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Representation of the WordPress template hierarchy with PHP objects.


What / Why?

Every WP developer knows that for every frontend request, WordPress runs a query and then loads a template file depending on the query.

The choose of template is done according to rules defined in the template hierarchy.

For every query, there's one template.

Now, I want to ask you: given a query object, which is the function that gives you the template?

The answer is: such function doesn't exist.

The query-to-template resolution is done by WordPress requiring template_loader.php file that contains a procedural succession of if / elseif that looks in template folder and try to find a template.

It means:

  • There's no way to know which template will be used for a query before the template is loaded
  • There's no way to apply the query-to-template resolution to a query that is not the main query
  • Given a query, there's no way to know which templates WordPress will look for

What this library does is to provide a way to do the 3 things listed above.

Template Hierarchy Representation

Given a query, this library provides a template hierarchy representation in form of a PHP array:


global $wp_query; // we will show template hierarchy for the main query

$hierarchy = new Brain\Hierarchy\Hierarchy();

var_export( $hierarchy->getHierarchy($wp_query) );

assuming the query is generated by an url like and the category ID for the term "foo" is 123, the output of code above is:

  'category'  => array( 'category-foo', 'category-123', 'category' ),
  'archive'   => array( 'archive' ),
  'paged'     => array( 'paged' ),
  'index'     => array( 'index' ),

And if you compare this array with the visual overview of template hierarchy you can see that is an accurate representation of the template hierarchy for a category query.

Filter the Hierarchy

Hierarchy provides a filter, brain-hierarchy.branches that allows to filter the branches that will be used to when "resolving" a query.

The filter passes the array of branches, where each item is a class name of an object implementing BranchInterface. The array can be modified, but Hierarchy ensures that after the filter all the items are still an array of the same type.

Considering that changing the branch will break core compatibility (it is possible to obtain a completely different template hierarchy compared to the one core uses) I suggest to use this feature only if you are sure what you are going to do.

It is also possible to avoid any filtering by instantiating Hierachy class with the Hierachy::NOT_FILTERABLE flag.

$hierarchy = new Hierachy(Hierachy::NOT_FILTERABLE);

Note that this will prevent Hierachy to fire the core {$type}_template_hierachy filter (introduced in WP 4.7).

This hook gives the ability to filter a specific "branch" of the template hierarchy. See "Make WordPress" blog post for more details.

Let me just cite from there:

It’s important to remember that the consistency of the template hierarchy in WordPress is what makes standardised theme structures possible. It’s highly recommended that you do not remove templates from the candidate hierarchy using these new filters, unless you’re absolutely certain of what you’re doing.

Template Resolution

If the question you want to answer is:

Which templates WordPress will try to find for this query?

It can be simply answered using the getTemplates() method:

global $wp_query; // we will target the main query

$hierarchy = new Brain\Hierarchy\Hierarchy();

var_export( $hierarchy->getTemplates($wp_query) );

Assuming same query as above, the output will be:


That is the list of templates WordPress will search, in the same order that WordPress will use.

Template Resolution Example

For this example, I will assume that a theme has template files stored in templates subfolder and using .phtml as file extension.

All the code necessary to load those templates according to template hierarchy is the following:

add_action( 'template_redirect', function() {

    $templates = ( new Brain\Hierarchy\Hierarchy() )->getTemplates();
    foreach( $templates as $template ) {
      $path = get_template_directory() . "/templates/{$template}.phtml";
      if ( file_exists( $path ) ) {
         require $path;
} );

The example above works, and is just an example of what you can do with this library, however for the purpose to load templates, this library provides a specific class: QueryTemplate.

Introducing QueryTemplate

QueryTemplate class makes use of the Hierarchy class to get a list of templates to search, then it looks for those templates and loads the first found.


add_action( 'template_redirect', function() {

    global $wp_query;
    $queryTemplate = new \Brain\Hierarchy\QueryTemplate();
    echo $queryTemplate->loadTemplate( $wp_query );
} );

What the code above does, is exactly what WordPress does: the proper template is found searching in theme folder and in parent theme folder (if current theme is a child theme) then the first template found is loaded and its content is printed to page.

However, it is just the default behavior, and it can be customised.

Template content is returned

The first thing to note in the last code snippet, is that the template content is returned by QueryTemplate::loadTemplate().

This is important because without the echo what is shown is just a White Screen Of Death.

Edit template content before to output

Moreover, this feature can be used to alter the content before to output it:

add_action( 'template_redirect', function() {

    $queryTemplate = new \Brain\Hierarchy\QueryTemplate();
    // if no WP_Query object is passed to loadTemplate(), the global $wp_query is used
    $content = $queryTemplate->loadTemplate();
    echo str_replace( '', '', $content );
} );

The snippet above replaces every occurrence of in the page content with

If you are thinking this method allows you to use a template engine to render templates... you are thinking well, but there's quite a lot more to know.

Template Finders

By default, QueryTemplate class, searches for templates in theme and parent theme folders.

Just like WordPress does.

However, it is possible to use a different template finder class to do something different.

All template finder classes have to implement the TemplateFinderInterface interface.

The library comes with some classes that implement that interface, and of course, it is possible to write a custom one.

Below a list of shipped template finder classes.


The class FoldersTemplateFinder can be used to search for templates in some arbitrary folders, instead of theme and parent theme folders.


add_action( 'template_redirect', function() {

    $finder = new \Brain\Hierarchy\Finder\FoldersTemplateFinder([
    $queryTemplate = new \Brain\Hierarchy\QueryTemplate( $finder );  
    echo $queryTemplate->loadTemplate();
} );

The snippet above will search for templates in the current folder and if template is not found there, it is searched in theme and parent theme folders.

Custom file extensions

FoldersTemplateFinder class, by default, searches for files with .php extension, but it is possible to use different file extensions, by passing them as a second constructor argument (either a string or an array of strings):

// This will look for *.phtml files.
$phtml_finder = new \Brain\Hierarchy\Finder\FoldersTemplateFinder(
    [ get_stylesheet_directory(), get_template_directory() ],

// This will look for Twig files first, and fall back to standard PHP files if
// no matching Twig file was found.
$twig_finder = new \Brain\Hierarchy\Finder\FoldersTemplateFinder(
    [ get_stylesheet_directory(), get_template_directory() ],
    [ 'twig', 'php' ]

Note that custom extensions are case insensitive and that can be passed with or without trailing dot.


This template finder class is very similar to FoldersTemplateFinder, however it looks for templates is a specific subfolder of theme (and parent theme) and use theme (and parent theme) folder as fallback:

add_action( 'template_redirect', function() {

    $finder = new \Brain\Hierarchy\Finder\SubfolderTemplateFinder( 'templates' );

    $queryTemplate = new \Brain\Hierarchy\QueryTemplate( $finder );

    echo $queryTemplate->loadTemplate();
} );

Using code above the templates are searched, in order, in:

  • /path/to/child/theme/templates/
  • /path/to/parent/theme/templates/
  • /path/to/child/theme/
  • /path/to/parent/theme/

SubfolderTemplateFinder, just like FoldersTemplateFinder, accepts custom file extensions as second constructor argument.


This finder class works in combination with another finder and allows to load templates based on the current locale:

add_action( 'template_redirect', function() {

    // if no folders provided, theme and parent theme folders are used
    $foldersFinder = new \Brain\Hierarchy\Finder\FoldersTemplateFinder();

    $finder = new \Brain\Hierarchy\Finder\LocalizedTemplateFinder( $foldersFinder );

    $queryTemplate = new \Brain\Hierarchy\QueryTemplate( $finder );

    echo $queryTemplate->loadTemplate();
} );

Assuming the current locale is it_IT, using code above, the templates are searched, in order, in:

  • /path/to/child/theme/it_IT/
  • /path/to/parent/theme/it_IT/
  • /path/to/child/theme/it/
  • /path/to/parent/theme/it/
  • /path/to/child/theme/
  • /path/to/parent/theme/


This class allows to use the Symfony Finder Component to find templates:

add_action( 'template_redirect', function() {

    $symfonyFinder = new \Symfony\Component\Finder\Finder();
    $symfonyFinder = $symfonyFinder->files()->in( __DIR__ )->name( '*.phtml' );

    $finder = new \Brain\Hierarchy\Finder\SymfonyFinderAdapter( $symfonyFinder );

    $queryTemplate = new \Brain\Hierarchy\QueryTemplate( $finder );

    echo $queryTemplate->loadTemplate();
} );


This class can be used to easily integrate 3rd party different loaders with QueryTemplate class.

In fact, you need to provide an arbitrary callback that will be called to find templates.

The callback will receive the template name without file extension, e.g. index and has to return the full path of the template if found, or an empty string if the template is not found.


add_action( 'template_redirect', function() {

    $callback = function( $template ) {
       return realpath(__DIR__ . $template . '.php') ? : '';

    $finder = new \Brain\Hierarchy\Finder\CallbackTemplateFinder( $callback );

    $queryTemplate = new \Brain\Hierarchy\QueryTemplate( $finder );

    echo $queryTemplate->loadTemplate();
} );

Core Filters for Template Loading

When WordPress searches for a template in template-loader.php, it triggers different filters in the form of {$type}_template; examples are 'single_template'. 'page_template' and so on.

Moreover, the found template passes through the 'template_include' filter.

By default, QueryTemplate::loadTemplate() applies same filters, to maximize compatibility with core behavior.

This happen no matter the template finder is used.

However, by passing false as second argument to the method it will stop to apply those core filters.

Introducing Template Loaders

After a template is found with any of the finder classes, QueryTemplate has to "load" it.

By default, loading is just a require wrapped by ob_start() / ob_get_clean() so that the template content is just returned as is.

However, is it possible to process the template in some ways, for example, by using a template engine.

Custom template loaders have to implement TemplateLoaderInterface that has just one method: load(), that receives the full path of the template and have to return the template content.

Template loaders can be passed as second constructor argument to QueryTemplate.


This is the unique loader class that ships with the library, and it provides the default behavior.

Aggregate Loaders

Aggregate loaders uses different "inner" loaders to load templates.

Aggregate loaders have to implement the interface AggregateTemplateLoaderInterface that has 2 methods:

  • addLoader(TemplateLoaderInterface $loader, callable $predicate)
  • addLoaderFactory(callable $loaderFactory, callable $predicate)

The first is used to add a template loader instance. The second is used to add a factory callback that once called will return a template loader instance. It is useful when the loader instantiation is resource expensive to avoid unnecessary instantiation, that is only done if required (lazy).

Both methods accept as second argument a "predicate": a callback that will receive the path of the template file to load and will return a boolean.

When the predicate returns true, the related loader is used to load the template.


CascadeAggregateTemplateLoader is a simple implementation of an aggregate loader, where the predicates are evaluated in the same order they are added (FIFO).


ExtensionMapTemplateLoader is another aggregate loader implementation shipped with Hierarchy.

It is used to load different loaders based on template file extension.

It requires an extensions-to-loaders "map" to be passed to constructor.

The map keys are the template file extensions, the values are the loader to be used.

Loaders can be passed as:

  • template loader instances
  • template loader fully qualified class names
  • factory callbacks that once called return template loader instances

The same loader can be used for multiple file extensions, using as map key a string composed by many file extensions separated by a pipe |.

In any case file extensions are case insensitive and can be passed with or without leading dot.


$loader = new ExtensionMapTemplateLoader([
    'php|phtml' => new FileRequireLoader(),
    'mustache'  => function() { return new MyMustacheAdapter(new Mustache_Engine); },
    'md'        => MyMarkdownRenderer::class

After the ExtensionMapTemplateLoader is obtained, it is possible to add more loaders using addLoader() and addLoaderFactory() methods that are part of the aggregate loader interface.

In this case may comes handy the class FileExtensionPredicate, it is an invokable object that once executed passing a file path to it, return a boolean if file extension is supported. Supported extension(s) can be configured via constructor. It accepts single extension as string and multiple extensions as array or pipe-separated string.


$loader = new ExtensionMapTemplateLoader(['php|phtml' => new FileRequireLoader()]);

    new MyMarkdownRenderer(),
    new FileExtensionPredicate('md')

    function() { return new MyMustacheAdapter(new Mustache_Engine); },
    new FileExtensionPredicate(['mustache', 'mustache.html'])

QueryTemplate Usage Example: Loading and Rendering Mustache Templates

In the following example I will show all the code necessary to find and render mustache templates according to WordPress template hierarchy.

namespace My\Theme;

use Brain\Hierarchy\Finder\SubfolderTemplateFinder;
use Brain\Hierarchy\Loader\TemplateLoaderInterface;
use Mustache_Engine;

class MustacheTemplateLoader implements TemplateLoaderInterface

   private $engine;

   public function __construct( Mustache_Engine $engine )
      $this->engine = $engine;

   public function load( $templatePath )
        // let's use a filter to build some context for the template
        $data = apply_filters( 'my_theme_data', ['query' => $GLOBALS['wp_query'], $templatePath );

        $template = file_get_contents( $templatePath );

        return $this->engine->render( $template, $data );

add_action( 'template_redirect', function() {

    // will look for "*.mustache" templates in "/templates" subfolder of theme
    $finder = new SubfolderTemplateFinder( 'templates', 'mustache' );

    // make use of the class above
    $loader = new MustacheTemplateLoader( new Mustache_Engine() );

    $queryTemplate = new \Brain\Hierarchy\QueryTemplate( $finder, $loader );

    // 3rd argument of loadTemplate() is passed by reference, and is set to true if template is found
    $found = false;

    // load the rendered template
    $content = $queryTemplate->loadTemplate( $GLOBALS['wp_query'], true, $found );

    // if template was found, let's output it and exit, otherwise WordPress will continue its work
    if ( $found ) {
        echo $content;

} );


Hierarchy requires PHP 5.6+ and Composer to be installed.


Best served by Composer, available on Packagist with name brain/hierarchy.


Hierarchy is released under MIT.