The best way to test new WordPress themes

  1. Download the Theme Tester plugin for WordPress, install and activate it.
  2. Download themes from (or maybe not, see Adam’s comment below!) and try them out without annoying your visitors by changing themes on them.

My new Theme Tester plugin allows you to change themes and view the results without the visitors to your blog seeing any changes.
There is one cavaet. Your visitors may notice some changes if your current theme uses blog options that a new theme overwrites. This could happen if for example you’re testing a newer version of your current theme or testing a theme based on the same engine as your current theme. The K2 theme springs to mind here because it’s the base for several other themes but YMMV.

I used the plugin already when I trawled the themes sites and the archives at Weblog Tools Collection for a new theme for this place. As you can guess if you’re a regular visitor, I haven’t changed theme yet, but I found a couple of very pretty designs that may make an appearance here eventually.

By Donncha

Donncha Ó Caoimh is a software developer at Automattic and WordPress plugin developer. He posts photos at In Photos and can also be found on Google+ and Twitter.

51 replies on “The best way to test new WordPress themes”

You can also use my User Level Themes plugin to test a new theme on your site. This plugin is less invasive than the Theme Tester plugin as it is totally transparent from a visitors perspective (only site admins will see the new theme).

Your new plugin allows you to change themes and view the results without the visitors to your blog seeing any changes, except when they do see changes?

Your post is titled “The best way to test new WordPress themes.” I submit that the best way to test new themes is on a mirror of your site hosted locally.

1) it has been months since has been available. DO NOT download themes from there, there have been major security flaws in the wild since then. ONLY download themes from the author’s site, or their approved mirrors.

2) what does this plugin do that Theme Test Drive doesn’t?

I haven’t used, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about Theme Test Drive too.

As a plugin author myself, I’m always a little worried that I’ll release a plugin that’s already been done! Still that’s the way it goes – it’s bound to happen sometime.

At the end of the day it means more choice for the average user, which has to be a good thing (well except for choosing a code snippet plugin – I’m looking at 9 different plugins at the moment!).

Donncha, this is a great plugin! Especially with WP 2.5 breaking a lot of themes…this makes it much easier to try out new ones without taking the blog down. Nice work!

Donncha – thanks for the edit.

I didn’t mean it as a knock against your plugin. I’ve used theme test drive plenty, but the cookies are, er… unreliable. I’ll give yours a try, since I’ll assume it’s a little better.

Hi Donncha,

I use Theme Tese Drive as well, but I’d switch to your plugin *if8 it’s completely WP-SuperCache safe. For Theme Tese Drive I have to completely disable Wp-SuperCache to prevent users accidentaly getting the new theme.

I use XAMPP Lite on a flash drive. It fits rather well on a 1 gig flash drive and you can simply copy the WordPress 2.5 installation to the flash drive and then test all plugins and themes there. That’s what I did before I installed 2.5 on my blog. The added bonus is that I can develop new themes and/or plugins on the test site on a flash drive – all I need is a Windows computer with a USB port for WordPress development.

Yes, has to get their act together. They haven’t updated in so long, a lot of functionality on the site is broken. You have be careful where you download themes, a lot of third party sites will embed their own codes into themes authored by others. I agree with the above comments about testing WordPress locally, or on a totally different “non production” site…

I agree with rick.. but it can be applied only for them who have localhost / local server in their computer, such web programmers. but they who just know how to blog, they will need this plugin. I my self, used to use wp themes without testing. if there are any troubles I can switch back to the previous. cmiiw

Well, since we have installed and what I have to remove when I modify the design changes are only if I change the theme. It is as if assets continue despite deleted.

Hi excellent articles for a wordpress theme developer. this question arrived for every theme developer. I created a testing blog with all the posts and pages with different content. and i test all the themes on this wordpress blog installation. it is better to check on local server than directly on the live server.

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