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SFTP & Database Access on WordPress.com

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Wait what?

That's right, direct access to the files and data storage that power your site on WordPress.com, just like you have if you self-host a WordPress site. You can read their announcement here. Note this is for Business and eCommerce plans only.

All you have to do is flip it on in the settings (Manage > Hosting Configuration) and it'll give you the SFTP credentials.

SFTP and database access can be configured right in the WordPress Manage settings.

Here's me using an SFTP client and logging in no problem, and what I have access to:

Notice I can sneak right into super important folders like plugins, themes, and uploads. That's right:

  • You can upload and use your own themes
  • You can upload and use your own plugins
  • You can mass upload assets if you need to

All that stuff is 🤯mind-blowing to me. It used to be pretty locked in my mind that you use WordPress.com if you want to use WordPress and get all the speed, security, and lack of any worry, but at the cost of some lack of control. Now that all this control is there too, the line gets a lot fuzzier on when to self-host and when not to. You'll have to make that call for yourself.

And I haven't even mentioned that there is a button in the settings to pop open phpMyAdmin, giving you direct access to the database as well.

There are some limitations, which I think make a lot of sense.

For example, when I started Email is Good, I chose the TwentySixteen theme because I think it works really nicely for a straightforward blog like this site is. But when I log in via SFTP, I can't directly edit the theme. Instead, I see a symlink there in the themes folder, which I can't touch. That symlink is to an official copy of the TwentySixteen theme, which WordPress.com themselves will keep up to date. If I want to customize it, I could upload my own copy of that theme (or any other theme), and then I'm on my own to update it.

If this weren't enough, there's one more small but key thing WordPress.com makes easy: switching PHP versions. That's something that often takes a support request or requires more than a simple shared hosting plan, but it readily accessible in the WordPress.com site settings.

None of this is required, of course. You don't ever have to fiddle with any of this stuff to run a WordPress.com site. This is for people who need deeper control and like to hack on stuff (like me). There is also no prescribed way to use this. You could just pop in over SFTP to edit a few little things in a template or asset. Or, you could have a full-blown load dev environment for your site and deploy it over SFTP on demand.

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