A mini WordPress dictionary: Understanding WordPress terms

Domain name, web hosting, FTP, MySQL, PHPmyAdmin — no wonder people find self-hosted WordPress overwhelming. It’s really not as scary as you think, promise! Consider this post your mini WordPress dictionary. I’ll go over the common terms that come up when managing your own WordPress site and what they mean, in plain English.

Domain Name

Think of your domain name as your street address on the web. Domain names generally cost $5-$10 per year, with an additional $5-$10 per year for private registration, meaning your contact information will not be publicly available (worth the splurge — you don’t want junk mail from domain registration companies, do you?). You can purchase domain names for terms of one year or longer and choose to have them renewed automatically if you’d like (recommended — because a year is more than enough time to forget, trust me. And once lost? Domain names are not easy — or cheap — to recover.).

Nameservers and DNS settings

Think of these as the road map to your website. These are part of your domain name settings, and they tell computers where to look for your site files when someone visits your domain. Your nameservers will determine where you manage your domain name, and you will usually point these to your web host.

However, if you use a company that only offers managed WordPress hosting, like Flywheel (affiliate link), which is what I use for this site, they will ask you to manage your domain elsewhere. In this case, you can leave your nameservers at the default setting (where you purchased the domain) and set up the appropriate DNS records in your zone editor. Read the instructions from your web host carefully, these settings are usually spelled out for you!

DNS propagation

DNS propagation is something you’ll have to deal with when switching web hosts or if you have to redirect your domain name from another platform to your new self-hosted WordPress site. Remember, your DNS settings are the road map to your site. Just as it takes a little while for a brand new road to show up on Google Maps, it can take some time for the internet to get the message that your website files have a new home — up to 48 hours.

When you change your DNS settings, you won’t immediately see the results. In fact, don’t be alarmed if you still see your old site during the 48 hours after you update your domain settings. You can enter your domain name at whatismydns.net to check the status of DNS propagation. Wait an hour, and at least a few results should be returning your changes.

Web hosting

If your domain name is your street address, your web hosting is the actual house — you need a place to store (or… host!) your files. Just because you bought your domain name at Really Awesome Hosting Company does not mean you have web hosting. While many companies do bundle the two (like Bluehost), some, like GoDaddy, offer them as separate services, and so it’s a bit more confusing. If you don’t have the option to install WordPress, you probably haven’t purchased a hosting plan.

Not sure what all those WordPress terms mean? Consider this post your mini WordPress dictionary.Click To Tweet

FTP (File Transfer Protocol)

So you have your street address and your house, and let’s say you want to move a pretty new sofa into your house. Think of FTP as the delivery truck.

The FTP information from your web host will allow you to share files between your server and computer through what’s called an FTP client. An FTP client is a program you download to your computer, then you can enter your FTP information to sync files. I recommend FileZilla because it’s free and is pretty easy to use.

Basically, when you open FileZilla, you’ll see a place to enter the information from your web host — hostname (typically your domain name, but not always), username, and password (typically the password you create for your hosting account when you purchase web hosting). You can also go to the FTP accounts area of your control panel to create new accounts and even limit access to certain directories (folders) if you’re sharing with someone else. Once you log on, you’ll see your computer files on the left and your server files on the right, so you can download files to your computer, update them, then upload them back to the server.

To learn more about FTP, check out my video tutorial on how to use FTP and 3 important ways to fix your site.

MySQL and PHPmyAdmin

Ok, I’m all out of house analogies. File MySQL and PHPMyAdmin under things you will hopefully never need to use but are good to know just in case. Basically, WordPress uses something called a database to store posts, comments, and other WordPress settings. This means that rather than creating an entirely new file for each page of your website, WordPress uses one file to generate the page layout and pulls the information from your database, which helps your site load faster (hooray!). MySQL is a tool for creating databases, while PHPmyAdmin is a tool for backing up, restoring, or editing databases. They are particularly important if you are manually installing WordPress or need to restore from backup. Otherwise, like I said — good to know, but you will probably never need to use them.

Save everything!

As you can see, using self-hosted WordPress means that you will be creating at least one account, if not more. The most important thing to remember is to keep track of every login you create, even if you don’t fully understand what it’s for. I once had a client forward a 5-year-old email so we could redirect her domain name. Without that, it would have been impossible to find the information we needed!

Want to learn more about WordPress? Check out my ebook Make WP Work.

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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.