How to Convert XHTML/CSS To WordPress Theme

A very basic tutorial on how to convert a static XHTML/CSS template into a WordPress Theme. If you are an absolute beginner at developing WordPress themes then this should help you get started. This tutorial assumes you already have a basic understanding of HTML and CSS. It also assumes you have already built a website in XHTML and CSS and have it ready for conversion. Don’t worry about XHTML vs. HTML, it doesn’t matter for this tutorial.

How WordPress Works

WordPress works in a rather straightforward manner but it may seem confusing if you are completely new to the concept. WordPress relies on PHP to call on different parts of your content from the database management system it stands on. For example, look in your


directory and open the


file. As you scroll through the code notice the PHP calls, they start with a

< ?php

and end with a


Look at line 15 and notice the call for your stylesheet


<link rel=”stylesheet” href=”<?php bloginfo(’stylesheet_url’); ?>” type=”text/css” media=”screen” /></link>

This line uses PHP to look-up your stylesheet’s location from the database. This basic function of retrieving or calling some kind of data from your database and using PHP to display it in your XHTML is how WordPress works. Throughout this process you will be substituting PHP for different parts of your content and your code. This will make editing easier in the long run, as you will find out. Now that you understand the basics of how WordPress works, lets get started.

First Things First

The first step is to create a new folder and name it whatever you want your theme to be called. Next, create two new files,




and place them in the folder. Believe it or not, these are the only two files you actually need for a WordPress theme. Now copy and paste the code from your original CSS file into the style.css file you just created. At the top add the following code:

Theme Name: Replace with your Theme’s name.
Theme URI: Your Theme’s URI
Description: A brief description.
Version: 1.0
Author: You
Author URI: Your website address.


These comments simply help WordPress properly identify the theme. Your stylesheet is now ready to go.

Chop It Up

Now let’s start chopping up your XHTML. Remember how we talked about WordPress using PHP to call data from your database? Well WordPress can also use PHP to call different files from within your template folder. Imagine your current XHTML code chopped up into 4 (or more) different sections. For example, take a look at the layout and corresponding XHTML of this page. The header comes first, followed by the sidebar, then the content, and finally the footer. Instead of keeping these 4 parts of the XHTML together in one file, you are going to put each of them in their own separate file. Then call on them one by one using PHP.

So go ahead and sort through your XHTML code and place some markers in the 4 places where you plan on cutting the code into 4 separate sections.

Note: These next steps assume you have your page set up left to right: header, content, sidebar, footer. If your page is ordered differently you will have to switch a couple of these steps around, but I am sure you can figure that out.

Now create 3 new files

header.php, sidebar.php, footer.php

and place them in your theme directory. Next take a look at the


file from the default theme we looked at earlier. Notice all the PHP that is used in between the


tags. You will want to keep most of this code. First, remove lines 18 – 29 and copy the rest of the


section into your new


file. Now open up your original XHTML file and copy the code you marked off for your header (1st section) into your new


file underneath the

<head> </head>

section. Save and close.

Now open up your new


file. Copy the second part of your original XHTML code, the content (2nd section) into your new


file. Save and close.

Getting the hang of it?

Next open up your new


file, copy the sidebar (3rd section) of your original code into the


file. Finally, copy the original footer (4th section) of code into your new footer.php file.

Put It Back Together

Your original code should now be chopped up into 4 different files

header.php, index.php, sidebar.php, footer.php

. Let’s put it back together using a few lines of PHP. Open up your index.php file, it should contain the XHTML from the content (2nd section) of your original code. Add this line at the very top of the file:

< ?php get_header(); ?>

Now go to the absolute bottom of your


file and add these two lines:

< ?php get_sidebar(); ?>

< ?php get_footer(); ?>

These 3 simple lines of PHP are telling WordPress to fetch and display your

header.php, sidebar.php, and footer.php

files within your


file. Your code is now officially put back together. Now, if you want to edit your sidebar you can just edit your


file, instead of sorting through your index.php to find it. The same goes for your


and your


The Loop

Your index.php is almost finished. The final step is to insert the actual content into the code. Luckily, WordPress uses PHP for this as well. The Loop is the PHP function WordPress uses to call and display your posts from the database they are saved in. Look in your


directory and open the file index.php file. Copy everything in between

< ?php get_header(); ?>


< ?php get_sidebar(); ?>

to your clipboard. Now paste it into your new theme’s


file inside of whichever div you are using to hold your content. You just inserted a basic version of the loop into your code. WordPress will use the loop to display your posts and comments on your website.

The End

Now upload your theme folder to


Then log into WordPress and activate your theme. Wasn’t that easy?

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