How to find, fully test, and setup new WordPress themes on your blog without anybody knowing. Don’t put it live until it’s ready!

**UPDATE** – This post is up for informational purposes only, now theme testing support is available natively in WordPress as of version 2.6!

One of the worst things about WordPress is that when you hack your blog, or your theme, or try a new plugin or theme you’re doing it “live”. In other words – everybody sees it. So if you want to try a new theme you have to switch them live while visitor are going to your posts and pages. I hate that. I’ve heard of guys keeping a “test” version of WordPress installed in another folder just to test new themes and hacks – and that’s not only more effort than I’m willing to do, it’s just a bit rediculous.

how to switch wordpress themes flawlessly

I have a recipe site that I just had to dump the theme on. It was causing too many problems, it was old, and not worth hacking anymore. I have too many web sites and way too much to do to create a new theme from scratch. So I went theme shopping, and within 10 minutes I found Blog Oh Blog!. This dude’s got 7 killer themes, so I downloaded them all to test.

Next, I downloaded the Theme Test Drive WordPress Plugin, and installed an enabled it. This plugin allows you to set a theme for your entire blog that only the administrator will see. In other words, when you are logged into your WordPress dashboard as the admin account, you can test any post or page in your site under a theme and nobody will be the wiser. You can hack the test theme pages and nobody on your site using your normal theme will be the wiser. Of course, if you make changes to widgets or plugins, everyone will see them on both the public and test themes. Once you enable the plugin all you have to do is go do “Presentation -> Theme Test Drive” in your WP Dashboard and enable the theme you want to test:

themedrive wordpress theme test drive

So in another browser windows I went to site, and one by one enabled and tested all 7 new WordPress themes. I found and settled on one that I really liked. Luckily in this site I use widgets, so everything updated beautifully there. All I’m missing are any customizations I made to my current theme pages. So I looked at the code for my Main Index, Single Post, Archive, Comments, etc., to see what I’ve added over time to make a list.

It turns out I added quite a few things, but they’re easy to put into the new template:

  • Print this page
  • Ratings
  • Threaded Comments
  • Post Views
  • Feedburner Flare
  • Breadcrumbs
  • adSense

Then I went through the pages in my new theme and added in the code to add these functions one by one. I tested each one as went, because with “theme test drive” installed as admin I could view any page in the site with the new theme and see these changes as I went. After I added the code and uploaded the updated theme files to my site – I tested everything one last time. Looking through the pages the only other thing that I saw was in the sidebar(s) of my new theme the category pages weren’t listed, and in my current theme they are. I did a little shuffling of the sidebars, and then I set the theme live! So instantly when I enabled the theme for the first time, people saw a fully functional ready to go blog with nothing broken! I did all the testing and updating behind the scenes on my WordPress blog without anybody knowing it, and when I put the new theme live – voila, there is was! You can see my updated layout and new WordPress theme at Free Recipes Online by Kieli!

If this helps you or you have a question – be sure to comment now below!