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Lesson 3 – Part 5 – Introduction to your Domain’s File Structure

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Introduction to your Domain’s File Structure

Welcome back to the final part of Lesson 3 of the Start Building Your Website Here Tutorial Series. In this final part of the lesson we are going to take a look at the WordPress File Structure on our domain. So let’s log in to our HostGator account. In the control panel we are going to scroll down to the Files section and select File Manager. The file manager shows you folders on the left hand side and folders and files on the right. You can navigate between folders by clicking on them, either in the left or the right hand side of the window.
Sometimes it’s a little awkward and folders don’t automatically open when you click on them. If that happens, just try it again. So here on the left hand side you see your Home directory or Root directory.  Inside this root directory are a variety of folders. The only one that we are really concerned with is the folder named Public_html.  Public_html is a special folder that contains your website’s files. If you select Public html here on the left, you can see all of the folders and files it contains here on the right. If you have installed WordPress for the first time on the primary domain of your hosting account, the WordPress files are automatically placed in the public_html folder.
If you are installing WordPress in an addon domain (which is quite common) the WordPress files will be located in a folder within public_html that has the same name as your addon domain. You can see an example of this in my hostgator account.  The primary domain for this account is  The WordPress files for that primary domain are located directly in public_html. I also have an addon domain called It also has WordPress installed, but the files for that WordPress installation are contained in the diywp folder.

At it’s root, a WordPress installation contains 3 folders and a bunch of files. The 3 folders are wp-admin, wp-content and wp-includes.  Then you have all of these files here.  The first of the 3 folders is wp-admin. You won’t ever need to edit or change any of the files in wp-admin. These are the files that make WordPress work properly so you want to leave it alone entirely.

The same thing is true for wp-includes, again there is no reason for you to ever change any of these files as they are necessary for the operation of WordPress itself and any changes you make will more than likely break the installation.  So we’ll leave both of these folders alone.

However, wp-content is a folder that you will work in fairly regularly. It contains all of the files that are created when you customize your site.  The two most important folders inside the wp-content are “plugins” and “themes”.  If you select Plugins folder for a moment, you can see that there are two plugins; “hello” and “Akismet”. Anytime you install a plugin it gets stored in this folder.

If you go in to Themes, you can see that this installation of WordPress has 2 themes in it. We have the default theme which is 2011, and the former default theme. When you install a new theme, you will install that new theme in this themes directory. The same thing is true for plugins, when you install new plugins you will install them in the plugins directory.

Now the reason for this file structure is that WordPress upgrades or updates fairly regularly.  and so when you want to update WordPress, you want to leave the customization that you’ve done alone so that it carries through to the next version of WordPress.  You only want to upgrade those files that are necessary to upgrade. So, WordPress sets aside all the customization files into this one folder and when you upgrade in the future, this folder doesn’t get changed, only the other folders get changed.

The take away for this lesson is that wp-content, plugins and themes are the folders that you’ll be working within as we customize your site. We will talk about this and demonstrate it extensively in Lesson 4 of this series.

That pretty much concludes Lesson 3, in the next lesson we will learn how to use the FTP – File Transfer Protocol to install themes and  plugins.

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4 Comments… add one
4 comments… add one
  • Sandra Paolini January 12, 2013, 10:55 am

    I watched the installation video for wp using fantastico, but I’m wondering how to install updates, since I already have wordpress and thesis installed on various websites; however these are all different versions and I’d like to update my older sites

    • Rick Anderson January 12, 2013, 11:36 am

      Sandra, I don’t use fantastico to update WordPress or manage those updates. I believe it is safer and better for you to do those updates from within your WordPress Dashboard. AND you need to make sure you backup your site before you do any of that.

  • Sandra Paolini January 12, 2013, 11:13 am

    For some reason the new version of thesis 2.0.3 that I installed in Dec to hostgator doesn’t appear in the themes directory but rather stands alone in the wp-content part of file manager. Is this a problem? The site itself, appears to reflect thesis 2.0.3, but I worry about how upgrades will work… I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around all of this stuff… seems complicated.

    • Rick Anderson January 12, 2013, 11:38 am

      Sandra, Thesis 2 has a 2 part file structure. The main Thesis files are stored in wp-content/themes/thesis/ while all the skins, boxes and packages that you install and customize are stored in wp-content/thesis/. So, this isn’t a problem, it is the way Thesis 2 is designed.

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