WordPress file system wizardry for newbies

Fun with directories

You’ve done your hosting homework and wrangled the best Managed WordPress hosting provider you could find. Your content strategy is on lockdown, you’ve found the perfect theme, and you’ve set up your menus like a WordPress champion. It was easy to install WordPress with one click, but what’s actually going on underneath it all?

WordPress is wizardry that just works, so why take a look at the inner workings? Because you’re just that good.

The WordPress file system and structure holds your website together like a human skeleton. WordPress core developers have been thoughtful in how they’ve structured the file system of the WordPress CMS to make the system easy to understand, no matter what your experience level.

Core Elements of the WordPress File System

The default installation of WordPress consists of core components that are broken into a wp-config.php file, a wp-content directory, and a MySQL database. Themes, plugins and all uploaded assets are nicely stored within the wp-content folder, with themes in the appropriately named themes directory.

WordPress plugin files

Plugin file directory location: /wp-content/plugins/

It used to happen more often than it does today, but occasionally a rascally plugin will step out of line, making the admin area of your WordPress site inaccessible. However, the plugins directory has been engineered in a way that will help you troubleshoot the issue quite easily. Disabling a plugin is as simple as connecting to your Web server via FTP and renaming the plugin directory to [plugin]-disabled. You’ll then be able to access your administrator area once again.

WordPress theme files

Theme file directory location: /wp-content/themes/

Looking to install or remove a theme manually? The themes directory works similarly to the plugins directory. You can add or remove a theme simply by uploading or removing the folder from the wp-content/themes/ directory on your Web server.

The themes directory is also where you would also find your style.css file. The style.css file is the file most website owners will want to modify. The style.css file contains the global font sizes, colors, layouts and spacing for your theme.

Additional Reading

Here are two great supplemental articles that will help you better understand the WordPress file system:

Image by: redjar via Compfight cc

Mendel Kurland
Hey there, I’m Mendel, an intrapreneurial change-maker, developer, speaker, and teacher. I love the outdoors, so you’ll usually find me hittin’ the trails between tech events and code-slinging. I’ve also usually got my nose in a cup of single origin, Chemex-brewed coffee. As a GoDaddy Evangelist, I spend most of my time hanging out with developers, designers, entrepreneurs, and creative people all around the world to make sure their opinions and suggestions are heard.