How to Use FTP to Upload and Install WordPress Themes

This tutorial shows how to install a WordPress theme using FTP (File Transfer Protocol). Not every template needs this approach, but it’s the only way for some of the larger custom designs.

Why Use the FTP Method for WordPress Themes?

Theme installation is generally done from within the WordPress Dashboard. That’s the quickest and easiest option, but it doesn’t always work for larger custom themes. Your hosting provider sets the maximum file upload size, which is generally adequate. However, some of the smaller shared hosting plans are too restrictive. That’s when you need FTP.

Here’s how you can check the maximum file upload size issued by your web host.

Log in to Dashboard and navigate to Media è Add New from the side menu.

Look for the “Maximum upload file size” On the Upload New Media screen.

This one is set at 256MB, which is high. Small upload limits, though, result in an error message if the theme size exceeds the maximum allowed by the hosting plan. That’s only likely to happen with custom premium themes packed with a wide range of resources. So, if your file upload size is too small in Dashboard, you must manually install the theme via an FTP client.

The remainder of this tutorial presumes you have a WordPress theme saved to your computer.

FTP Client to the Rescue

We’ll use FileZilla for this example. The software is 100% free and has versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. FTP clients all work in a similar way whichever one you opt for.

Step one is to create a new FTP account from cPanel.

Log in to your web hosting cPanel Account and click FTP Accounts from the Files section.

The new account fields are self-explanatory. Make the Directory field blank to keep the theme file close to the root folder. For Quota, select the Unlimited radio button.

Lastly, click the Create FTP Account button.

You should get a successful ‘Account Created’ message. Keep the new details handy as you’ll need those to connect to your server.

Now open whatever FTP client you use. The top of the FileZilla screen looks like this:

#1 In the Host field, enter ftp. and your domain name, e.g.,

#2 In the Username field, enter the Log In name you created in cPanel.

#3 In the Password field, type or paste the password you created in cPanel.

#4 Leave the Port field blank. If that doesn’t work, enter 21 and try again.

#5 Click the FileZilla Quick Connect button to access the server.

Tip: Consult your FTP settings details in the Welcome email for help if you have problems with the port ID. Failing that, contact your website hosting company for support.  

Unknown certificate warning!

Some users may get an unknown certificate warning with all kinds of tech jargon written on it. It’s nothing to worry about, so click the OK button to proceed.

You should now have a connection between your computer and the server. All the local (home computer) files are on the left of the window, and the server files to the right.

How to Upload Theme Files to the Server

WordPress themes typically download as a zip (compressed) file format.

First, unzip the downloaded files.

Now go to the server-side FTP window. Find, then double click the public_html directory.

Now double click to open the wp-content directory.

Next, double click to open the themes directory.

This is where you’re going to FTP (upload) your new WordPress themes folder.

There are two quick ways to upload your new WordPress theme files to the server.

  1. Right-click the theme folder on the computer and select Upload from the menu
  2. Drag the new theme folder (left) and drop it into the themes directory (right)

How long the transfer takes all depends on connection speeds plus the number and size of theme files. You can view the progress from the bottom of your FTP client interface.

That’s all there is to uploading and installing a large theme file to your server using FTP. Now you also have an FTP client set up for your WordPress site should you need it again.

Working with Your New Theme

The new theme is now visible in your WP Dashboard, and ready to use on your site or blog.

From the side menu, select Appearance è Themes

You can now activate and customise the newly installed theme, just like any other.

Want to Learn WordPress?

WordPress is an amazing platform for building any type of website.   It’s used by large corporations and small mom & pop sites.

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