Theme Switcha

Theme Switcha | Jeff Starr


Preview any theme privately on the front-end
Develop themes privately behind the scenes
Enable your visitors to switch themes

There are many theme-switch plugins but none of them provide the simplicity, performance, and reliability that I require for my own sites. So I wrote my own plugin using the WP API and kept the plugin as focused and solid as possible. Only essential theme-switching features have been added, along with a simple yet informative UI. This gives you a consistent, quality theme-switching experience that you can optionally share with your visitors.

Switch to an alternate theme for preview or development while visitors use the default theme 🙂

What it’s for..

Theme Switcha:

  • Enables visitors to switch themes via the frontend
  • Enables developers to build/customize themes privately
  • Enables you to create links that switch to specific themes
  • Enables live private previews of any installed theme

What it’s NOT for..

This plugin should not be used together with WordPress features such as Gutenberg Block Editor, Theme Customizer, Widgets, Menus, and other theme-related options. Doing so may result in private changes being made public on the current active theme. Learn more.

Plugin Features

  • Develop new themes while visitors use the default theme
  • Control who can switch themes (admins, w/ passkey, or everyone)
  • Administrators can switch themes directly via the WP Admin Area
  • Enable visitors to switch and preview themes on the front-end
  • Each visitor can choose their own theme
  • Send preview links to clients via the passkey
  • Choose your own custom passkey code for preview links
  • Set the duration (cookie timeout) for switched themes
  • Enable/disable theme preview in the Admin Area
  • Enable/disable all theme switching without deactivating the plugin
  • Provides several shortcodes to enable visitors to switch themes
  • Shortcodes display themes as a list, select menu, or thumbnails
  • Changed options are saved when working on switched themes
  • Dashboard widget to switch themes via select menu
  • Simple, stylish UI featuring screenshots of each theme
  • Works with any theme, parent themes and child themes
  • Works with or without Gutenberg Block Editor
  • Works with WP Multisite

Theme Switcha makes it easy for the site admin to preview and develop new themes without changing the default theme. So visitors will continue to use your site normally without ever knowing that you are testing new themes behind the scenes. And if you want to enable your visitors to switch themes, you can do that as well by adding a shortcode to any WP Post or Page. Then each visitor will be able to select and preview any of your WordPress themes.

Core Features

  • Easy to use
  • Squeaky clean code
  • Simple and focused
  • Built with the WordPress API
  • Lightweight, fast and flexible
  • Focused on performance and security
  • Regularly updated and “future proof”
  • Works great with other WordPress plugins
  • Plugin options configurable via settings screen
  • Plugin cleans up after itself upon uninstall
  • One-click restore plugin default options

Plus you get free, responsive support from a top WP professional 😉

The Theme Switcha plugin is useful for things like:

  • Maintenance mode – display a temporary theme to visitors while you update your primary theme
  • Theme test drive – preview and test new themes without disrupting anything on the frontend
  • Theme development – perfect for developing new theme templates to fit existing site content
  • Client presentations – send clients special “theme preview” links to show off new templates

I use Theme Switcha to develop new themes for my own sites like Perishable Press and Plugin Planet. The beauty of Theme Switcha is that visitors will never know that you are hard at work testing and building new themes behind the scenes 🙂


This plugin does not collect or store any user data. It does not set any user cookies, and it does not connect to any third-party locations. Thus, this plugin does not affect user privacy in any way.


Thanks to Ryan Boren for the original Theme Switcher plugin.

Support development of this plugin

I develop and maintain this free plugin with love for the WordPress community. To show support, you can make a donation or purchase one of my books:

And/or purchase one of my premium WordPress plugins:

Links, tweets and likes also appreciated. Thanks! 🙂


Getting Started

  1. Upload the plugin and activate
  2. Visit plugin settings and check the box to “Enable Switching”
  3. After clicking “Save Changes”, scroll down to view available themes
  4. Click on any theme thumbnail to switch privately to that theme

Important: Please read this support topic!

More info on installing WP plugins

Usage: Switch Themes

After activating Theme Switcha, visit the plugin settings page. There you can enable theme switching via the “Enable Switching” option. After that option is enabled, a menu of all available themes will be displayed on the settings page. From there you can click any thumbnail to switch privately to that theme. While you view the switched theme, your regular visitors will continue viewing your normal active theme. To verify this, visit your site in a different browser (with clean cache and cookies).

Tip: In the plugin settings, a thumbnail menu of all available themes will be displayed after you enable the “Enable Switching” option. Otherwise if that option is disabled, no theme thumbnails will be displayed.

Usage: Display Menus

In addition to switching themes via the settings page, you also can display a menu of switchable themes. In order for any theme-switch menu to work, the plugin setting “Allowed Users” must be set to “Everyone”. So all visitors can enjoy your site using their preferred theme.

Theme Switcha provides several shortcodes for displaying theme-switch menus:

Display themes as list of links:
[theme_switcha_list display="list"]
// display = (list or flat) format of the list

Display themes as thumbnail links:
[theme_switcha_thumbs style="true"]
// style = (true or false) include default CSS

Display themes in select/dropdown menu:
[theme_switcha_select text="Choose a theme.."]
// text = for the default option

Display plain-text link for theme switch:
[theme_switcha_link theme="mytheme" text="Switch Theme"]
// theme = theme name, text = link text

These shortcodes can be included in any WP Post, Page, or supportive widget (e.g., the default “Text” widget that’s included with WordPress).

If you would rather include the theme lists via your theme, you can use any of these template tags:

<?php if (function_exists('theme_switcha_display_list'))     theme_switcha_display_list(); ?>
<?php if (function_exists('theme_switcha_display_thumbs'))   theme_switcha_display_thumbs(); ?>
<?php if (function_exists('theme_switcha_display_dropdown')) theme_switcha_display_dropdown(); ?>

Alternately you can call the shortcodes in your theme template using do_shortcode.

Usage: Theme-Switch Links

Theme Switcha also enables you to create theme-switch links that you can share with others. To begin, follow these steps:

  1. Determine the slug/name for the theme (should be same as name of theme directory)
  2. Choose any URL from your site, and append ?theme-switch=mytheme

For example, if you have a theme named “My Awesome Theme” that is located in a directory named /my-awesome-theme/, you would create a theme-switch URL like so:

What happens if you enter that URL in a browser? Well, that depends on the plugin setting, “Allowed Users”:

  • If Allowed Users is set to “Everyone”, the URL will enable anyone to switch to the specified theme
  • If Allowed Users is set to “Only Admin”, the URL will enable any logged-in admin-level user to switch to the specified theme
  • If Allowed Users is set to “Only with Passkey”, the URL requires a passkey in order to switch to the specified theme

We’ll look at how to make a Passkey Link in the next section. For the other two options, “Everyone” and “Only Admin”, you can either share the URL as-is, or make it a clickable hyperlink such as the following example:

<a href="">Switch to My Awesome Theme</a>

Usage: Passkey Links

Passkey links are a great way to enable private theme switching without giving the user access to the WP Admin Area. To make a Passkey Link, follow these steps:

  1. Visit the Theme Switcha settings page
  2. Enable the “Enable Switching” option
  3. For the “Allowed Users” option, select “Only with Passkey”
  4. Save changes

After saving changes, thumbnails will be displayed for each available theme. So to get a Passkey Link:

  1. Right-click on the thumbnail image for the desired theme
  2. Select “Copy link address” to copy the URL to your clipboard

Done! You now have a Passkey Link ready to paste wherever. It will look similar to this:

So you can either share the Passkey Link as-is, or make it a clickable hyperlink such as the following example:

<a href="">Switch to My Awesome Theme</a>

Here are some notes about Passkey Links:

  • Passkey links work for logged-in users and logged-out users
  • Passkey links must include the theme name and valid passkey
  • The theme name must be the theme slug (e.g., “my-theme” not “My Theme”)

Here is an example of proper passkey format:

Here you would replace “THEMESLUG” with the slug of the theme you want to preview, and “PASSKEY” with the current passkey (provided via the “Passkey” setting). Here is an example showing how to make a clickable link from the Passkey URL:

<a href="">Switch Theme!</a>


This plugin should not be used together with WordPress features such as Gutenberg Block Editor, Theme Customizer, Widgets, Menus, and other theme-related options. Doing so may result in private changes being made public on the current active theme. Learn more.

Plugin Options

Theme Switcha provides three basic configurations via the “Allowed Users” option:

  • Admins only – useful for theme developers to work on themes on a live site
  • Passkey only – useful for sending clients preview links to new templates
  • Everyone – allow everyone to switch themes (required for shortcodes)

Other options should be self-explanatory. If you have any questions, feel free to post in the Theme Switcha Support Forum. I usually respond very quickly 🙂

Note: It’s a good idea to change the Passkey periodically to prevent access to alternate themes (only required when using “Passkey only” configuration).

How It Works

If you’re still scratching your head at this point, here are some points that may help to clarify how theme-switching works:

  • Your site always will have a default active (primary) theme
  • The primary theme always will be visible to regular visitors
  • If you enable Theme Switcha, you can privately view other themes
  • So you can switch to a theme that only is active for YOU only
  • You can also enable visitors to switch themes on the front-end
  • You can even send a private theme-switch URL to friends, etc.

So while you re viewing and working on a switched theme, all other users will continue to see/use the default active theme. When you are done working on your switched theme, you can disable theme switching via the plugin settings. Upon doing so, you will be viewing the default active theme like everyone else.

Also keep in mind that theme-switching is browser-specific (via cookies). So if you need to view the theme in multiple browsers, the easiest way is to use the passkey link. The passkey enables you to quickly switch themes by simply entering the URL in your browser’s address bar. See the next section for details.

Because Theme Switcha is browser-specific, you can easily test theme-switching functionality by simply visiting your site in a different browser (with cleared cache and cookies). For example, in one browser you can be logged in to WordPress and switch to some other theme. While in the other browser, you are not logged in and thus viewing the site as a regular visitor, so you will be viewing the default active theme.

Going Live

Here are the steps to “go live” with your switched theme once you are ready to do so:

  1. Visit the plugin settings and disable the option “Enable Switching”.
  2. Visit Appearance > Themes to activate the theme for the world to see.

After these steps, the active theme will be visible to you and everyone else.

Excluding Themes

To exclude a theme from theme switching, open the theme’s style.css file and add Status: private or Status: unpublished to the file header. Or, to exclude a theme only for visitors, add Status: admin-only to the file header.

Here is a summary:

Status: private     = theme excluded from theme switching
Status: unpublished = theme excluded from theme switching
Status: admin-only  = theme available for switching only by admin-level users
Status: publish     = theme available for switching by all users (depending on settings)
No Status header    = theme available for switching by all users (depending on settings)

You can remove the Status file header at any time to make the theme available for theme switching.


If theme-switching isn’t working for you, here are some things to check:

  • Make sure you have more than one theme installed
  • Make sure there are no other plugins interfering
  • Make sure there are no .htaccess rules interfering
  • Make sure only one theme-switching plugin is enabled
  • Make sure WP_DEFAULT_THEME not defined in wp-config.php
  • Make sure your theme is using the WP API for settings, etc.
  • Try using a different browser and/or clearing your cache and cookies

Those are the main things to check. If theme-switching still isn’t working for your site, most likely something is interfering with normal functionality. In that case, you can do some basic troubleshooting to help identify the culprit.

Current active theme

Theme Switcha provides a function that returns the name of the currently active theme:


This can be used just like any other WP function, in plugins and theme templates.


This plugin cleans up after itself. All plugin settings will be removed from your database when the plugin is uninstalled via the Plugins screen.

Like the plugin?

If you like Theme Switcha, please take a moment to give a 5-star rating. It helps to keep development and support going strong. Thank you!

Plugin author

Jeff Starr

Plugin official website address
If you encounter problems in using the Theme Switcha plugin, you can comment below, and I will try my best to help you solve the problem

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.