I'm creating a WordPress child theme based on an existing parent theme, and I'd like to have any same-named file I put in my child theme directory take priority over the file in the parent theme directory. I thought this was how parent/child theming was set up in WP but I have hit a bump.

According to the WordPress codex on Child Themes, it says:

Template Files
If you want to change more than just the stylesheet, your child theme can override any file in the parent theme: simply include a file of the same name in the child theme directory, and it will override the equivalent file in the parent theme directory when your site loads.

In one of my files (header.php), there is an include that looks like this:

include get_parent_theme_file_path("folder/file.php")

Even though I have a duplicate-named-but-modified version of that file.php in my child theme, it still uses the version in my parent theme. According to the same codex, their recommendation for targeting a child theme file specifically is to use get_stylesheet_directory(), so it would look like this:

include (get_stylesheet_directory()."/folder/file.php");

I understand that the purpose of a function called "get_parent_theme_file_path()" is to ignore the parent/child relationship and just get the parent theme version, so without replacing that with a function that explicitly gets a file in my child theme (ie. get_stylesheet_directory), is there a way I can have some sort of universal get_path() function that checks for child first, if it doesn't exist, get parent version?

By the way, I read this Q&A on "get_parent_theme_file_path vs. get_template_directory", but their solution was to use parent_theme_file filters, but that isn't dynamic, and would require me to write a filter function for every child file I want it to use.

Thanks for your help.

2 Answers 2


This is essentially what locate_template() does.

Searches in the STYLESHEETPATH (child) before TEMPLATEPATH (parent) and wp-includes/theme-compat so that themes which inherit from a parent theme can just overload one file.

  • Bingo, bango, bongo! Thank you @Milo. I wonder why this isn't mentioned on the Child Theme codex?
    – Mike B.
    Sep 15, 2018 at 13:14

There is a function for this since 4.7: get_theme_file_path()

Searches in the stylesheet directory before the template directory so themes which inherit from a parent theme can just override one file.

So if you do this:

include get_theme_file_path( 'folder/file.php' );

folder/file.php will be loaded from the child theme, if it exists, otherwise the parent theme.

This doesn't work for get_stylesheet_directory(), because the actual file path is not passed to get_stylesheet_directory(), so it has no way of knowing what file to look for.

The equivalent function for URLs is get_theme_file_uri(). This will get the URL for a file if it exists in the child theme, otherwise it will get it for the file in the parent theme.

Each function has a matching version that only searches the parent theme:


For templates, you should use get_template_part(). This lets you include PHP files that can be replaced by child themes, with some extra features, like an optional suffix to the name.

PS: The Codex is somewhat outdated. Unless a specific article has yet to be ported over, the developer documentation you should use is at https://developer.wordpress.org/themes/.

  • Thank you for your quick reply. This works, and gives me more control, but for the purpose of flexibility, I'm going to use the locate_template function. I just read this about the differences between the two functions.
    – Mike B.
    Sep 15, 2018 at 13:23

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