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I downloaded a blank theme and it has a category.php file that's not referenced anywhere in the code, but still appears when I try to view a single category. It also has a main loop that somehow always shows the correct posts without anything being declared anywhere. Is this just a wordpress thing? Is yes, is there some list of all files that will just work when placed in a theme, so I can delete the the ones exclusive to the not-so-blank theme?

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    It would be better if you learn something about category.php first. Here is an article that will explain wpbeginner.com/wp-themes/… You can find many more on google. – Rishabh Feb 27 '17 at 9:03
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Have a look at the following documentation, this should clear things up for you. Your list of files that make up a theme are explained here also. Including which files are used when.

https://developer.wordpress.org/themes/basics/template-hierarchy/

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