FTP for WordPress: What, Why, + How

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posted on: January 18, 2018

Developers frequently use FTP, File Transfer Protocols, to upload files to servers. For the average blogger, you might have heard of the term FTP, but you have no idea what it means or what it does. However, the more familiar you are with FTP, the easier it will be for you to troubleshoot your site in case something goes wrong. FTP doesn’t need to be scary!

What is FTP?

FTP is the process of transferring files from one to computer to another. For example, if I wanted to upload theme files that I created on my computer to a client’s blog, I do that through FTP. CMS like WordPress have a system where you can upload the theme files through the dashboard, FTP is a more direct way of installing the files.

Most WordPress hosting providers give you access to the FTP so that you can upload or download files from your hosting account.

When Do You Use It?

As a blogger, you will rarely need to use your FTP. When you do, it could save you from hours of headaches in just a matter of minutes.

Reset Site in Maintenance Mode

If you have not updated your WordPress core, themes, or plugin files when you do update, your site might time out in the middle of an update. As a result, your site will seem like it is in permanent maintenance mode. When stuck in maintenance mode, log in to your FTP and access the main directory (typically public_html, HTML, or www). You will then see wp-content and wp-include folders. You should also see a file called .maintenance. Delete this file, and your site will be restored. Yes, that easy!

Troubleshoot Plugins

Plugins can be pesky, and if your site is suddenly buggy, you can temporarily deactivate the plugins to see if they are the cause. Under wp-content < Plugins, change the plugin folder to something like “m-plugins.” Clear your cache and refresh the page; if the issue persists, then it is not caused by the plugins. Change the name back in the folder to “Plugins.”

Installing Theme Files + Plugins

As a developer, I have found that the easiest way to install themes and plugins is through FTP. I drag the theme files and plugins to the respective folders. Most of my sites have the same plugins, so I keep a plugins folder that includes Advanced Custom Fields, Jetpack, Akismet, etc. It saves me a couple of minutes with each install!

Backing Up Themes + Plugins

Before installing anything new design, I do a manual backup of themes and plugins on the site. I will download all theme and plugin files so that the client has them as a backup. When I do the install, I remove anything that’s not currently in use to keep the dashboard efficient.

Manually Degrade WordPress

You might find yourself in a situation where you need to degrade WordPress manually, at least developers more than bloggers. To do this, you need access to the FTP. I’ll write a tutorial on how to manually degrade WP since it is such an extensive process that you don’t want anything to go wrong.

How to Access Your FTP?

To access your FTP, you need an FTP client to upload the files. Since I work with a MAC, my two favorite FTP clients are Cyberduck (Free) and Transmit. I perform installations pretty frequently, so I use Transmit almost daily. However, I’m rarely on my site. I only access my FTP in an emergency. If you are not a developer, I recommend checking out Cyberduck.

You can find your FTP login through your hosting account. By logging into your CPANEL, search for FTP. You will see the different accounts. You can find SiteGround’s FTP Tutorials here!

Developing Your Files in WordPress Admin Editor

Never develop in the WordPress Admin editor. Not only are you placing the site in jeopardy, but you are also limiting your potential as a developer. When I initially was learning, I did it this way. I soon set up MAMP on my computer along with PHPStorm, and I develop everything locally. This setup allows me to test all my development projects before I install them on a live site, but I can also experiment and break things as I’m learning. When I switched to this setup, I significantly and quickly improved my development skills.

You likely will not access your site via FTP, but if you are going through a redesign process, you want to have that information handy.

Editor's Note

Some of the links included throughout this website are affiliate links, which means that Lindsay Humes LLC receives a small commission when certain items are purchased. These affiliate links provide a means for the site to earn revenue and generate free content for readers. For more details, read the privacy policy here.

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