FTP Basics: Backup WordPress Theme

What are some basic uses for FTP (file transfer protocol)? You can build your entire website using FTP – before the days of content management systems, this was the typical way to build a website. You may find FTP useful for uploading and sharing large files like videos(ones that are not yet ready for public consumption), if you want to stay away from email for large files. I recommend using FTP to install WordPress (and not rely on quick fixes like Fantastico – you may end up with problems later). You can also use FTP to back up your WordPress theme and your images. FTP is a way to move files from your local computer to server space and from the server back down to your local drives. You can download FileZilla, a free, open software FTP program, here: http://filezilla.sourceforge.net/.

You cannot use FTP with blogs on Blogger or WordPress.com – this is just available for self-hosted websites (when you have your own server space).

FTP site manager FileZilla
Here’s how the Site Manager looks in FileZilla. Completing the boxes properly is probably the hardest part of FTP; using FTP in general is fairly straightforward.

When you signed up for your web hosting, did your web host send you an email with important login and password information? If you don’t have that information, you can retrieve much of the information from your cPanel (although you will need a password to get into the cPanel).

On the left, where it says New Site, rename that to whatever you want to call your site. Unless your web host tells you otherwise, you can leave the protocol as FTP. Complete host, username and password according to the instructions you got from your web host. The Logon type can be Normal, or if you would like to be extra cautious (not a bad idea), select Ask for Password. You can leave port empty (the default for regular FTP is 21).

Click Connect. Did it work? If so, you are ready to move forward. If not, you probably need to change the account information. You can always contact your web host if you can’t figure it out yourself. Your web host will probably have help documentation on their website on how to connect with FTP.

So, assuming you are connected, let’s set up the right and left columns so the right side shows your WordPress theme and the left shows a folder on your hard drive. Using your regular operating system, create a folder where you want your WP theme files to be located. You will then use the Local Site section on the left of FileZilla to navigate to your new folder. Mine is called leoraw:
local site ftp
I have folders within leoraw, but if your directory/folder is empty, you will not see folders underneath.

Use FTP to Back up your WordPress Theme

Now let’s address the Remote Site, which is the right column in FileZilla.
FTP remote site
My WordPress is installed within a directory within the public_html folder. However, yours might be installed directly in the root directory (that’s the / directory, the topmost one). The themes for WordPress are always in the wp-content directory; in the wp-content directory you will also find plugins and uploads (those are where your images are stored). Click on wp-content, then click on themes. Do you see your theme directory in there? You will probably also see a directory for twentyeleven and twentyten (default WordPress themes). Just drag and drop your theme directory from the right column to the folder you have on the left column. Now it should be transferring – if you have a lot of files or a slow connection, it may take a little while. Refresh the left side – is it there? Sometimes one drags a directory or file to the wrong place on the left or right: on the left, you can use your operating system (like Windows) or FTP to drag it to the correct place. If your mistake is on the remote server, you can drag the file to the correct folder and drop it in.

Once you have copied your theme folder to your hard drive, you can start to create a child theme, if desired, by creating a new folder with the child theme name and creating a special style.css for the child theme.

Bookmarks: one of my favorite parts of FileZilla is bookmarks. Let’s say you want to sometimes go to your themes folder and sometimes go to your root folder. Bookmark both of those! Be sure to label the bookmark site-specific. The bookmark menu item is on the top of FileZilla.

Learn more about FileZilla in this tutorial. If you Google “Filezilla tutorial”, you can find many more tutorials, including some video tutorials. Feel free to ask questions!

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14 thoughts on “FTP Basics: Backup WordPress Theme

  1. Leora – This is good stuff, sometimes it is difficult to maintain all the files in your FTP server and not get confused at the various folder structures. When I first started my blog, I accidentally FTP’d over files to a different folder and was wondering why the changes arent reflected!!!!

    Every new blogger should spend some time to understand his site’s folders and files to help them customize and change.

    1. Praveen,

      You make an important point: we all make mistakes at times. Better to practice on FTP early on or on a site that isn’t so important, so one gets used to putting up or copying down files. Also, if you don’t see your changes reflected, it’s often as you say: one inadvertently dragged the files to the wrong folder.

  2. I really really have to spend some time reading this post and make notes. I wanted to change the theme of my blog. But, I am scared that I will have to start all over again.Thanks for great information for people like me. You are doing a wonderful job Leora
    Bindhurani recently posted…Canada Day 2012My Profile

    1. Bindhurani,

      Try little changes at first. I often make changes to a copy of my theme first. I have themes set up in test directories and a few directly on my hard drive using WAMP. But that would be a topic for another post!

      Sounds like I should write a follow up post that combines the child theme creation with the FTP.

      Good luck.

    1. Better to use a plugin to backup blog posts. Backing up your database is the same as backing up your blog posts. But most plugins don’t do the images as well. You can either get a plugin that does, or you can do the images manually via FTP.

      I recommend backing up your database at least once per week. You can have this scheduled. It’s good to have a copy of your database emailed to you as well, just in case.

  3. hi, I accidentally made a mistake and deleted imeges and all pages in my website after i use filezilla. please is there any help or anyone can help? i can send pasaword and login id- by email. from norway

    1. Goraya, oh, dear, that does not sound good. The best advice I can offer you is contact your web host – hopefully, they have a back up. Unfortunately, you may learn from this lesson how to be more careful in the future. You may want to experiment with FileZilla on files that you do not care about, just to get used to working with it.

  4. Thank you! Great post and just what I was hunting for to help me understand the basics of FTP and FileZilla. I’m only new to web design and I really appreciated how you explained every little step, there’s nothing worse than getting stuck on a minor detail and not being able to find the answer. I will be reading more of your posts!

    1. I’m glad this post helped. I sometimes tell people to use FileZilla, and the next I hear they are having issues getting the accounts set up correctly. The best method is work with your web hosting company to get it set up correctly.

  5. Dear Leora,
    thank you for the explanations! Great language and outline – it was so easy to follow. How do I backup the next time? Now that my theme is in my newly created backup folder, can I just drag and drop it from the “content” folder again, let’s say in one week. I fear that all data will be doubled, or is the programme smart enough only to add/change the new files?

    1. Laura, this just makes a copy of your theme. If you haven’t made any changes to your theme, you don’t have to do this again. What you do want to do is backup your database. That is what most WP plugins for backup do. I use WP-DBManager to backup the database on a regular basis. I have the plugin email a copy of the database once per week to my gmail account.

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