Before We Get Started

This is a chapter from my book “A Practical Handbook for WordPress Themes”. Keep reading here, or download the full Amazon Kindle version.

This confuses most people new to WordPress, so I’ll just get it out of the way:

  • makes WordPress that powers, and self-hosted WordPress websites.
  • In other words: WordPress makes WordPress that powers your WordPress website that is not hosted on WordPress.

You can see we need to clear up and define ‘the three WordPresses’ before we can go on. vs. vs. WordPress Core

You need to know that there is a fundamental difference between having a website “on WordPress” and having a site “powered by WordPress.” I need to be clear about this because parts of this book do NOT apply to websites using the platform.

At the top of the following chapters you should see one or both of these labels: [ .COM ] [ WP ] This is to alert you to which WordPress platform the chapter best applies. Chapters with [ .COM ] are applicable for those who have a website on the platform, and [ WP ] is for people who are using the self-hosted WordPress Core (which is really the focus of this book.)

CAUTION: While I label some chapters as being applicable to [ .COM ] and [ WP ] know that there will be some parts of the chapter that may not apply to both. There will times that you need to be discerning and careful with what newfound knowledge you apply to your website. [ .COM ]

This is the commercial, for-profit, web app side of the WordPress world that is owned and run by Automattic. It allows people to create a website using the WordPress web app based on the WordPress Core (which we’ll learn about below.) This is where millions of people host their WordPress websites, and for those using the “freemium” plan the URL of your website may read like

This is NOT what is known as a self-hosted website. With this “dot com” service of WordPress, you are simply borrowing space on the servers and using their web application to control the content of your site.

With this plan are also limited by what you can do with this site. If you are using the freemium version, you are limited to selecting a theme from the WordPress Theme Directory (marketplace) and cannot add plugins beyond the couple dozen or so chosen ones they allow.

Pay to play. If you are on and want to customize a theme from the WordPress Themes Directory, you will need to upgrade to the “Business” version (which allows you to customize fonts and add custom CSS), or the “Enterprise” version (which allows you to customize CSS, JavaScript and use fonts from the Typekit library.) See their “Plans” page for more information. users will need to log into their Admin Panel and navigate to the “My Upgrades” screen (Store > My Upgrades.) This is where the “Business” or “Enterprise” upgrade should show, if applied.

Again, this book was originally written for those with self-hosted WordPress sites. But, depending on which upgrade you have, some chapters may be partially applicable or not at all. This is either because it is not a feature of the Basic (“freemium”)/Business/Enterprise model or is for other reasons not allowed by

This is the community-supported side of WordPress. Much of this website is written and maintained by volunteers around the world, much in the same way Wikipedia works. Only here we also have themes and plugins available for download, much the way the ThemeForest marketplace works. So, think of it as a mashup of Wikipedia and ThemeForest (but everything is free to download.)

Its products are

  • the flagship Open Source piece of software called WordPress (also referred to as the WordPress Core, or WordPress CMS, by some.)
  • a marketplace for free themes and plugins
  • a support section for users and developers of the WordPress Core, as well as for the themes and plugins downloaded from does not host websites.

WordPress Core/CMS [ WP ]

It is called “WordPress Core” (or “WordPress CMS”) since it is the core of your website and keeps it from being confused with the company or the service above. This is the flagship piece of software produced and managed by, and maintained with volunteer help from the WordPress community of developers around the world. It is a package of files installed onto your server by you, your developer, or your web host; therefore the community refers to this as “self-hosted WordPress.”

For the rest of this book, you will read it as “WordPress.” When I write a sentence like “You must update WordPress”, or “WordPress handles such and such an action”, I am talking about the WordPress Core that you install on your server for your self hosted website, not the company. If I am talking about the or websites, I will write them out as such.

This book is written mainly for those of you self-hosting your WordPress website. But as I mentioned above, those of you on the platform can use some of the information across these chapters. Hopefully the rest of the information will entice you to move your site to a self-hosted platform so you can take full control.

Still Not Clear? Let WordPress explain it better. Visit WordPress to see a side-by-side comparison of hosting your site on versus self-hosting.

Which Do I Have?

In order to understand if this entire book or only parts of it apply to your situation, you need to figure out if you are on or self-hosted. Again, these situations are different in many ways.

If you have no idea where your site is hosted, try the following steps to help figure it out:

  • (Best way) Log into your website and look at the address bar in the browser. Does it end in “,” such as Even if your website is using the Custom Domain service with, your Admin Panel will show in the address bar.
  • (If you can’t log in) Look at the URL for your website. Does it end in “,” such as This is not always definitive of you being on a self-hosted platform since you can pay to mask the URL to show a custom URL you own.
  • (If you still have no idea) Look to see whom you are paying each month/year. If it is, you are on the [ .COM ] platform. If it’s a hosting company like GoDaddy, HostGator, or WP Engine, you are self-hosted, [ WP ].

I hope one of the above helped you figure it out, because you really need to know where your website is hosted—and not just for the sake of this book.

Basic Knowledge Expected

Since this book is discussing themes—which are technically a component of WordPress—I expect that you have a basic understanding of what WordPress is and how to use it. This is important because I will be directing you to the Admin Panel on a regular basis. If this is your first exposure to WordPress, you may find the learning curve a little steeper since you will be learning the Admin Panel at the same time.

The Admin Panel (or administration screens)

The Support pages on call the backend of the WordPress website “Administration Screens.” I have yet to meet anyone that calls it that, instead I see “Admin Panel” or just “Admin”, or even “Dashboard” more often than anything else.

Problem with “Dashboard” is that there is a section of the Admin Panel that is labeled “Dashboard”, and I have seen some confusion in the WordPress Support pages about that. So, I prefer Admin Panel to describe the part of your WordPress installation that you log into, and each subsection of it are “screens” by which you navigate using the left side menu bar.

You should be able to log into the Admin Panel, and have knowledge of the left side menu bar. For this book we will mainly be accessing the “Appearance” screen, but some lessons may extend to other tabs.

There is a fairly standard convention used for writing out directions on how to navigate a website. It will often look something like this:
Appearance > Themes > “Add New” button

It’s a breadcrumb style instruction that is short for “Click on Appearance, then click on Themes, then click on the button labeled Add New.” In most cases it is also hierarchical (hence the greater-than signs) in that Appearance is the parent of Themes, which is the parent of the Install Themes tab. In this book, I will be using this breadcrumb style instruction to direct you around the Admin Panel using the left side menu bar.


You should have knowledge of Roles in WordPress, specifically that the “Administrator” is the only one that can install, switch, edit and update themes. You can read more about roles here.

If you are not an Administrator of a WordPress site, you will likely have problems following along with the activities in this book.

Web host

You should have a basic understanding of what a web host is, and you should know how to log into your web host control panel, or cPanel. The cPanel is where you can also access the files of the WordPress Core—and your theme.

It’s possible that you have owned and managed a self-hosted WordPress website without ever having to log into the cPanel. That said, some of the lessons in this book cover advanced (or manual) aspects of themes that have the option for you to manage your theme(s) via the cPanel. One such task where I recommend logging into the cPanel comes up in chapter 12 when we inventory your themes and look for sneaky/malicious ones that got installed but don’t register in the Admin Panel.

Master web developer

Just kidding! You don’t need to know anything about coding to research, buy, install and/or manage themes. It certainly helps to know how to code because you will have a deeper understanding of how all the pieces of a theme work together. But is not required to be successfully with this book.

That brings us to our next chapter where I will introduce you to what a theme is and what it controls.

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