Dissection of a WordPress theme: Part 2

Step 2 – Shrinking the page

Currently we have a full-screen theme, with the content and sidebar fluid. That is, they expand and contract to make use of available space. This is nice but has a few problems:

  • Short paragraphs turn into single lines when the browser is maximised
  • Layout is not fixed and we can’t guarantee the position of anything
  • Hard to read at full width, impossible to read at minimum width
  • Internet Explorer goes nuts at small widths

A lot of research has been done on the optimum line length, and it has shown that people read best when the length is fairly small. Open any book or magazine and you will see that large amounts of text are always broken into small columns, allowing the eye to break down the text without getting lost.

Part one introduced a page margin of 20 pixels in an effort to introduce space into the design. Let’s take this one step further. The main purpose of a blog is to be read, and we don’t want people to be dissuaded from the content by a crowded presentation.

First we reset all margins and padding. Browsers can be inconsistent, and this tries to make them think the same. To do this we introduce a global style at the start of style.css:

* {
  padding: 0;
  margin: 0;

The asterisk represents everything, so acting as a global style. If we include this as the first style then the normal cascading rules allow it to be overridden in further styles.

It’s time to look at the theme in action.


The removal of all margins and padding has squashed everything together. Not to worry, as this will get changed later.

Resetting the body style

Now let’s remove some of the styles we introduced in the previous guide. Doing this will increase flexibility and we can then re-introduce them into more appropriate elements. Empty the body style in style.css:

body {

Wrapping up the content

The first step in shrinking the page is to introduce a wrapper to contain the sidebar and contents. This is done so we can style both elements without interfering with the header and footer. Hopefully this will make sense once you see the effects.

Edit index.php and add the highlighted wrapping elements (line 3 and 51):

<?php get_header(); ?>
<div id="wrapper">

  <div id="content" class="narrowcolumn">

  <?php if (have_posts()) : ?>
    <?php while (have_posts()) : the_post(); ?>

      <div class="post">
        <h2 id="post-<?php the_ID(); ?>"><a href="<?php the_permalink() ?>" rel="bookmark" title="Permanent Link to <?php the_title(); ?>"><?php the_title(); ?></a></h2>

        <small><?php the_time('F jS, Y') ?> <!-- by <?php the_author() ?> --></small>

        <div class="entry">
          <?php the_content('Read the rest of this entry &raquo;'); ?>

        <p class="postmetadata">Posted in <?php the_category(', ') ?> <strong>|</strong> <?php edit_post_link('Edit','','<strong>|</strong>'); ?>  <?php comments_popup_link('No Comments &#187;', '1 Comment &#187;', '% Comments &#187;'); ?></p>

        <?php trackback_rdf(); ?>

    <?php endwhile; ?>

    <div class="navigation">
      <div class="alignleft"><?php posts_nav_link('','','&laquo; Previous Entries') ?></div>

      <div class="alignright"><?php posts_nav_link('','Next Entries &raquo;','') ?></div>

  <?php else : ?>

    <h2 class="center">Not Found</h2>

    <p class="center"><?php _e("Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn't here."); ?></p>
    <?php include (TEMPLATEPATH . "/searchform.php"); ?>

  <?php endif; ?>

<?php get_sidebar(); ?>

<?php get_footer(); ?>

138 thoughts on “Dissection of a WordPress theme: Part 2”

  1. I’ve gone through your tutorial several times. I get everything to work but the footer. For some reason it doesn’t appear to be applying the css from the stylesheet. Can you take a look and point out my error?

    I totally dig your work, its been a huge help so far. Thanks.

  2. I am putting up a site and have found your tutorial extemely helpful, but on my site I have this line right below my header and I can’t figure out how to get rid of it for the li8fe of me. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Hi.
    You´r first themguide (part 1) is really good and easy to understand but part 2 of it did not make much changes on my blog unfortunately.
    Allthough I followed all the steps you made.
    Can it be different if it is WordPress 2.0.5?

    My headerimg from the kubriktheme didnt disapear and the margin didnt´n change. The footer did not change either.
    In step 3 the apperence of the page did not shrink either.

    I would love to learn why.


  4. […] このガイドは John Godley による「Dissection of a WordPress theme: Part 2」の翻訳で、著作権は John Godley が保持しています。このオリジナルページおよび/またはこの翻訳ページの複製には原著者による許可が必要です。- This guide is the translation of the guide UrbanGiraffe » Dissection of a WordPress theme: Part 2 by John Godley who is the owners of the copyright. Any reproduction of the original page and/or the translated page is allowed only with the permission of the author. […]

  5. Internet Explorer is aggravating me. I’ve tried everyway possible to get the sidebar to position correctly within IE, but to no avail. Of course Firefox and Safari both behave normally. I’m not sure what is wrong. I’ve pasted the style information for the content, sidebar and wrapper. Any help would be appreciated.

    #wrapper {
    border-left:solid 1px;
    border-right:solid 1px;
    margin:0 auto;
    width:expression(document.body.clientWidth #wrapper{

    #sidebar {
    border:solid 1px;

    #content {
    border:solid 1px;

  6. Bryan, all I can suggest is to make the elements smaller and see if it starts working in IE. Sometimes with a percentage width, a fixed padding/margin can confuse IE so it thinks there isnt enough space and pushes elements out of the way.

  7. This guide is what got me on the road to learning CSS. I am no designing websites commercially and fluent in CSS. Thanks for this fantastic resource – it has proved itself to be invaluable to me.

  8. hello!

    Thanks for the nice tutorial!

    Well, my site is not working completely. I think that I missed a part where to configure the approiate spacing or something in the content, because it is placing the posts not aligned with the header and footer

    Also, comment CSS is not working! 🙁

    Sorry my english!

    PD: http://futuroesplendor.mud.cl/capsulecorp

  9. Elear,

    You should give your header element the same width as your page:

    #header { width: 700px}

    It is also likely you will need to remove the left-padding from #headerimg. The same goes for the footer

  10. Thankyou for a great tutorial. Beginning with that and no previous experience of CSS I’ve made the site I wanted. The only problem is when I checked it on IE and find that the sidebar is dropping down below the posts – it displays fine in Firefox.

    Can you tell me where I start looking for the problem?


  11. I’ve managed to improve it a bit by fiddling with the percentages after reading another here comment on one of the other questions. It’s not perfect because the sidebar doesn’t sit flush right.

    Another strange thing is that the colour of the post headings changes half way down the page in IE – not in Firefox. Why would that be given that they’re controlled by the same code? Very odd…

    Thanks again

  12. Hi John,

    Thanks for this great tutorial. I bought the printable version of it and there are several differences with what’s online ("Fluidity without the breakdown, notably"). Which should I rely on?


  13. Hi,

    This is great learning material you have here, I would first like to thank and congratulate you for it.

    I think a found a minor mistake:
    In sentence “(…) pointed out yet, header.php defines the div ‘page’ which contains everything, (…)” on page 4, instead of file “hader.php” it should refer to file “index.php”.

    Thanks again,

    1. Sorry, after reading with more attention I see this is not a mistake.

      Ok, so div ‘page’ is defined in header.php file. But now my doubt is, why does the div ‘page’ contains everything, including the div ‘wrapper’, since this is defined in the index.php file in paralle with call for header.php that defined the div ‘page?

      Is it because the div ‘page’ is always on top of other user defined containers? Maybe I should get into CSS more thoroughly…


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