Can You Have a WordPress Website Without a Theme?

laptop displaying a WordPress website

Creating a WordPress website without a theme is an unusual request. Themes are one of the main reasons people choose WordPress to create their website. However, if you are wondering if you can have a WordPress website without a theme , the short answer is no.

In general, you can’t have a WordPress website without a theme. Although WordPress can function without a theme on the backend, your content won’t be displayed on the front end without a theme.

WordPress is a content management system that uses a theme directory to store all the design elements of your website. When you create a page or post, WordPress uses information from your theme directory to display your content. Essentially, the design elements of your theme surround the content, based on how the theme is structured.

A theme tells WordPress how to display your content. If there is not a theme in the directory, WordPress does not have the information it needs to display the page. Because of this, without a theme, the posts, and pages will be displayed on the front end as blank pages.

You can’t delete your active theme through the WordPress Dashboard

To keep you from removing your theme files accidentally, you can’t delete your active theme through your WordPress dashboard. One active theme is required to install WordPress, which is why you are always prompted to select a default theme when you install it. This theme will be active in the Theme Manager section of your WordPress dashboard. If you wanted to delete this theme, you would need to go to your file manager and delete it from the theme directory. However, this is not something you want to do. Without a theme, WordPress will no longer work properly and it won’t display your content.

However, just because WordPress needs a theme to function, doesn’t mean you have to use the default themes available or buy a theme. The beauty of WordPress is you can create custom themes to design your website or you can customize a theme to look the way you want.

WordPress theme dashboard

What is a WordPress Theme?

A WordPress theme is essentially the design and layout for your website. Instead of having to build each page of your website individually, the theme stores all the information for the appearance of your website in PHP page templates and CSS style sheets. When you install WordPress you will be prompted to select a theme to start with. This is usually one of WordPress’ default themes. Don’t worry. You can change this theme later and there are literally thousands of themes to choose from.

A WordPress theme typically consists of the following files.

  • index.php – This is the main template for your website. WordPress uses it to display your content.
  • styles.css – This is your main style sheet used to add styles to your template.
  • Technically these are the only two files you need for a WordPress theme.
  • Most themes also include a PHP template for the header and footer
  • header.php – Template that displays the header section of your website
  • footer.php – Template that displays the footer section of your website
  • functions.php This is used to add functionality to your themes, such as adding PHP code or scripts.
css and template files for a WordPress Website theme

A theme is the foundation of a WordPress Website

The purpose of a content management system is to store and display content. Before WordPress came along, many websites were built without a content management system. Every page of the website had to be updated manually, or by editing a CSS style sheet. But, design changes were often time-consuming. With the creation of CMS platforms like WordPress, design changes can be done simply by switching your theme or editing your theme.

If you don’t like the default themes that come with WordPress, you can easily find another one by going to Appearance > Themes in your WordPress dashboard. To add a new theme, click on Add New at the top of the Theme manager. Search for a theme you like. For example, you could search for a green theme or garden theme.

Select your theme and press install. This will install the theme so that you can use it on your WordPress website. You can have numerous themes installed, but only one can be active. To make it the active theme for your WordPress website, you need to activate it. If you decide you don’t like the way the theme looks, you can simply find another one.

If you don’t like the selection of themes or want to create your own original theme that can be done. If you’re a developer, all you need to do is install WordPress and create your own theme using the code for the WordPress index.php template and the main style sheet, styles.css. Those are the only two files necessary for a theme to function. However, most themes have PHP templates for a header, footer, comments, a single post, a page, and a blog archive. Most custom theme developers, however, don’t start with code files. They work with a starter theme.

How to Create a Custom Theme with a Starter Template

If you wanted to create a WordPress website completely from scratch, you can’t create a WordPress website without a theme. But, you can design your own custom theme. This requires a good understanding of CSS and PHP and is not recommended for beginners. Here is the general idea of how to create a custom theme.

Step 1 Install WordPress on a local server like XAMPP

Step 2 Download a starter theme.

A starter theme is basically a theme with minimal styling and functionality that you can edit to create your own custom theme. Most come with basic layouts or no layout at all. They include the code to display your WordPress content, but no design, styling, or layouts. Underscore is a popular starter theme.

Underscore can be used to build a custom theme for a WordPress webbsite

To use the underscore starter theme, go to their website. To create your starter theme, type the name you want to theme in the box that says Name Theme and click generate. You now have your own starter theme.

Underscore comes with the following PHP template pages and a main style sheet
archive.php
comments.php
footer.php
functions.php
header.php
index.php
page.php
search.php
sidebar.php
single.php
styles.css

Step 3 Install the starter theme on a local server and activate it

Step 4 Edit the PHP templates and style sheet to design your own theme.

How to Create a Theme if You Don’t Know How to Code

What’s great about WordPress themes is they’re very customizable. Technically, to create a custom theme, you would need to use a starter theme and edit it to add your design elements and layouts. But, there are numerous WordPress themes that you can customize in such a way that when they are finished they look like your very own theme. Many of the popular WordPress themes come with starter templates and Page Builders. Using a starter template is a great way to design a WordPress website to look exactly the way you want as if you designed the theme yourself.

What is a starter template?

A starter template is a pre-made layout or demo site for your website. It’s similar to designing your own theme, but you don’t have to know how to code. Just install the theme, and then select a template from their library of starter templates. Or, you can import a demo site. The website is already designed for you. You can import an entire website or just specific pages.

To use a starter template, purchase or install a theme that comes with demo sites or starter templates. Astra, Kadence, and Divi are a few of the popular themes that come with starter templates. Install and activate the theme.

The free version of the theme may have a limited selection of templates to choose from. For more options in starter templates, you’ll want to purchase a premium version. While there is a cost involved in paying for a premium theme, most include licenses that can be used for multiple websites. This is a great option for anyone just learning to use WordPress because you can start designing your website right away. As you get better with styling themes, you may not need a starter template to build your website, but it is a great option for beginners.

To summerize, you can’t have a WordPress website without a theme. But, why would you want to? With so many options in themes and the ability to create your own custom themes, WordPress is an ideal solution for creating custom websites that look like they were designed from scratch.