WordPress file permissions

 

In order for WordPress to be able to install a plugin and plugins or themes automatically there are a number of conditions that have to be met. If all those conditions aren’t met, one-click installations or upgrades won’t happen, instead, whenever you try to upgrade, WordPress will show you the FTP credentials input form. If you’re anything like me, you hate it.

I sometimes run into this problem. My first instinct is to check the obvious file permissions. Will the web server have write access to all the important places. As long as we’re only talking about plugins and themes, important places means the wp-content folder. When I’m certain that the web server have write access, I typically try again and successfully upgrade my plugin.

Every once in a while, installing or upgrading still won’t work even if I’m 100% certain that WordPress should be able to write everywhere it needs to. I end up searching for a solution for about 10 minutes, give up and resort to manually uploading plugins via ssh and get on with my life. Today I decided to find out the root cause of this problem and solve it. Writing this blog post about it servers as much as a ‘note to self’ as assistance to anyone else that trouble shoots this without finding a solution.

The rules

So, the rules for WordPress to be able to install and upgrade plugins and themes:

  1. The web server needs to have write access to the wp-content folder. For example on a Debian based system (i.e Ubuntu), this will be user ‘www-data’, on RedHat/Fedora, it’s typically user ‘httpd’ (plese correct me here if I’m wrong). WordPress will test this by writing a temporary file to wp-content and then remove it. There are plenty of blog posts, howtos and forum posts about this. They usually points back to this article: http://codex.wordpress.org/Changing_File_Permissions
  2. The files in wp-admin needs to be owned by the web server user. WordPress will test this by using PHP function getmyuid() to check if the owner of the currently running PHP script is that same as the owner of the newly created temporary file. If it’s not the same, WordPress will select another method of installation or upgrade.

Rule #2 is what typically gets me. Whenever I move an existing WordPress installation to a new home, I’m sometimes (obviously) not careful with setting file permissions and file ownership and end up in this situation. Rule #1 is extremely intuitive, checking for write permission is close to second nature. But Rule #2,  checking file ownership in wp-admin… well, I’d even say it’s slightly unintuitive. If anything is worth protecting it should be the admin area, and being more restrictive with file ownership and permissions under wp-admin would even kind of make sense.

Anyway. Comments, questions or other feedback. Please post a comment below.

 

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