A Beginner’s Guide to FTP for WordPress Users

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You can perform a lot of tasks within your WordPress dashboard—but you can’t do everything. Sometimes, you may need to make a change directly to one of your site’s files—like for adding code or adjusting user permissions. For any task where you must edit, transfer, or add to your WordPress files, File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is the way to go; but what is FTP?

In short, FTP enables you to connect directly to the files that make up your WordPress site. You can then edit, add, and delete information and code directly, without having to visit your WordPress dashboard or hosting cPanel. The applications of FTP are many, and it even simplifies some of your most common tasks.

This guide will answer the question: What is FTP? We’ll teach you how to access your WordPress files using the FTP tool FileZilla. Let’s get started!

What is FTP (and why is it important)?

So, what is FTP? File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a way of transmitting information between a server and client. Your website’s files get stored on a web host’s servers, and you can use FTP to access those files from your computer.

There are many reasons you may need to access your site this way. For example, you can use FTP to:

  • Install plugins and themes directly (if you have trouble with the WordPress dashboard uploader).
  • Change the files within plugins and themes. This is handy for advanced customizations, particularly when you want to access something like functions.php or header.php in your theme.
  • Manually deactivate plugins and themes if you ever get locked out of your WordPress dashboard.
  • Rapidly upload media files in bulk, rather than waiting sometimes long periods of time for the WordPress dashboard to upload media.
  • Manage core WordPress files such as .htaccess, to customize your everything from your login page to security measures.
  • Diagnose and fix common errors on your site, such as compatibility issues, internal server errors, and theme conflicts.

As time passes, WordPress continues to add new features to replace some reason to use FTP. However, there’s still the most important reason to utilize FTP: Accessing your site files when it’s down. Whether it’s from malware or a plugin conflict, site crashes happen. And you need a way to fix it when locked out of your WordPress login page. Along with the reasons listed above, we feel that learning about FTP is essential knowledge for all webmasters and online business owners, especially since it could save your site from prolonged downtime and lost revenues.

So, keep reading to learn all about FTP and the tools that make it easy to understand.

The FTP client: your primary tool when dealing with FTP

what is ftp - an example of a client is Filezilla

It’s essential to install a client like FileZilla in order to work with FTP.

To actually use FTP, you’ll need what’s known as an “FTP client.”

What is an FTP client?

It’s a program that enables you to connect to the server that stores your website’s files.

If you’re just getting started, we suggest checking out FileZilla. This is a free, easy-to-use tool that’s great for beginners. It’s also recommended by WordPress itself, particularly because it’s open-source. The FileZilla developers even offer useful documentation to help you get started.

We’ll use FileZilla in this article to demonstrate the functionality of a client, but you have the option to choose from various reputable clients, including:

Once you have an FTP client downloaded to your computer, use the following steps to learn about how to make simple changes to site files using file transfer protocol.

How to use FTP to access your WordPress site (in four steps)

You now know the answer to the question “What is FTP?” So, we can move forward to show you how to access your website with FTP. We’ll be using FileZilla for this tutorial, but the steps will be similar no matter which client you select.

Step 1: Back up your site files

Before you get started, it’s important to understand the risks of using FTP. FTP modifications make permanent changes directly to your site’s files, so if you aren’t careful, you could cause problems. Therefore, it’s crucial to make sure you have a recent site backup in place, so you can restore your website if anything goes wrong.

Back up the following parts of your site:

  • The WordPress core files
  • The wp-content folder with all of your media, plugins, and themes
  • Your WordPress database

Learn how to back up your website here, and consider one of the top WordPress backup plugins to ensure a smooth process.

Jetpack provides a quality backup solution called VaultPress

Jetpack provides a quality backup solution called VaultPress

Some reputable backup plugins include:

The backup plugins let you store website and database files on your computer or a cloud storage service. If anything goes wrong with an FTP transfer, you can restore your website to a previous place in time.

Step 2: Install FileZilla

Once you have a backup of your site, install FileZilla by visiting the website and clicking on the Download FileZilla Client button. Most FTP users don’t need an FTP Server (or to upgrade to the Pro version of FileZilla).

The FileZilla download button

FileZilla auto-detects your operating system to provide a Download button for either Mac, Windows, or Linux versions. If you don’t see the right version, there are links for other operating systems below the More Download Options section.

Click the Download FileZilla Client button.

download filezilla client

Click the Download button for the FileZilla or FileZilla With Manual option. It’s not necessary to have the manual, but it may prove useful in the future.

download button

Open and Run the installation file, then walk through the on-screen steps to complete the installation. You should then find FileZilla saved and ready to run as an application. Click the FileZilla icon to run the client.

open the filezilla ftp client

FileZilla opens its window to reveal two sides:

  • The local site files (all the files on your computer)
  • The remote site files (the website files saved on your server—the next steps show you how to connect to the server)

Editing, transferring, adding, and deleting files is all done by right-clicking on files or dragging and dropping them to different locations.

the filezilla interface

Step 3: Connect to the host server using FTP

When you open up FileZilla, you’ll see that the remote site is “Not connected to any server.” The remote site is the server where all of your site files get stored, so you need to connect to the server in order to control them.

not connected to server message

There should be four empty fields near the top: Host, Username, Password, and Port. These refer to your host’s FTP access credentials, which you can get from your web host.

the fields to fill in credentials for FTP

In order to access your site using FTP, you’ll need:

  • The web host’s FTP address
  • Your FTP username
  • Your FTP password
  • The port used by your host for FTP

How to get the FTP credentials

All this information is available from your hosting provider. How you find it will vary depending on the hosting company. For instance, Bluehost, FlyWheel, and Kinsta all store this information at different locations within their dashboards.

In general, you’ll need to log into your hosting control panel and find the credentials in your personal account information. Most hosts offer documentation that tells you exactly where to look. If not, your best bet is to contact them directly.

Here’s an example:

Kinsta Hosting users can go to the MyKinsta dashboard, click on the Sites tab, then open one of the hosted sites.

example of going to a site in kinsta

Each site hosted on Kinsta has an Info section. And within that section you can find a headline for SFTP/SSH, which lists the Host, Username, Password, and Port needed to connect via FTP.

what is ftp credentials in kinsta

Once you have your credentials, there’s the option to copy and paste them into FileZilla and click on the Quickconnect button.

However, many configurations require you to connect via SFTP in the Site Manager of FileZilla. For that, click on the Site Manager button at the top left corner of FileZilla.

the site manager

Paste in the credentials you have for each corresponding field:

Leave everything else (such as Protocol, Logon Type, and Background Color) as its default setting.

Click Connect.

connect with credentials - what is ftp

Within a few seconds you’ll see a “Successful” connection message in the Status log. The contents of your site files then populate under the Remote Site section to the right.

the remote site

Note: You don’t have to re-enter your credentials every time you want to access your site. Instead, simply navigate to Server > Reconnect, and FileZilla will log back into your host. Alternatively, FileZilla saves past FTP credentials inside the Site Manager section, where you can reconnect.

Step 4: Manage Your WordPress Files

With FileZilla connected to your web server, you can see files and folders in each of its four main quadrants.

  • The two quadrants on the left display the files on your local computer.
  • The quadrants on the right show your website’s files.

To move files between the two locations, all you need to do is drag and drop them.

both sides of the ftp client

On the upper right panel, find a folder named after your website’s domain (although it could also be called public_html or www)—this is where all your site’s data gets stored. Open that folder, then the /public folder to access your main site files.

the public folder of FTP

Most of the time, what you’re looking for is in the wp-content folder.

the wp content file

The wp-content folder contains sub-folders for your themes and plugins. This means you can open up your current theme to make changes, delete a theme, or install a new theme by copying and pasting it into your themes folder (or dragging it over from your computer’s files).

Right clicking on a file reveals options to:

  • Download the file to your computer
  • Add files to the queue
  • Delete the file from your server
  • Rename the file
  • Adjust file permissions
  • Create a new directory or file

what is ftp delete function

You can also move files by dragging and dropping them to other locations. For example, the following video shows the process of uploading the TwentyTwenty WordPress theme files to our site’s /themes folder.

what is ftp and how do you move around folders

You now know how to connect to your site using FTP and locate your website’s files. If you spend some time exploring those files now, you’ll find yourself prepared whenever you’re required to use FTP in the future!

Conclusion

Part of becoming an experienced WordPress user involves learning how the platform works behind the scenes. That’s where FTP comes in handy, since it enables you to work directly with the files that make up your site. Knowing how to access your site using FTP is a crucial skill for any WordPress site owner to have.

In this post, we first answered the question: What is FTP? Then we explained that to use FTP you must have a client like FileZilla. We then showed you how to use it to access your WordPress site’s files. To recap, there are four major steps:

  1. Back up your site.
  2. Install FileZilla.
  3. Connect to your host using FTP credentials (you can find these from your web host).
  4. Manage your WordPress files.

Do you have any questions about FTP and what you can do with it? Leave us a message in the comments section below!

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