Template Hierarchy in WordPress Themes

This article explains how WordPress Themes determines which template file(s) to use on individual pages. If you want to customize an existing WordPress theme it will help you decide which template file needs to be edited.

The Template File Hierarchy


WordPress Themes uses the query string to decide which template or set of templates should be used to display the page. The query string is information that is contained in the link to each part of your website. It comes after the initial question mark and may contain a number of parameters separated by ampersands.

Put simply, WordPress searches down through the template hierarchy until it finds a matching template file. To determine which template file to use, WordPress:

  1. Matches every query string to a query type to decide which page is being requested (for example, a search page, a category page, etc);
  2. Selects the template in the order determined by the template hierarchy;
  3. Looks for template files with specific names in the current theme’s directory and uses the first matching template file as specified by the hierarchy.

With the exception of the basic index.php template file, you can choose whether you want to implement a particular template file or not.

If WordPress Themes cannot find a template file with a matching name, it will skip to the next file in the hierarchy. If WordPress Themes cannot find any matching template file, the theme’s index.php file will be used.


If your blog is at https://example.com/blog/ and a visitor clicks on a link to a category page such as https://example.com/category/your-cat/, WordPress looks for a template file in the current theme’s directory that matches the category’s ID to generate the correct page. More specifically, WordPress follows this procedure:

  1. Looks for a template file in the current theme’s directory that matches the category’s slug. If the category slug is “unicorns,” then WordPress looks for a template file named category-unicorns.php.
  2. If category-unicorns.php is missing and the category’s ID is 4, WordPress looks for a template file named category-4.php.
  3. If category-4.php is missing, WordPress will look for a generic category template file, category.php.
  4. If category.php does not exist, WordPress will look for a generic archive template, archive.php.
  5. If archive.php is also missing, WordPress will fall back to the main theme template file, index.php.

Visual Overview

The following diagram shows which template files are called to generate a WordPress page based on the WordPress template hierarchy.


The Template Hierarchy In Detail

While the template hierarchy is easier to understand as a diagram, the following sections describe the order in which template files are called by WordPress for a number of query types.


Home Page display

By default, WordPress sets your site’s home page to display your latest blog posts. This page is called the blog posts index. You can also set your blog posts to display on a separate static page. The template file home.php is used to render the blog posts index, whether it is being used as the front page or on separate static page. If home.php does not exist, WordPress will use index.php.

  1. home.php
  2. index.php

Note: If front-page.php exists, it will override the home.php template.

Front Page display

The front-page.php template file is used to render your site’s front page, whether the front page displays the blog posts index (mentioned above) or a static page. The front page template takes precedence over the blog posts index (home.php) template. If the front-page.php file does not exist, WordPress will either use the home.php orpage.php files depending on the setup in Settings ? Reading. If neither of those files exist, it will use the index.php file.

  1. front-page.php – Used for both “your latest posts” or “a static page” as set in the front page displays section of Settings ? Reading.
  2. home.php – If WordPress cannot find front-page.php and “your latest posts” is set in the front page displays section, it will look for home.php. Additionally, WordPress will look for this file when the posts page is set in the front page displays section.
  3. page.php – When “front page” is set in the front page displays section.
  4. index.php – When “your latest posts” is set in the front page displays section but home.php does not exist or when front page is set but page.php does not exist.

As you can see, there are a lot of rules to what path WordPress takes. Using the chart above is the best way to determine what WordPress will display.

Single Post

The single post template file is used to render a single post. WordPress uses the following path:

  1. single-{post-type}.php – First, WordPress looks for a template for the specific post type. For example, post type is product, WordPress would look forsingle-product.php.
  2. single.php – WordPress then falls back to single.php.
  3. index.php – Finally, as mentioned above, WordPress ultimately falls back to index.php.


The template file used to render a static page (page post-type). Note that unlike other post-types, page is special to WordPress and uses the following patch:

  1. custom template file – The page template assigned to the page. See get_page_templates().
  2. page-{slug}.php – If the page slug is recent-news, WordPress will look to usepage-recent-news.php.
  3. page-{id}.php – If the page ID is 6, WordPress will look to use page-6.php.
  4. page.php
  5. index.php


Rendering category archive index pages uses the following path in WordPress:

  1. category-{slug}.php – If the category’s slug is news, WordPress will look forcategory-news.php.
  2. category-{id}.php – If the category’s ID is 6, WordPress will look forcategory-6.php.
  3. category.php
  4. archive.php
  5. index.php


To display a tag archive index page, WordPress uses the following path:

  1. tag-{slug}.php – If the tag’s slug is sometag, WordPress will look for tag-sometag.php.
  2. tag-{id}.php – If the tag’s ID is 6, WordPress will look for tag-6.php.
  3. tag.php
  4. archive.php
  5. index.php

Custom Taxonomies

Custom taxonomies use a slightly different template file path:

  1. taxonomy-{taxonomy}-{term}.php – If the taxonomy is sometax, and taxonomy’s term is someterm, WordPress will look for taxonomy-sometax-someterm.php. In the case of post formats, the taxonomy is ‘post_format’ and the terms are ‘post-format-{format}. i.e. taxonomy-post_format-post-format-link.php for the link post format.
  2. taxonomy-{taxonomy}.php – If the taxonomy were sometax, WordPress would look for taxonomy-sometax.php.
  3. taxonomy.php
  4. archive.php
  5. index.php

Custom Post Types

Custom Post Types use the following path to render the appropriate archive index page.

  1. archive-{post_type}.php – If the post type is product, WordPress will look forarchive-product.php.
  2. archive.php
  3. index.php

(For rendering a single post type template, refer to the single post display section above.)

Author display

Based on the above examples, rendering author archive index pages is fairly explanatory:

  1. author-{nicename}.php – If the author’s nice name is matt, WordPress will look for author-matt.php.
  2. author-{id}.php – If the author’s ID were 6, WordPress will look for author-6.php.
  3. author.php
  4. archive.php
  5. index.php


Date-based archive index pages are rendered as you would expect:

  1. date.php
  2. archive.php
  3. index.php

Search Result

Search results follow the same pattern as other template types:

  1. search.php
  2. index.php

404 (Not Found)

Likewise, 404 template files are called in this order:

  1. 404.php
  2. index.php


Rendering an attachment page (attachment post-type) requires following the follow path:

  1. MIME_type.php – it can be any MIME type (For example: image.php, video.php,application.php). For text/plain, the following path is used (in order):
    1. text.php
    2. plain.php
    3. text_plain.php
  2. attachment.php
  3. single-attachment.php
  4. single.php
  5. index.php

Filter Hierarchy

The WordPress template system lets you filter the hierarchy. This means that you can insert and change things at specific points of the hierarchy. The filter (located in the get_query_template() function) uses this filter name: "{$type}_template" where$type is a file name in the hierarchy without the .php extension.

Here is a complete list of all template types in the filter hierarchy:

  • index_template
  • 404_template
  • archive_template
  • author_template
  • category_template
  • tag_template
  • taxonomy_template
  • date_template
  • home_template
  • front_page_template
  • page_template
  • paged_template
  • search_template
  • single_template
  • text_template, plain_template, text_plain_template (all mime types)
  • attachment_template
  • comments_popup


For example, let’s take the default author hierarchy:

  • author-{nicename}.php
  • author-{id}.php
  • author.php

To add author-{role}.php before author.php, we can manipulate the actual hierarchy using the ‘author_template’ template type. This allows a request for /author/username where username has the role of editor to display using author-editor.php if present in the current themes directory.

function author_role_template( $templates='' ) { $author = get_queried_object(); $role=$author->roles[0]; if(!is_array($templates) && !empty($templates)) { $templates=locate_template(array("author-$role.php",$templates),false); } elseif(empty($templates)) { $templates=locate_template("author-$role.php",false); } else { $new_template=locate_template(array("author-$role.php")); if(!empty($new_template)) array_unshift($templates,$new_template); } return $templates; } add_filter( 'author_template', 'author_role_template' ); 

About the author: Arthur Sereno