David Else TypeScript/JavaScript software developer | elsewebdevelopment.com

WP-CLI tutorial: How to deploy WordPress

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WP-CLI Tutorial: How to Deploy WordPress

WordPress is currently the world’s most popular content management system and is used by 39 percent of all websites. It’s a great solution for clients who would like to manage their own content. As a developer, you’re responsible for the installation and setup.

Tools such as Softaculous scripts make basic installation much easier, but there are still many tedious post-install jobs that are much faster on the command line. Anything typed on the command line can be turned into a script, so you can automate everything you do. Once you learn the basics you’ll be able to save a lot of time, especially if you need to install and setup WordPress on a regular basis.

In this tutorial, we’ll explain how to install and set up WordPress on a remote, shared server using WP-CLI. It’s primarily geared toward frontend developers who have limited knowledge of Linux and servers.

We’ll cover the following in detail:

To follow along, you’ll need:

  • A server with SSH access and a user account and password — no root access needed
  • SSH secure shell software on your local computer. This allows you to securely log in and execute commands on the server
  • cPanel is a nice-to-have

What is WP-CLI?

WP-CLI is the official command-line interface for WordPress. It enables you to perform myriad WordPress development tasks, such as updating plugins, configuring multisite installations, etc., from within the command line, without using a web browser.

The primary benefit of WP-CLI is that it saves you time because it enables you to perform simple tasks that only require a few lines of code without leaving the command line. This helps boost your efficiency because you can access many of the features from the WordPress Admin panel without logging into the site.

The WP-CLI handbook includes reference guides, tutorials, and everything you need to get started using the tool.

What is SSH?

SSH uses encryption to allow you to log into a remote server and run commands securely. It is possible to log on using just a password, but the best practice is to use a public and private key. The private key is stored on your machine, and the public key only on the server:

SSH Diagram

Once this is set up, you can access the server through your terminal as if it were your own local machine.

What is OpenSSH?

OpenSSH is an open-source implementation of the SSH protocol supplied with most Linux distributions, macOS, and Windows 10.

To check you have OpenSSH installed on your local computer, type ssh-V. You should get a result similar to:

OpenSSH_8.0p1, OpenSSL 1.1.1c FIPS  28 May 2019

This version seems old but has updated security backports.

Logging into your server using SSH

To use SSH, you need to acquire the following information from/about the server:

  • HostName — The name used to identify the server on a network
  • User — Your user name on the server
  • Port — An address on the server associated with the protocol type for the communication (SSH in this case)
  • IdentityFile — The private key that matches the public key on the server

We are assuming, for the sake of simplicity, that the server has the public and private keys we are going to use. Often, they’re both created on the local computer and the public one is uploaded to the server.

We’ll use the popular cPanel GUI to locate the information we need. If you don’t have cPanel, you’ll need to contact your hosting provider to get the required information. I suggest you send the following as a support ticket:

I would like to log onto my server using SSH and require the following information: HostName, User, Port, IdentityFile (with info on where to download the public and private key). Thanks.

Locating your SSH login details using cPanel

1. Finding HostName and Port

In cPanel, the information you need is under security > ssh:

cPanel SSH Access

HostName is displayed as SSH Host, and Port is displayed as SSH Port:

cPanel SSH Access

2. Finding User

This is your user name on the server. Navigate to preferences > user manager:

cPanel Preferences

In user manager, you’ll see all users, possibly including strange-looking ones set-up by your hosting company that seem to serve no purpose. Hopefully, it will be obvious which user is you — copy and paste it somewhere safe.

cPanel User Manager

3. Finding the IdentityFile

security > ssh

cPanel Manage SSH Keys

Press the manage SSH keys button and you’ll be greeted by a page that includes all the current public and private keys available. Download the public and private keys and copy them to your ~/.ssh directory.

In the image below, there’s no private key; it was deleted because it was no longer needed on the server.

cPanel Public and Private SSH Keys

If you want to generate and use your own keys, check out this guide to setting up SSH keys.

Creating a config file

The fastest way to log on to your server using SSH is to create a file called config in the ~/.ssh directory. Copy and paste this template and fill in your own details:

Host any-alias-you-like
    HostName xxxxxxxx.xxxxxxx.xxx
    User xxxxxxxx
    Port xxxxx
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/private-key-file

Now you can log on at any time with:

ssh any-alias-you-like

How to install WP-CLI on your server

Follow the steps below to install WP-CLI on your server.

Linux file system overview

Linux is a multiuser operating system. You’re potentially just one of many users. The system administrator is a special user who has root privileges. They can do anything they want. Also, the root of the file system is /, which is a separate but related concept.

A typical shared server file system looks like the diagram below. Since you’re logging in as a normal user, the only area that concerns you is within your home directory.

/                       < type `cd /` to go to the root of file system
├── tmp
├── etc
├── run
├── root
├── dev
├── sys
├── proc
├── mnt
├── boot
├── var
├── home
│   ├── user1           < type `cd` to go to your home directory
│   │    └── www        < root directory of your webserver
│   │        └── blog   < subdirectory
│   └── user2           < other users you can't see unless you are the root user
├── usr
├── lost+found
├── srv
├── sbin -> usr/sbin
├── opt
├── media
├── lib64 -> usr/lib64
├── lib -> usr/lib
└── bin -> usr/bin

When you’re successfully logged into your server, the shell command prompt will change to [email protected]. It’s assumed that you’ll be using a shared server and will have no root access.

To go to your home directory, type cd. You can type ls to view the contents or ls -la to see the hidden files and use the long listing format.

Installing the WP-CLI executable in your home directory

You’ll need a directory we have permission to use and that is in your $PATH. To view your $PATH type echo $PATH. Each location is separated by a :. It looks a mess, so if we replace : with a new line \n using the tr command, we can see the results more clearly:

echo $PATH | tr ':' '\n'

Since we’re looking for a place in our home directory, we can filter the results using grep:

echo $PATH | tr ':' '\n' | grep "home"

On a fresh Centos install, you would see:


Don’t worry if you see multiple entries; it just means they were added multiple times by someone or some random script. If you have /home/username/bin, then use that. If not, you’ll need to create it and add it to the $PATH yourself.

Execute the following commands to install WP-CLI onto your server into the ~/bin/ directory:

curl -O https://raw.githubusercontent.com/wp-cli/builds/gh-pages/phar/wp-cli.phar # download
chmod +x wp-cli.phar # make executable
mv wp-cli.phar ~/bin/wp # move and rename

To test that it is installed and working:

wp --info

You can update to the latest version easily at any time:

wp cli update

Note: If help is required with a WP-CLI command, use wp [name of command] --help.

Installing WordPress

To install WordPress, follow the steps below.

Choosing where to install WordPress

Every server will be set up in a slightly different way. In general, if you’re in your home directory, you should see a directory called www. That’s where your websites live; it’s the root directory of your web server. If you were to install here, the site would live at the root location — e.g., http://example.com/. If you want the site to appear in a subdirectory, you would make one and install it into that:

cd www
mkdir blog
# Install into the blog directory

Now WordPress will appear at http://example.com/blog/

You may also see directories in your home directory with the names of websites like examplesite.com. This is just how your hosting is set up. If you’re unsure about where to install, consider asking your hosting’s tech support.

Creating a database using cPanel MySQL Database Wizard

WordPress needs a MySQL database to operate. You need to create this database and add a user that can access it. If you don’t have cPanel you will probably have phpMyAdmin and can use that, or ask your hosting tech support to create a database for you.

In cPanel, it’s simple to create the database. Just follow along with the wizard and give the user ALL PRIVILEGES.

MySQL Database Wizard

MySQL Database Wizard: Create Database Users

MySQL Database Wizard: Add Database Users


If you’re extremely security-conscious, you might want to remove all excess privileges after installation.

Downloading the core WordPress files for your chosen language

The first step is to cd into the directory you want to install WordPress in, then download the latest WordPress in the right language. In our example, we use en_GB:

cd www
wp core download --locale=en_GB

Downloading WordPress 5.5.3 (en_GB)...
md5 hash verified: 1c2c3d7bde057d99a869cd33331b2114
Success: WordPress downloaded.

# and look inside the directory with `ls`

[email protected] [~/www]$ ls

index.php    readme.html      wp-admin            wp-comments-post.php  wp-content   wp-includes        wp-load.php   wp-mail.php      wp-signup.php     xmlrpc.php
license.txt  wp-activate.php  wp-blog-header.php  wp-config-sample.php  wp-cron.php  wp-links-opml.php  wp-login.php  wp-settings.php  wp-trackback.php

Setting up wp-config.php by adding the database details

Next, set up the wp-config.php file. We will add details of the database we created:

wp config create --dbname=exampledb --dbuser=exampledbuser --dbpass='securepswd'
  • Put the password in single quotes in case you have characters that need escaping
  • Often in shared servers it will force the user prefix in front of whatever names you chose for the database name and password, so don’t get confused and use dbname rather than, for example ti8jhjsdf_dbname, if need be

Installing WordPress

This is the final stage. Here we add the rest of the details needed, including:

--url=The address of the new site, start with https:// and end with /subdirectory if needed
--title=The title of the new site
--admin_user=The name of the admin user, don't pick 'admin' for security reasons
[--admin_password=] The password for the admin user. Defaults to randomly generated string.
--admin_email=The email address for the admin user

wp core install --url=https://example.com --title="My Site" --admin_user=exampleAdmin --admin_password=securepass [email protected]

Now you can log in as admin at https://example.com/wp-admin.

WordPress post-install setup

Now that we have a basic WordPress install, let’s customize it.

Setting pretty URLs

This is good for SEO. It means the URL will be your post name with no extra, such as the date it was published.

wp rewrite structure '/%postname%/' --hard

Deleting unwanted plugins

WP comes with a couple of plugins you probably don’t want. To delete them:

wp plugin delete akismet hello

Installing WordPress plugins and activating them

You will have a large list of plugins you want. Add them to this list:

wp plugin install antispam-bee --activate

You can list your current plugins with:

wp plugin list

Installing WordPress themes

To install themes in WordPress:

wp theme install twentytwenty --activate

wp theme install ../my-theme.zip

WP-CLI time-saving commands

The following commands within WP-CLI can help save you a ton of time.

Check for file tampering

wp plugin verify-checksums --all

Export your database for backing up

This can be made part of a backup script to automate backing up your entire WP site:

wp db export

Remember to delete it after — you don’t want it in a public folder.

Display all your media file sizes

This is very handy for when you’re cropping images for use on your site:

wp media image-size


I hope you can now appreciate the huge advantages available to people using WP-CLI over SSH. It may seem like a lot to learn if you’re not familiar with the command line, but once you know the basics, you possess a developer superpower!

WP-CLI has many commands, and we only scratched the surface in this tutorial. Don’t forget to look at the WP-CLI handbook to learn more about this fantastic software.

The big advantage that may not seem obvious at first is that all of these commands can be automated by placing them in scripts. Once you have installed and set up a site, you can paste all the commands in a script and do it all again with the push of a button.

For example, here are the commands we used in this article in a script:

Get setup with LogRocket's modern error tracking in minutes:

  1. Visit https://logrocket.com/signup/ to get an app ID.
  2. Install LogRocket via NPM or script tag. LogRocket.init() must be called client-side, not server-side.
  3. $ npm i --save logrocket 

    // Code:

    import LogRocket from 'logrocket';
    Add to your HTML:

    <script src="https://cdn.lr-ingest.com/LogRocket.min.js"></script>
    <script>window.LogRocket && window.LogRocket.init('app/id');</script>
  4. (Optional) Install plugins for deeper integrations with your stack:
    • Redux middleware
    • ngrx middleware
    • Vuex plugin
Get started now

wp core download --locale=en_GB
wp config create --dbname=exampledb --dbuser=exampledbuser --dbpass='securepswd'
wp core install --url=https://example.com --title="My Site" --admin_user=davidAdmin --admin_password=securepass [email protected]

wp rewrite structure '/%postname%/' --hard
wp plugin delete akismet hello
wp plugin install antispam-bee --activate
David Else TypeScript/JavaScript software developer | elsewebdevelopment.com

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