I'm writing a customised walker class for wp_nav_menu and want to be able to specify if an li contains a submenu. So I want my markup to be:

<li class="has_children [other-wordpress-classes]">
    <a class="parent-link">Some item</a>
    <ul class="sub-menu">

I know how to add and remove the classes fine, I just cant find anything to tell me if the current item has children items.

Any ideas?

Thanks in advance.

5 Answers 5


start_el() should get this information in its $args parameter, but it appears WordPress only fills this in if $args is an array, while for the custom navigation menus it is an object. This is reported in a Trac ticket. But no problem, you can fill this in yourself, if you also override the display_element() method in your custom walker (because this is the easiest place to access the child element array):

class WPSE16818_Walker extends Walker_Nav_Menu
    function display_element( $element, &$children_elements, $max_depth, $depth=0, $args, &$output )
        $id_field = $this->db_fields['id'];
        if ( is_object( $args[0] ) ) {
            $args[0]->has_children = ! empty( $children_elements[$element->$id_field] );
        return parent::display_element( $element, $children_elements, $max_depth, $depth, $args, $output );

    function start_el( &$output, $item, $depth, $args ) {
        if ( $args->has_children ) {
            // ...
  • Hello Jan, Can you help me with this question? I tried your code but i couldn't make it work. Can you give me some more sample code? Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 22:18
  • Refer to the complete implementation example further down on this page.
    – rjb
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 20:41
  • Thanks a lot @Jan fabry.. I was held up with my custom walker.. Atlast your snippet helped me. Commented May 5, 2014 at 10:12

Update: As of WordPress 3.7 (October 2013), CSS classes have been added to indicate child menu items and pages in theme menus — no need to use a custom walker as it's taken care of in WordPress core.

The CSS classes are named menu-item-has-children and page_item_has_children.

For a complete solution for anybody in a hurry (credit to Jan Fabry's previous answer), see the full implementation below.

Output the navigation in your theme's template:

wp_nav_menu( array(
    'theme_location' => 'navigation-primary',
    'container' => false,
    'container_class' => '',
    'container_id' => '',
    'menu_class' => '',
    'menu_id' => '',
    'walker' => new Selective_Walker(),
    'depth' => 2

Then, include the following in your theme's functions.php:

class Selective_Walker extends Walker_Nav_Menu {
    function display_element( $element, &$children_elements, $max_depth, $depth=0, $args, &$output ) {
        $id_field = $this->db_fields['id'];

        if ( is_object( $args[0] ) ) {
            $args[0]->has_children = !empty( $children_elements[$element->$id_field] );

        return parent::display_element( $element, $children_elements, $max_depth, $depth, $args, $output );

    function start_el( &$output, $item, $depth, $args ) {
        if ( $args->has_children ) {
            $item->classes[] = 'has_children';

        parent::start_el(&$output, $item, $depth, $args);

The resulting HTML output will resemble the following:

    <li><a href="#">Home</a></li>
    <li class="has_children"><a href="#">About</a>
        <ul class="sub-menu">
            <li><a href="#">Our Mission</a></li>
    <li><a href="#">Services</a></li>
    <li class="has_children"><a href="#">Products</a>
        <ul class="sub-menu">
            <li><a href="#">Lorem Ipsum</a></li>
            <li><a href="#">Lorem Ipsum</a></li>                
    <li><a href="#">Contact Us</a></li>

For more information on using WordPress' walker class, see Understanding the Walker Class.


  • Fatal error: Call-time pass-by-reference has been removed in D:\www\wordpress\wp-content\themes\wpt_theme\functions.php on line 44 Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 19:43
  • Line#44 is parent::start_el(&$output, $item, $depth, $args); Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 19:44

This function is exactly what you want to have. It also shows you a pretty effective way to modify nav menu items. Furthermore you can open it for more advanced (eg. child theme) functions via the item-filter:

 * Classes for a navigation named "Topnav" in the nav location "top".
 * Shows examples on how to modify the current nav menu item
 * @param (object) $items
 * @param (object) $menu
 * @param (object) $args
function wpse16818_nav_menu_items( $items, $menu, $args )
    # >>>> start editing

    // examples for possible targets
    $target['name'] = 'Topnav';
    // The targeted menu item/s
    $target['items'] = array( (int) 6 );

    # <<<< stop editing

    // filter for child themes: "config_nav_menu_topnav"
    $target = apply_filters( 'config_nav_menu_'.strtolower( $target['name'] ), $target );

    // Abort if we're not with the named menu
    if ( $menu->name !== $target['name'] ) 

    foreach ( $items as $item )
        // Check what $item contains
        echo '<pre>'; print_r($item); echo '</pre>';

        // First real world example:
        $item->classes = 'span-4';

        // Second real world example:
        // Append this class if we are in one of the targeted items
        if ( in_array( (int) $item->menu_order, $target['items'] ) )
            $item->classes .= ' last';

    return $items;
add_filter( 'wp_get_nav_menu_items', 'wpse16818_nav_menu_items', 10, 3 );

And yes, there's - in nearly every case - no need for a custom walker.

  • Thanks, I need the walker for now but will have a look at this for next time round!
    – patnz
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 23:50

if you want to make drop down, you can do it with css only. make custom nav in WP with children, WordPress automatically assigns class .sub-menu to child ul. Try this CSS

    nav li {position:relative;}
   .sub-menu {display:none; position:absolute; width:300px;}
    nav ul li:hover ul {display:block;}

You may want to add some jQuery to spice it up a little, but this should give you a working drop down menu.

  • Thanks, its for a multilevel collapsible tree menu that I'm inserting control elements into as well, but definitely good to do as much with css as possible!
    – patnz
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 23:49
if ( $this->has_children ) {
    $item_output .= 'has_children';
  • 3
    Please, explain what this code does and how it is answer the question.
    – cybmeta
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 18:43
  • And please post the code in more context. As is, most people who visit will have no idea where to try to paste that and will get it wrong.
    – s_ha_dum
    Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 3:53

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