Restoring Inactive Sidebars in WordPress

I have resolved this ‘inactive sidebar’ conundrum and restored widgets to the right hand sidebar of my website. The next few paragraphs describe how I got confused and misdirected and lead on to say how and why I found out why I had ‘inactive sidebars’ and what it is all really about.

This blog came about because I could not find the information I needed, by searching on; YouTube tutorials, WordPress Forums, Google, WordPress Help, in the Glossary and so here are my findings. if you are short of time for reading about my experience, go straight to ‘Here It Is:’, which follows My Experience.

My experience:

Primary is a sidebar area, not to be confused with the Primary menu
In ‘Widgets’ for Apostrophe, “sidebars” are called Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and a Footnote Sidebar.

After spending a few hours yesterday working out why the sidebar, which showed in my chosen WordPress theme “Apostrophe Magazine” did not show in the same right hand position on my website, instead the boxes appeared clumsily at the bottom of the page, I sought to restore a sidebar to the right hand side of my website.

First, I must mention that I am working on a 13″ screen on a window, not even on full screen and I was using my Bookmarks Sidebar. (That word again).

Apostrophe Magazine as shown in themes with a sidebar on the right.
Apostrophe Magazine as shown in themes with a sidebar on the right.

I started by changing themes to a different one and then returned to ‘Apostrophe’, but this didn’t resolve anything. Next I went into Customize and couldn’t find the word ‘sidebar’ anywhere, or a means of changing the location of the widgets. So I went to Appearance > Widgets.

There I found at the bottom of the list of widgets, the term ‘inactive sidebar (not used) and some widgets I had created underneath.

Once the widgets were removed, the inactive sidebars disappeared.
The one called ‘Text: Sidebar testing to work out….’ was edited but not dragged into position.

My first impression of this was that my sidebar had fallen out of use. I entered ‘inactive sidebar’ into Google searches, WordPress Forums and tried to find it in WordPress Help and found some queries from other people wanting to understand the term ‘inactive sidebar’ but no one seemed to have the exactly same problem, which was that their widgets had moved from the right hand side of their website to below their content.

Under 'Primary' is a menu widget, added to which is a menu called 'primary'.
In ‘Customize’ the word ‘sidebar’ is only mentioned beside word ‘footnote’.

The various posts I could find about inactive sidebars seem to be unresolved so I found my way to some YouTube Tutorials. The first one that appeared was to ‘restore an inactive sidebar widget’ however, in their video was a clearly marked area called ‘Sidebar’, where I only had what looked like menus. (Confusion when a sidebar and menu are both called ‘Primary).

Confusing as my 'sidebar' seemed to be in my 'footnote' area
Hence, my widgets only seemed to appear in the ‘footnote’ or bottom of page.

In this position in widgets on my website, my theme Apostrophe Magazine had ‘Primary’, ‘Secondary’, ‘Tertiary’ and ‘Footnote Sidebar’ as four locations to put widgets. In other words, the ‘sidebar’ is broken down into 4 locations, with the ‘Primary’ location appearing with colour backgrounds to stand out. So I got more confused by my widgets appearing at the bottom, so tried to remove the Footnote Sidebar (an oxymoron) to no avail.

There were three instances where I thought I had hit the jackpot:

  • A YouTube video:Wordpress Sidebar Moved To Bottom of Page Fix .
    • But this was a man talking to camera saying he spent a day trying to solve it, was more about content, gave up and changed themes, which sorted his problem out.
  • A post on a website called WPMUDEV asking why his custom sidebars had all been moved to inactive sidebars.
    • I got excited here, but he was scolded for posting in the wrong forum (not immediately obvious to an exasperated web customer) and redirected to WordPress Forums, and even though he couldn’t log in as his web developer had his log in info, they didn’t have an answer for him. This thread, again, was closed.
  • Another WordPress user put a similar question on WordPress Help, but the volunteer ‘looked under the bonnet’ for him and resolved the issue, so the thread didn’t give anything away.
Primary is a sidebar area, not to be confused with the Primary menu
In ‘Widgets’ for Apostrophe, “sidebars” are called Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and a Footnote Sidebar.

Thinking there was some grand conspiracy where information on ‘inactive sidebars’ was a top classified secret, I managed to get onto Live Chat with someone at WordPress. By uploading screengrabs to my library, we solved the mystery. (Well, Livio gave me the information I needed to understand what was going on, so he solved the mystery. Thanks Livio).

With hindsight, it makes sense. Damn hindsight! In receiving this information, my queries about how rubbish my website looked on my mobile were also solved.

Here it is:

  • Apostrophe Magazine is ‘responsive’, therefore if my browser window is quite small, then content (ie pages) will take precedence over the sidebar, which will be moved to the bottom of the page.
  • In this particular theme (this confused me) the “sidebar areas” in widgets are not called Sidebar, but are “Primary”, “Secondary” “Tertiary” etc (ie upper, middle and lower sections of a sidebar). Which is what I had, but thought these locations were menus as my menu was ALSO called “Primary”.

How I got my sidebar back.

  1. I moved the widgets that appeared under ‘inactive sidebar (not used)’ and put them in Primary, Secondary or Tertiary. Once the widgets were moved, the three ‘inactive sidebars’ disappeared.
  2. I was directed to the Theme Demo and the appearance was just like my website, with no sidebar and widgets at the bottom.  I was advised to widen my screen on Live Chat and the sidebar reappeared on the right hand side on the theme demo. I viewed my own site and I had widgets once more appearing on the right hand side of my content. Yes, in Sidebars!

Therefore, I have come up with two glossary entries for WordPress:

Opening Widgets would allow you to edit the widgets you added to these locations through your Widgets section.
The list of elements to ‘Customise’, which, again show no appearance of the word ‘sidebar’. This is a matter of familiarising yourself with wp terms.

Inactive Sidebar

This is a term that appears at the bottom of the  list of widgets when you have a sidebar widget that has been edited, but not saved and added to a location, found in top right hand corner in ‘Widgets’. It does not mean your theme’s “sidebar” has become inactive, just that a sidebar theme, perhaps a default one that came with your theme, has not been placed.


This is predominantly a location on your website (positioned to the right, left or in the footnote) where widgets can be placed. To add to your sidebar, you can drag and drop widgets from the list of these into the areas provided in the top right hand corner of the Widgets page (found in the Appearance menu). You can edit them through “Customize” reached from your Personalize menu. In some themes your “sidebar” location may be labelled differently, such as ‘Primary’ (not to be confused with ‘Primary’ menus), and an ‘inactive sidebar’ does not mean your theme’s default sidebar has been disabled. If your widgets do not appear in the sidebar as previewed in your theme, try increasing the size of your browser window, as some themes are designed to be responsive to the size of the reader’s screen, in other words priority is given to your posts and pages over sidebars.

If any of this doesn’t make sense, I am using the older interface known as the Dashboard. To see this you need to add /wp-admin/ to the end of your dotcom.




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