Working with Multiple Themes Outside of the WordPress Installation Directory

[ ~{*}~ ] As you may observe, the WordPress installation that powers Perishable Press is located in a subdirectory named press. This configuration was intentional, as I wanted to have the option to easily install and maintain multiple versions of WordPress in variously named subdirectories. As much as I enjoy this flexibility, many would argue the SEO-related benefits of installing WordPress in your site’s root directory, or at least making it appear that way by using WordPress’ easily customizable “Blog Address” options setting.

For example, say you have WordPress installed in a subdirectory called “gibbonz”, but you want your blog’s home page to exist at http://your-domain.tld/ and not http://your-domain.tld/gibbonz, as would be the case by default. To make this happen, you have several choices, including this method, which I summarize here, assuming the “gibbonz” scenario outlined in the preceding discussion:

  1. In the WordPress Settings panel, leave the “WordPress address” unchanged (i.e., http://your-domain.tld/gibbonz) and set the “Blog address” to your site root (i.e., http://your-domain.tld).
  2. Copy the index.php and htaccess files from your WordPress (gibbonz) directory into the root directory.
  3. Edit the index.php file to reflect the location of your WordPress installation by changing the line “require('./wp-blog-header.php');” to “require('./gibbonz/wp-blog-header.php');
  4. In the WP Admin area, ensure that your permalink structure does not include the gibbonz subdirectory. You will need to ensure that your htaccess rules are updated with the correct permalink directives.

Upon implementation, your blog will be served as if it were installed in the root directory. The subdirectory will not be shown in any permalink URL, nor will it be referred to anywhere else in the site. Thus, if you aren’t planning on using the subdirectory to serve unique content, this method is all you need to ensure that plugins, scripts, and themes function properly in the root URL. For sites with multiple themes (such as this one), users will experience seamless theme presentation throughout the site, including the site root.

On the other hand, for bloggers with subdirectory installations of WordPress that wish to continue using the subdirectory as a unique destination, the previous method of displaying your blog from the site root is not an option. Let’s use this site as an example. The site root is located at and WordPress is installed at I use this to my advantage by serving uniquely purposed content on each of these different pages. For the current theme, the root page features the latest article, while the subdirectory page is an archive view of the first 11 posts. As one who maintains multiple WordPress themes, I find this configuration to provide maximum flexibility.

Along with this flexibility, however, comes an important caveat: maintaining your WordPress-subdirectory as a unique, web-accessible destination means that sites with multiple themes will need to implement their own root-page theme synchronization technique. In other words, with your multiple-theme blog in a web-accessible subdirectory, you need to code your root page in such a way as to ensure seamless theme presentation. For example, say Fonzi wants to use your happenin’ “Jukebox” theme. He clicks the link, skins the site, and begins to surf. During his travels through your site, Fonzi inevitably finds himself navigating to your home page (you know, the one that serves WordPress-generated content even though WordPress is installed in a subdirectory). “Uh-oh,” now the Fonz is like, totally confused because your home page is coded to display your site’s default theme instead of the cool Jukebox theme that Fonzi wants. Fonzi sees the Jukebox theme everywhere on your site except the home page, because it hasn’t yet been configured to accommodate user-defined themes.

The easiest solution in this case would be to code your root page in such a way as to check the user’s theme preference and then deliver the correct version of index.php accordingly. To do this, you don’t need to include an entire copy of each available theme (e.g., header, index, sidebar, footer) for each corresponding if statement, but rather call each theme’s index.php file directly, using PHP’s include_once(); function. If that doesn’t make sense now, don’t worry — it will after the next few examples, where I illustrate the concept by sharing the root-page theme-switching code used here at Perishable Press.

When placed in the web-accessible root (home page) for Perishable Press, the following PHP code delivers the appropriate index.php file according to the active theme selected by the current user (tested in WordPress 2.0, 2.3, and 2.5):

// display user-defined themes outside of WP directory
<?php require_once("./press/wp-blog-header.php"); 
if (!empty($_COOKIE["wptheme".COOKIEHASH])) { 
	$press_theme = $_COOKIE["wptheme".COOKIEHASH]; 
} elseif (empty($_COOKIE["wptheme".COOKIEHASH])) { 
	$press_theme = get_current_theme(); 
if     ( $press_theme == "Apathy"      ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/apathy/index.php"      );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Bananaz"     ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/bananaz/index.php"     );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Casket"      ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/casket/index.php"      );
elseif ( $press_theme == "DOS_FX"      ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/dosfx/index.php"       );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Entropy"     ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/entropy/index.php"     );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Finished"    ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/finished/index.php"    );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Garbage"     ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/garbage/index.php"     );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Headline"    ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/headline/index.php"    );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Information" ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/information/index.php" );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Jupiter"     ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/jupiter/index.php"     );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Killer"      ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/killer/index.php"      );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Lithium"     ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/lithium/index.php"     );
elseif ( $press_theme == "minimalist"  ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/minimalist/index.php"  );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Naked"       ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/naked/index.php"       );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Optimized"   ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/optimized/index.php"   );
elseif ( $press_theme == "Perishable"  ): include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/perishable/index.php"  );
else                                    : include_once( "./press/wp-content/themes/default/index.php"     );
endif; ?>

Thus, if a user prefers my Lithium theme, and decides to “skin” the site with it, the previous code will ensure that the root URL — the site’s home page ” stays consistent and serves the correct theme. To determine each user’s theme preference, this method checks for a cookie set by the ubiquitous Theme Switcher plugin, which is generally installed on multiple-theme sites. If a cookie is present, the PHP variable $press_theme assumes its value, which is the name of the user’s preferred theme. If no cookie is present, the script sets the $press_theme variable to the site’s current default theme, which is determined via the inherent WordPress function, get_current_theme();. For example, to echo your blog’s current default theme from outside of the WordPress core directory, this works for WordPress 2.0, 2.3, 2.5, and probably several others:

<?php require_once("./press/wp-blog-header.php"); ?>
<?php $current_theme = get_current_theme(); ?>
<h1><?php echo $current_theme; ?></h1>

In either case, once the theme variable has been set to the proper theme, the remainder of the script simply tests the value against each of the site’s currently available themes. When a match is found, the script includes the correct index.php file for the chosen theme. If no theme preference is determined, the script resorts to the site’s default theme.

The beauty of this method is its simplicity. Just copy and paste the script into your site’s root index.php file and enjoy the results 1. Of course, you will also need to edit the require path in the first line to reflect the correct location of the wp-blog-header.php in your subdirectory-installation of WordPress. You will also want to change the theme names in the first column, and the theme directories in the second column, such that they match your own configuration. As always, “test, test, test!”

While this method is extremely easy, it takes advantage of the flexibility inherent in segregated root and blog URLs. Let’s say you wanted to display the home.php file for several of your custom themes, maybe to spice up the layout or optimize for search engines or something. No problem. Using the code above, instead of including the index.php file for any selected themes, simply include your home.php file instead. You could use this strategy to include virtually any page for any given theme — single.php, archive.php, welcome.phpwhatevah!


1 Note that when using this method from a locally installed version of WordPress (i.e., the installation directory in somewhere within localhost), you will need to create and use cookies that are distinct from the default theme-switcher cookies. Doing this is easy. Open your theme-switcher.php and place the following immediately before the first instance of $redirect = get_settings('home'):

setcookie("indextheme" . COOKIEHASH,

Additionally, the main script will need to be modified to reflect the alternate cookie information:

<?php require_once("./press/wp-blog-header.php"); 
if (!empty($_COOKIE["indextheme".COOKIEHASH])) {
	$press_theme = $_COOKIE["indextheme".COOKIEHASH];
} elseif (empty($_COOKIE["indextheme".COOKIEHASH])) {
	$press_theme = get_current_theme();