How to FTP Your Blog to the Server

5 years ago

Let's assume you want to have a self hosted blog instead of a or one of the other free hosted blog sites. Part of the process of getting your own blog on your own domain is putting the files on the server. The process of putting files on a server is called FTP, for File Transfer Protocol.

Image Credit: Virginia DeBolt

FTP is one of the simpler things in the technology world. FTP only does two things: put and get. It puts files someplace or it gets files from someplace. The slightly tricky part is making sure you are putting files in the right place when you FTP.

A couple of disclaimers. The screen shot examples I'll show you in this tutorial are using tools I have on my Mac, but you'll find the tools for Windows are very similar. I'll use examples from my WordPress blog (Web Teacher), but the examples are similar to what you see with any WordPress blog or with any FTP action.

FTP Software

If you don't already have FTP software, you can download FileZilla. It's a free, open source tool. There are also programs that cost a few bucks such as CuteFTP for Windows or Transmit for Mac.

You may own software such as Dreamweaver or some other HTML writing application. These programs come with built-in FTP tools.

Get Organized

The first step is to download the blog software from your blog platform source. For WordPress blogs, that is done at Before you unpack or unzip the blog package, decide where to put it on your computer.

You should have a folder for your website ready and waiting. There are two choices as to how you are going to unpack the blog files into the waiting folder.

  1. The blog will be at the top level of the site. This is probably the best choice with a new domain and new server account where you don't already have a bunch of other files, or if the blog is going to be the only thing on your server. If this is the choice for you, put all the blog files into the waiting site folder.
  2. The blog isn't the only thing on the server, or it's one part of a larger site. In this case, you'll want to create a subfolder within your site folder. Call it "blog" or something simple like that. Unpack all the blog files into this folder.

There are a couple of fine points about the installation, depending on whether you choose #1 or #2. These involve the configuration file and where the index.php file is going to be. These two fine points are explained fully in the WordPress Installation Instructions.

Blog Structure: What You Have on Your Computer

The folder where you saved the files is now full of files and subfolders. For a WordPress blog, you see something similar to this.

You now have several files and some subfolders that each contain a lot more files and subfolders. Most of these files you will never touch, except to put them on the server.

The subfolder where you do make a few additions and changes for a WordPress blog is the one called wp-content.

The wp-content folder is where to put any plugins or themes you download to use on your blog.

Here's what I have in my plugins folder. When you download a plugin, be sure to save it in this folder. When you upload it to the server, be sure to put it in the plugins folder.

I don't have very much in my themes folder. I picked one called veryplaintxt early on, and I've stuck with it. Any theme you want to try out, you first download and save in this folder, then you FTP it to the server. Make sure to put the new theme in the themes folder on the server. When the theme is on the server, use the WordPress dashboard to choose among the themes you have installed.

Your theme folder contains the files that you will use to modify the appearance and make minor content changes to your particular blog. Here's what is in the folder for my theme–these are files you may want to modify. All you need to do that is a text editor and a bit of knowledge about HTML or CSS or PHP. (Yeah, that sentence was easy to write. Ha!) Here's what I see in the folder for my theme.

The files you see here, footer.php, page.php, sidebar.php and others are the bits and pieces of your blog that get stitched together into one page when the blog is displayed in a browser. This is where you find the styles.css file–the file you modify to change things about the appearance of your blog theme such as colors, font choices, and so on.

Start your FTP Engines. You're Ready to PUT Files

You put all the files in the blog on the server the first time you upload. After that, you reupload files only if you've changed something. For example, if you change the rule for h2 headings in the styles.css file, you would need to upload that file again so the change would show up on the server. Of course, be sure you find the right theme in the themes folder and put the changed styles.css file in that spot on the server.

No matter which software you use to FTP, there is certain basic info you have to know to connect to the server. Here's a detail of FileZilla, where you fill in the basics of host, username, password and port. (You don't always need to know the port.) Any FTP software asks for this, although it may not look exactly like FileZilla's way of inputting the basic information.

When you open an account with a web host, they send you an email that explains your host or ftp address and the other information.

When you click connect in your FTP software, you'll see your files in one window, and the server in the other window. The first time out, the server may be empty except for a placeholder index.html file. Here's how it looks in FileZilla. In some software the sides are reversed–your files are on the right, the server files are on the left.

You drag the files and folders from your window to the server window. Drag and drop. Easy.

The fine points of drag and drop are to keep everything organized exactly the way it is on your computer. I've already emphasized that several times, but it's super important. If your blog is at the top level of your domain, put everything in that top level folder (it's probably called public_html) on the server. If you're putting your blog in a subfolder named "blog" or some such, put the files in a folder called "blog" on the server, too. Keep all the files and subfolders making up your blog, such as wp-content, just as they are and put them on the server folder by folder. These folders contain quite a lot of files, so it make take a few seconds or minutes to complete the transfer.

When you finish, the files you see on your own computer and the files you see on the server should match up. This is how it looks in Transmit.

The first time you do this, you need to follow the WordPress Installation Instructions to learn what to do after you have transferred all the files to the server to get your blog into operation.

The file transfer part of the installation is over. Start blogging.

Virginia DeBolt, BlogHer Section Editor for Tech
Virginia blogs at Web Teacher and First 50 Words.

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