How to use FTP with WordPress (plus 3 important ways to fix your site!)

Whenever I launch a new client site, I always update their plugins before I begin. A recent client launch reminded me of the importance of knowing how to use FTP with WordPress, when I updated the plugins, and the site stalled in maintenance mode.

How to use FTP with WordPress

So today I want to share with you one of the most important skills you can have as the owner of a WordPress site: How to use FTP with WordPress and 3 important ways you can use it to fix your site. Watch the video or read the post below!

What is FTP?

First, let’s talk about what FTP is. FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol, which probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to you. But if you think of your website as a home, what happens when you order new stuff to redecorate? It goes in a delivery truck or in your car to be transported from the store to your home.

Think of FTP as the delivery truck between your computer and your website files. When you want to make updates, FTP delivers files from your computer to your website. It also gives you access to your website files so you can make changes directly on the server when needed (which we’ll talk about in a minute!).

Think of FTP as the delivery truck between your computer and your website filesClick To Tweet

How to use FTP with WordPress

To access your site via FTP, you need two things: an FTP client, and the login information. An FTP client is the program that communicates between your computer and website files — essentially, the delivery truck. I recommend FileZilla because it’s free and pretty straightforward to use (be sure to download the client, not the server).

Next, you’ll need to login to your web host to find the FTP information. FTP logins consist of three items: Your host name, username, and password. The hostname is usually your domain name, though on managed WP hosting it might be something like Look in your cPanel’s sidebar or under the FTP manager for the username and password. With many web hosts, your FTP password is the same as your hosting account.

Once you have these two things, you’re ready to login. Open FileZilla, and you’ll see a bar at the top to enter your login information. Your computer files are in the left window, while your website files are in the right window. Right-click files to upload or download between them.

3 reasons to use FTP with WordPress

Reset your site when it’s stuck in maintenance mode

When you run WordPress core and plugin updates, it puts your site under maintenance mode. Sometimes, particularly if you haven’t updated your site in a while, or if your server is running slow, your site may time out in the middle of updates. When you reload the page, you get a message that your site is down briefly for scheduled maintenance, with no way to access the admin area.

When this happens, login to your site via FTP and look in your main site directory. It’s usually called public_html, html, or www. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the wp-content and wp-includes folders. Below them, you’ll see a file called .maintenance. Delete that file, and your site will be restored.

Troubleshoot plugins

When something goes wrong with your website, the first place to look is your plugins. If you can’t access your admin area, you can disable your plugins through FTP. Login and look for the wp-content folder. Inside you’ll see the plugins folder. Rename it to plugins-old, and it will disable all plugins on your site. Reload your site, and if it works, you know there’s a plugin causing a problem.

To find the troublemaker, rename your plugins folder back to plugins, then open it up. Rename all the folders inside by adding -old to them to disable each one. Then start at the top, remove the -old to reactivate the plugin, and check your site. If your site still works, that’s not the plugin causing problems. Repeat with each folder until your site breaks, and you’ve found the troublemaker and can delete it from your site.

Edit theme files

If you’re editing your theme files in the WordPress admin editor, you’re asking for trouble. Delete the wrong thing, and you won’t be able to access your admin area to fix it.

If you're editing your theme files in the WordPress admin editor, you're asking for troubleClick To Tweet

Instead, when you want to change your theme files, download them to your computer via FTP from the themes folder within wp-content. Then when you upload the file, if your site breaks, you can undo your changes and re-upload the original file to restore your site.

P.S. There’s more where this came from! Check out Creative Code Club for more video tutorials like this one.

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Meet the author

Hello! I’m Lisa M. Butler, and I help people build better websites. As a WordPress developer, I’ve built more than 100 websites on WordPress. I help my clients take their websites to the next level and teach them how to take control of their online presence. Through my blog, weekly emails, and club, I share that same advice with online creative entrepreneurs and publishers just like you.