popular FTP clients out there.

The login details you need - like the host, name and password can be found in your hosting account. If you use cPanel this is very easy to find and/or create

Let's go quickly through the steps you need in order to get an FTP client

  • Download the popular (and free FileZilla) as indicated in our tutorial, or another FTP client of your choice
  • Open the FTP and use the login details you just retrieved/created
  • Go to the WordPress folder ( you can usually locate it in “www” or “public_html” folder)
  • Navigate to WordPress theme folder following this path - open wp content folder, then themes
  • Drag the unzipped theme (and all the files) into the bottom window named "Queued files"

how to upload a wordpress theme via ftp

Once it has been successfully uploaded, login to your WordPress administration panel and go to Appearance -> Themes, then find your newly uploaded theme and simply activate it.


The second method is the most convenient as it requires minimal tehcnical skills, yet it's always good to have a backup plan. And speaking of back up, you remember to always do that before any major changes, right!

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