The Ledger

Convert HTML to WordPress

by Drew Strojny on May 8, 2006 in Tutorials

Updated November 2010! This tutorial has been updated and is now compatible with WordPress 3.0.

When I first decided to convert a static HTML design to WordPress I did some searching for a tutorial to help me get started with the basics. Surprisingly, I didn’t find anything that was very complete or easy to follow. For that reason I decided to write a very basic tutorial on how to convert a static HTML template into a WordPress Theme. If you are an absolute beginner at developing WordPress themes then this should help you get started. This tutorial assumes you already have a basic understanding of HTML and CSS. It also assumes you have a website built in HTML and CSS and have it ready for conversion.

How WordPress Works

WordPress works in a rather straightforward manner but it may seem confusing if you are completely new to the concept. WordPress relies on PHP to call on different parts of your content from the database management system it stands on. For example, look in your /wp-content/themes/twentyten/ directory and open the header.php file. As you scroll through the code notice the PHP calls, they start with a <?php and end with a ?>. Look at line 37 and notice the call for your stylesheet URL:

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media="all" href="<?php bloginfo( 'stylesheet_url' ); ?>" />

This line uses PHP to look-up your stylesheet’s location from the database. This basic function of retrieving or calling some kind of data from your database and using PHP to display it in your XHTML is how WordPress works. Throughout this process you will be substituting PHP for different parts of your content and your code. This will make editing easier in the long run, as you will find out. Now that you understand the basics of how WordPress works, lets get started.

First Things First

The first step is to create a new folder and name it whatever you want your theme to be called. Next, create two new files, style.css and index.php and place them in the folder. Believe it or not, these are the only two files you actually need for a WordPress theme. Now copy and paste the code from your original CSS file into the style.css file you just created. At the top add the following code:

Theme Name: Replace with your Theme's name.
Theme URI: Your Theme's URI
Description: A brief description.
Version: 1.0
Author: You
Author URI: Your website address.

These comments simply help WordPress properly identify the theme. Your stylesheet is now ready to go.

Chop It Up

Now let’s start chopping up your HTML. Remember how we talked about WordPress using PHP to call data from your database? Well WordPress can also use PHP to call different files from within your template folder. Imagine your current HTML code chopped up into 4 (or more) different sections. For example, take a look at the layout and corresponding HTML of this page. The header comes first, followed by the content, then the sidebar, and finally the footer. Instead of keeping these 4 parts of the HTML together in one file, you are going to put each of them in their own separate file. Then call on them one by one using PHP.

So go ahead and sort through your HTML code and place some markers in the 4 places where you plan on cutting the code into 4 separate sections.

Note: These next steps assume you have your page set up left to right: header, content, sidebar, footer. If your page is ordered differently you will have to switch a couple of these steps around, but I am sure you can figure that out.

Now create 3 new files (header.php, sidebar.php, footer.php) and place them in your theme directory. Next take a look at the header.php file from the Twenty Ten theme we looked at earlier. Notice all the PHP that is used in between the <head> tags. Copy that code to your new header.php file. Now open up your original HTML file and copy the code you marked off for your header (1st section) into your new header.php file (underneath the <head> section). Save and close.

Now open up your new index.php file. Copy the second part of your original HTML code, the content (2nd section) into your new index.php file. Save and close.

Getting the hang of it?

Next open up your new sidebar.php file, copy the sidebar (3rd section) of your original code into the sidebar.php file. Finally, copy the original footer (4th section) of code into your new footer.php file.

Put It Back Together

Your original code should now be chopped up into 4 different files (header.php, index.php, sidebar.php, footer.php). Let's put it back together using a few lines of PHP. Open up your index.php file, it should contain the HTML from the content (2nd section) of your original code. Add this line at the very top of the file:

<?php get_header(); ?>

Now go to the absolute bottom of your index.php file and add these two lines:

<?php get_sidebar(); ?>
<?php get_footer(); ?>

These 3 simple lines of PHP are telling WordPress to fetch and display your header.php, sidebar.php, and footer.php files within your index.php file. Your code is now officially put back together. Now, if you want to edit your sidebar you can just edit your sidebar.php file, instead of sorting through your index.php to find it. The same goes for your header.php and your footer.php.

The Loop

Your index.php is almost finished. The final step is to insert the actual content into the code. Luckily, WordPress uses PHP for this as well. The Loop is the PHP function WordPress uses to call and display your posts from the database they are saved in. Grab this code and paste it into your new theme's index.php file (inside of whichever div you are using to hold your content).

<?php if ( have_posts() ) : ?>
<?php while ( have_posts() ) : the_post(); ?>
  <div id="post-<?php the_ID(); ?>" <?php post_class(); ?>>
    <div class="post-header">
        <div class="date"><?php the_time( 'M j y' ); ?></div>
        <h2><a href="<?php the_permalink(); ?>" rel="bookmark" title="Permanent Link to <?php the_title_attribute(); ?>"><?php the_title(); ?></a></h2>
        <div class="author"><?php the_author(); ?></div>
    </div><!--end post header-->
    <div class="entry clear">
        <?php if ( function_exists( 'add_theme_support' ) ) the_post_thumbnail(); ?>
        <?php the_content(); ?>
        <?php edit_post_link(); ?>
        <?php wp_link_pages(); ?>
    </div><!--end entry-->
    <div class="post-footer">
        <div class="comments"><?php comments_popup_link( 'Leave a Comment', '1 Comment', '% Comments' ); ?></div>
    </div><!--end post footer-->
  </div><!--end post-->
<?php endwhile; /* rewind or continue if all posts have been fetched */ ?>
  <div class="navigation index">
    <div class="alignleft"><?php next_posts_link( 'Older Entries' ); ?></div>
    <div class="alignright"><?php previous_posts_link( 'Newer Entries' ); ?></div>
  </div><!--end navigation-->
<?php else : ?>
<?php endif; ?>

You just inserted a basic version of the loop into your code! WordPress will use the loop to display your posts and comments on your website.

The End

Now upload your theme folder to /wp-content/themes/. Then log into WordPress and activate your theme. Wasn't that easy?

This tutorial covered the basics for converting your theme to WordPress. To further customize and enhance your theme start looking at the WordPress Codex, specifically Template Tags and Template Files. You can use template tags in your sidebar, in your header, or your footer to call menus, categories, posts, etc. As you learn more about template tags and template files you will discover the endless possibilities for customizing your new WordPress blog.

  1. wandering_nomad #
    May 9, 2006

    I’m glad you made this, it’s certainly helpful to me, someone with little/no knowledge about PHP.

  2. Cate #
    May 11, 2006

    You are my new hero.

  3. Michael Spence #
    May 17, 2006

    Okay, that takes care of the styling. How about pre-existing articles and comments? How can I place them in the WP database?

  4. Drew Strojny #*
    May 17, 2006

    Michael: Check out the Importing Content page from the Codex. Also, look under the Import tab in the administration panel.

  5. William Brown #
    May 19, 2006

    Thanks for writing up this tutorial. This is exactly what I was looking for. Keep up the good work.

  6. Abbey #
    May 26, 2006

    Given the simplicity of your directions, I had pretty much convinced myself there was no way my journal was going to come out with the same design as the rest of my html-based website… but I was pleasantly surprised. Just wanted to say thanks :)

  7. Michael Josh #
    Jul 3, 2006

    Your article couldn’t have come at a better time. I don’t know how I’d have been able to do it without your guidance, thank you so very much.

    The site is great. Design is clean and stylish. Especially love the main (left) content column, how the headings complement the HRs, and the way comments appear in idividual boxes. Just beautiful!

  8. Matt Levenhagen #
    Sep 6, 2006

    Great Tutorial! Thanks for putting it together. It helped me successfully convert one of my templates into a WordPress theme… and I have a feeling it won’t be my last.

    Very cool. :-)

  9. Sean #
    Oct 21, 2006


    This couldn’t be laid out any better! Great job, and thanks for all the help.

  10. Ron #
    Jan 13, 2007

    Wow, that’s precisely what I needed to get my xhtml/css design into wordpress. Thanks!

  11. brendan #
    Feb 5, 2007

    Ahhhh…. this article is such a relief. I was trying to adjust all my css div names to match the WordPress ids. This is so much easier. Thanks!!

  12. Abdel #
    Apr 22, 2007

    Great tutorial mate… really much appreciated :)

  13. Paul Nilsen #
    Aug 10, 2007

    This is easily the most straight forward and easy to understand tutorial on this subject.

    Thank you very much for providing such well laid out instructions.

  14. Josh H #
    Aug 22, 2007

    D-Man, you are a GOD. This is by far the easiest tutorial I’ve seen, and I was beginning to give up hope on being able to integrate WordPress with my existing site. I’m giving you full props for this save in my code–thanks just doesn’t say enough!

    Please let me know if there’s anything I can help you with in terms of page design. Take care!

  15. Ashley #
    Apr 17, 2008

    Wow! Thank you so much!!! Really helpful and well written, thank you!

  16. Nick #
    Apr 21, 2008

    Fantastic tutorial – worked first time!

  17. John McFarlane #
    May 31, 2008

    Great tutorial, I’ve not used PHP or WordPress for longer than 10 minutes, but this was easy to follow and seemed straight forward.

    Thanks very much.


  18. BK #
    Jun 18, 2008

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. Greatly appreciated.

  19. Rajiv #
    Jul 15, 2008

    Simple and Impressive !!!! Thanks for sharing with us :)

  20. Wen #
    Jul 15, 2008


    Exactly as the author said, there are not many tutorials explaining the basics, and the ones that do exist are too complicated and never spot out the main points. This article is such a no-nonsense tutorial. Author is an absolute talent! Thank you very much!

  21. Lucy #
    Jul 22, 2008

    OMG u are amazing!

  22. digiwebbs #
    Jul 29, 2008

    great guide, one that i could actually follow! keep up the good work

  23. Mike #
    Sep 3, 2008

    Nice job.. Thanks

  24. Anthony #
    Sep 11, 2008

    Thanks for sharing – it’s a great overview.

  25. room1012 #
    Sep 17, 2008

    Awesome tutorial. It easy to follow and helped me understand the purpose of php and the theme development process. Thanks!

  26. Shin #
    Sep 18, 2008

    You just made a newbie an intermediate in one page.

  27. john #
    Sep 24, 2008

    Thanks for this.

  28. Nice tutorial. Very useful.

  29. Kevin Schueller #
    Oct 16, 2008

    Thanks so much! Your tutorial is fantastic. Saved me in a time of need!

  30. Eric #
    Oct 17, 2008

    I’ve been trying to figure out how to convert a couple sites for awhile and havent found anything out there this clear and straightforward. Thanks!

  31. Incredible #
    Oct 26, 2008

    I have searched every nook and cranny of the WWW for a tutorial that simplifies the process of converting an (X)HTML template into a wordpress theme but all to no avail. Coming across your tutorial replenishes my weary soul because I have been on this for the past months. Thank you for the time it took you to write this and thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  32. Henry Hoffman #
    Nov 5, 2008

    Why haven’t the guys at WordPress made this? This is absolutely brilliant – I abandoned WordPress several months ago because of a lack of a decent beginner’s guide.


  33. Vivek #
    Nov 7, 2008

    Thanks for the great article. How about comments.php? Will it be automatically taken from default template?

  34. Puneet #
    Nov 14, 2008

    Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing.

  35. LL #
    Nov 23, 2008

    A lifesaver! Thanks for a great tutorial. :)

  36. Lindsay #
    Dec 20, 2008

    You are amazing! Great tutorial!

  37. Mike #
    Dec 28, 2008

    Great info. Thanks for sharing :) You rock !

  38. Mark #
    Jan 9, 2009

    Legendary! Makes it so much clearer!

  39. kaylee #
    Jan 15, 2009

    dude, you are a legend :)