A guide to the template hierarchy in WordPress

All modern WordPress themes consist of templates, style sheets, javascript, and images. Together, these files determine how your site will look to users. Templates with specific names affect certain areas of your website.

Generally, a WordPress theme should contain templates for displaying categories, dates, archives, individual posts, custom pages, etc. As a user, you can create your own templates using a child theme.
Visual WordPress Template Hierarchy (cheat sheet)

The visual cheat sheet below explains which template files are used to display different pages on a WordPress site.

Template hierarchy WordPress

Hierarchy for the home page

By default, WordPress displays the most recent posts on the home page of your site. You can also configure this in SettingsReadng in the WordPress admin.

front-page.php
If present in the theme, WordPress will use this template file regardless of the Reading settings.
home.php
Will be loaded if front-page.php does not exist and “Your Recent Posts” is set in the WordPress Reading Preferences.
page.php
Will be used if front-page.php does not exist and the “display static page” checkbox is checked in the WordPress Reading settings.
index.php
If front-page.php, page.php and home.php do not exist, WordPress will fall back to index.php to render the home page.

Hierarchy for single post

single-{post-type}-{slug}.php
Use this template to change the display of a specific single post for any post type. For example, if the post type is “project” and the label of the post is “apple”, then WordPress will look for single-project-apple.php.
single-{post-type}.php
WordPress will check if a template exists to display that particular post type. For example, if the post type is “project”, WordPress will look for single-project.php.
single.php
General template for displaying all posts.
singular.php
This fallback template is for displaying all pages of a single type.
index.php
If WordPress doesn’t find any of the previous templates, it will use index.php to render the page.

Hierarchy for single page

{custom-page-template}.php
The assigned template for the page.
page-{slug}.php
If the page label is “contact-us”, WordPress will look for page-contact-us.php to render.
page-{id}.php
If the page ID is 12, WordPress will look for a template file named page-12.php.
page.php
Template for displaying all static pages.
singular.php
This template is the default fallback for all single type pages.
index.php
If WordPress doesn’t find any of the previous templates, it will use index.php to render the page.

Hierarchy for categories

category-{slug}.php
This template is used to display a category archive page for a specific category. For example, if the category label is “projects”, WordPress will look for the category-projects.php template.
category-{id}.php
WordPress then looks for a template with a category ID. For example, if the category id is 12, then WordPress will look for category-12.php.
category.php
This template is used by default to display all category pages in WordPress.
archive.php
This template is used by default to display any archived pages.
index.php
The default fallback template if none of the previous ones are found.

Hierarchy for tags

tag-{slug}.php
If the tag label is “horrors”, WordPress will look for tag-horrors.php.
tag-{id}.php
If the tag id is 12, WordPress will look for the tag-12.php template.
tag.php
Default template for tag archives.
archive.php
Default template for any archive page.
index.php
The default fallback template if none of the previous ones are found.

Hierarchy for taxonomies

The categories and tags discussed above are the two taxonomies that WordPress has by default. Users can also create their own custom taxonomies.

taxonomy-{taxonomy}-{term}.php
If you have a taxonomy of “genre” and have a term of “thriller”, then WordPress will look for the template taxonomy-genre-thriller.php.
taxonomy-{taxonomy}.php
For all “genre” taxonomy terms, WordPress will look for the taxonomy-genre.php file if it doesn’t find the previous one.
taxonomy.php
The default template for displaying any custom taxonomy archives.
archive.php
The default fallback for all archived pages in WordPress.
index.php
The default fallback template in WordPress.

Hierarchy for custom post types archives

archive-{post_type}.php
If you have custom post types “review”, WordPress will look for archive-review.php to render.
archive.php
The default template for displaying all archived pages in WordPress.
index.php
The default fallback template in WordPress.

Hierarchy for author archives

author-{nicename}.php
If the author’s nickname is “hulk”, WordPress will look for author-hulk.php.
author-{id}.php
If the user ID is 6, WordPress will look for author-6.php to render the page.
author.php
The default template used to display author archive pages in WordPress.
archive.php
The default template for displaying all archived pages in WordPress.
index.php
The default fallback template in WordPress.

Hierarchy for post archives by date

WordPress also displays posts on archive pages based on the date for months and years. Here’s what the templates for these pages look like.

date.php
Default template for date-based archives.
archive.php
The default template used to display archived pages in WordPress.
index.php
The default fallback template in WordPress.

Hierarchy for search results

search.php
The default page for displaying search results in WordPress.
index.php
The default fallback template in WordPress.

Hierarchy for 404

The 404 error page is displayed when WordPress cannot find the requested content.

404.php
The default template for displaying a 404 error page in WordPress.
index.php
The default fallback template in WordPress.

Hierarchy for attachments

MIME_type.php
mime_type denotes the file type. For example, image.php, video.php, application.php.
attachment.php
The default template for displaying attachment pages.
single-attachment.php
To display a single attachment.
single.php
The default template for displaying elements of a single type.
index.php
The default fallback template in WordPress.

Hierarchy for embeds

Starting with WordPress 4.5, you can use templates to render embedded content in WordPress.

embed-{post-type}-{post_format}.php
WordPress will first look for the post type and post format template. For example, if you have a “review” with “video”, WordPress will look for the embed-review-video.php file.
embed-{post-type}.php
If the post type is “review”, WordPress will look for embed-review.php.
embed.php
The default fallback for all inserts.

Other theme files

These files are not used in the hierarchy, but are plugged inside most templates as part of them.

header.php
Contains the title of the WordPress site and is usually called at the beginning of all template files. It usually contains the logo and menu, as well as the technical information of the <head> tag – meta tags, calls to css and js files, analytics, page title, etc. Connected using the get_header().
footer.php
Used to create the footer section of a WordPress theme and is called at the end of all template files. footer.php usually contains copyright information, JS file calls, widget areas, site navigation. It is connected using the get_footer() function.
sidebar.php
Used to create a site sidebar and called in template files like index.php, page.php, single.php to display the sidebar panels. It usually contains widget areas. It is connected using the get_sidebar() function.
searchform.php
Template for displaying a search form in WordPress. It is connected using the get_search_form() function. It usually contains widget areas. It is connected using the get_sidebar() function.
functions.php
A file that contains the functionality of a theme. As a rule, it is used only to connect logically divided files with site functions from the includes/ or inc/ folder. It connects automatically when the theme is loaded.

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