How to Use FTP

I showed you how to access your file manager to work with a single item on your server (like a plugin or favicon), but sometimes you need to work with files in bulk. To do this, you’ll need to know how to use FTP (File Transfer Protocol).

What is FTP?

Basically, FTP lets you see the files on your computer and your server simultaneously. Then you can drag and drop them from one to the other.

Think of your computer and how all your files on it are organized. You can move things around by opening up File Explorer (Windows) or Finder (Mac) and dragging and dropping.

Just as your computer houses your personal computer files, a server (owned by your host) houses your website files. (Read my analogy about ice cream for more.)

FTP is simply a way to log in to your slice of your host’s server so you can manipulate your site’s files housed there.

You can use FTP for all sorts of things like uploading a file or folder to your root directory, seeing or editing files quickly or deleting several theme or plugin files at once.

I highly recommend becoming familiar with FTP as it is another one of those really helpful-to-have skills.

When to use FTP

For some reason, the term “FTP” strikes fear into many, but as you’ll see, once you’ve got an FTP client set up, it’s simple.

There aren’t a lot of times you’ll use FTP, but one of the main ones is to back up your site’s files. Being able to download all files at once (uploads, plugins, themes, etc.) is handy.

Preparing to use FTP

First you’ll need an FTP client which is basically a fancy way of saying you’ll need a program or application on your computer that will allow you to connect to your site’s server.

There are many free FTP clients available. Filezilla is a popular choice. Here are some others as well. I use Cyberduck (download buttons are under the duck). Simply download the FTP client, run it on your computer and follow the instructions for setup.

How to use FTP

When you’re ready to access your site files on your server:

  1. Open your FTP client on your computer.
  2. Enter your connection settings. These are details you’ll need from your host, such as:
    • Server/hostname
    • Username
    • Password
    • Port number

    If you don’t know these, contact your host. Explain that you’re trying to use an FTP client and ask them for the credentials you need.

  3. Once you input the login details and are connected, you’ll see a window with all the files on your server listed, much like you would see your files listed on your computer. Drill down if needed, just as you would for folders on your computer.

If you’re backing up your site files, the main folder you want to copy is the wp-content folder. Select it and drag and drop it to a spot on your computer where you want to save the backup.

Read also: How to Backup Your WordPress Blog.

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  1. Renee says

    I’m REALLY new to this stuff- I have a blogger blog (not my own website but, through blogger) and want to creat a button- before I download FileZilla- do I need my own server (I’m not altogether sure what that term means either- REALLY new 😉 ) Thanks inadvance for your help!

    • says

      Renee, it works a little differently on Blogger since you’re using their servers. You don’t need your own server, you just have to upload your image to an online photo gallery site like Photobucket. I think you could upload to Picasa as well. This tutorial might help.

  2. Yuliya says

    Hi Amy,
    First of all, thanks A LOT for valuable information you are sharing! I’m in the middle of creating my first professional blog from scratch and I’m so happy I came across your blog. It makes much life much easier. :)

    There is one thing that I was looking for in your blog, but didn’t find. So, i’ll ask here (not sure whether this question is related to this topic or not).

    Do you use any local severs to create blog and then upload it to hosting? Or do you update your blog online via WordPress installed on hosting?
    I’ve bought a hosting & installed WordPress there. And then I also have a local server and Installed WordPress there and now I’m totally confused if I should install plugins and do updates on my local host or it’s better to work directly on hosting?
    If I work directly, then does it mean that everybody can see my temporary ugly pages in progress? Can I hide them somehow?
    If I work only on local sever how do I transfer everything to hosing? That seems to be so complicated. Do you have any suggestions?
    sorry for so many questions, actually you don’t need to answer all. Maybe you can just suggest if it’s better to work on local server or online?

    • says

      I do everything via Bluehost. If you call or live chat with them, they can tell you how to set up a temporary URL and you can also set your site to Maintenance Mode so others won’t see what you’re working on. Here’s my tutorial on that. Hope that helps!

      • Yuliya says

        Hi Amy, thank you. Yesterday I tried to work via Bluehost and it actually works faster than via localhost. So, I will continue this way. And I also figured out how to hide website in progress – I’ve got Elegant themes “anticipating” plugin. :) But your post about maintenance mode is very useful, I didn’t know you can set that up.

  3. Christina says

    Wow, I am so frustrated I could almost cry.
    First, I already have a blog at blogger and I’m trying to build the new with WordPress before I switch. So, I think my Bluehost is using a temporary URL (I haven’t been sure of anything since purchasing the hosting).
    I have built my Blogger blog from scratch, learning HTML and CSS to do it and I loved every second of it. I want to do that again with Twenty Twelve, so I watched your video on creating a child theme.
    But when I open Unlimited FTP in the cPanel, there is nothing on the right side as in your screenshot. And the options that would be there are grayed out.
    When I try to do anything it says “Please connect to the FTP server.” And it doesn’t tell me how. Anywhere.
    I’m just at the end of my rope trying to figure this mess out. I can borrow the money to purchase Genesis and Prose if it will save me from having to figure out all the FTP junk. Please tell me it will.

    • says

      Oh Christina, I’m so sorry you’re frustrated. I’ve certainly been there.

      It’s hard to know exactly what you’re seeing, but when you mention that you don’t see the options on the right side, it makes me think you need to drill down into the folders a bit more. What I would suggest is to call Bluehost directly. You can speak to a real live person who will walk you through. Of course they have access to your server, so they will know how to direct you. I have always found them to be patient and helpful. I’ve spend a lot of time with them! I hope that helps get you started.

  4. says

    Hi, Thanks so much for all your advice and tutorials!! I downloaded a theme, but it doesn’t appear to have a zip file. How do I zip the theme? And if I use FTP, do I use the archives.php? Is there a way to know if it uploaded incorrectly or is working properly? THANKS

    • says

      You don’t need to zip it if you upload it via FTP. If it’s in a folder already, just go to wp-content –> themes –> and then find the list of folders with other theme names (you should at least have a folder names TwentyTwelve or TwentyEleven). Just put the folder for your theme there. I hope that makes sense!

  5. Madonna says

    Your photo/link is broken. I am interested in learning this. I use bluehost and wordpress and I need to learn everything I can. Also, is there a reason to load a theme at the cpanel/ftp as opposed to the dashboard?

  6. says

    Hey Amy,

    First of all, I went through the Bluehost link here so just wanted to let you know.
    Thanks to the priceless info that you have given out here, I now have my website up and running. Of course, I keep coming back to check this and that everyday, and I learn something nw everytime.
    I’m still trying to make a lot of changes (homepage banner being no 1 in them) and hopefully I should be able to get somewhere soon.
    Thank you so much for all the valuabel info you share with us, I couldn’t have done it had I not happened to come across your site.
    Please visit my website whenever you get a chance.

  7. HappyStacyA says

    Hi Amy! I’m having trouble using FileZilla and am praying you can help. :) Everything is showing up on my left screen side, but nothing is showing up on my right–instead it says “not connected to any server.” At the top of the page there are spaces to type in host, username, password, and port. I’ve tried putting my website as my host–is that right? And which username and password am I to use here? Hostgator? WordPress? I’m ready to use Feedsmith and kinda bummin’ about this snag.

    • says

      FTP Host/Address: (your ip address or domain name)
      FTP User: (cPanel/FTP user name)
      FTP Password: (cPanel/FTP password)
      Port: 21
      Path/directory: (blank*)

      Hope this helps Stacy

  8. Ashley says

    Would you happen to know how to do this on HostGator? I can’t seem to find unlimited FTP anywhere…

    • Ashley says

      Never mind…found a youtube video on it. :) Thank you so much…I can’t tell you how helpful your blog is. I’ve been wanting to set up a WordPress account for a while and kept hitting road blocks and would just give up out of frustration Now I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel! Even though it’s still a ways away…. :)

      • Amy says

        Glad you figured it out! Yes, Unlimited FTP is an advantage of Bluehost but you can use an FTP client (like Filezilla) which I mentioned in the post.