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How To Use WP-CLI to Manage your WordPress Site from the Command Line

Posted Oct 31, 2013 52.6k views WordPress MySQL Ubuntu


WordPress is an extremely popular blogging and Content Management System (CMS) used by millions of websites. It can be used to easily organize, manage, and create content on the web and handle interactions with visitors and contributors.

Although most people use WordPress for its graphical interface, there are benefits to being able to control the software from the command line. A tool called wp-cli provides just this functionality.

This aids in scripting and allows you to manage your all aspects of the site, from configuration files and database management to posting, theming, uploading media and approving comments, from one place.

In this guide, we will use the wp-cli interface to manage our WordPress installation.

How To Install WP-CLI

This guide assumes that you have created a VPS using the WordPress application image from the droplet creation page. If you need assistance doing this, you can follow this guide.

When you have finished deploying your droplet, SSH into the server as the root user:

ssh root@server_ip_address

You should be in the root user's home directory.

The first thing we need to do is install git. This version control system is used during the wp-cli installation:

apt-get update
apt-get install git

Next, we can get the installer and run it with this command, taken from the project's website:

curl https://raw.githubusercontent.com/wp-cli/wp-cli.github.com/master/installer.sh | bash

This will install a few tools needed to make the software function correctly.

Next, we will create a .bash_profile file for our root user and add the path to the wp-cli executable and the auto-complete script.

nano ~/.bash_profile

In this file, put the following two lines:

export PATH=/root/.wp-cli/bin:$PATH
source $HOME/.wp-cli/vendor/wp-cli/wp-cli/utils/wp-completion.bash

Save and close the file.

Now, we can "source" the file (re-read it into our environment), to apply our changes:

source ~/.bash_profile

Now, we have the interface installed and we can begin using it.

Change to the WordPress web directory to begin. On the one-click installation, that is here:

cd /home/wordpress/public_html

Install Site with WP-CLI

If this is a completely new VPS instance, then you have not even completed the basic configuration. If you have gone through the site initialization process already, feel free to skip this step.

If you type in wp, which is the command used to interact with the wp-cli interface, you will get the following message:


Error: The site you have requested is not installed.
Run `wp core install`.

You could initialize the site by going to your IP address or domain name in your web browser and filling out a form that looks like this:

WordPress Installation page

However, since this is a guide on how to use wp-cli, we will fill out all of this information in a single command. We do this by doing the core installation.

We will have to pass as parameters all of the fields that are asked for on that page. This is done in the following general format:


The parameters that we need to define are:

  • url: The domain name that will be used to access your site. If you do not have a domain, you can use your IP address

  • title: The title of your site

  • admin_user: Name you will use to log in and do administrative site functions

  • admin_password: The associated password for the admin user

  • admin_email: Email address you would like to be contacted at for site issues

We add these after the core command and the install subcommand. All together, this gives us a command that looks like this:

wp core install --url="your_domain_name"  --title="Your Blog Title" --admin_user="admin" --admin_password="your_password" --admin_email="your_email"

This process may take a bit of time to configure all of the necessary components. When it completes, you should see a line that says:

Success: WordPress installed successfully.

If we visit our site in a browser, we should see the default WordPress site:

WordPress default page

How To Use the WP-CLI Help System

Although wp-cli does not include a traditional man manual page, it includes a robust internal help system. You can access it at any time by typing:

wp help


  Manage WordPress through the command-line.


  wp <subcommand>


  cache               Manage the object cache.
  cap                 Manage user capabilities.
  cli                 Get information about WP-CLI itself.
. . .

You can see all of the top-level sub-commands that wp-cli uses to manipulate different areas of WordPress.

To exit, type:


This first level is perhaps best viewed by typing wp followed by a space and then pressing tab a few times to see the available sub-commands:

wp <tab><tab>

cache           eval            network-meta    role            theme
cap             eval-file       option          scaffold        transient
cli             export          plugin          search-replace  user
comment         help            post            shell           user-meta
core            import          post-meta       site            
db              media           rewrite         term

You can then use the help system to query about specific sub-commands:

wp help theme


  wp theme


  Manage themes.


  wp theme <subcommand>


  activate          Activate a theme.
  delete            Delete a theme.
. . .

As you can see, each of these sub-commands has its own sub-commands. The help system operates the entire way down the command structure:

wp help theme install


  wp theme install


  Install a theme.
. . .

In this way, you can get help with just about any aspect of the system that you wish to use.

How To Install Themes with WP-CLI

To demonstrate some basic usage of wp-cli, we will do one of the first things that anybody does when they create a new blog: get a new theme.

First let's see what themes we have installed already:

wp theme list

| name           | status   | update | version |
| twentythirteen | active   | none   | 1.1     |
| twentytwelve   | inactive | none   | 1.3     |

As you can see, we have two themes installed, and we are currently using one called "twentythirteen". This is fine, but it's a bit boring.

Let's search for something more exciting:

wp theme search fancy

Success: Showing 5 of 5 themes.
| name          | slug          | rating |
| Bold Headline | bold-headline | 100    |
| Clearly       | clearly       | 90     |
| The Skeleton  | the-skeleton  | 100    |
| Metronome     | metronome     | 0      |
| Shipyard      | shipyard      | 0      |

We can see that there are 5 themes that claim to be fancy. "Bold Headline" seems pretty exciting and has a good rating. Let's get that one. Use the string in the slug column in the command:

wp theme install bold-headline

If we check again, we can see that it was installed successfully:

wp theme list

| name           | status   | update | version |
| bold-headline  | inactive | none   | 1.2.5   |
| twentythirteen | active   | none   | 1.1     |
| twentytwelve   | inactive | none   | 1.3     |

We can activate our new theme by typing:

wp theme activate bold-headline

Now, if we visit our site, we can see that our new theme has been applied:

WordPress new theme

This looks pretty good!

How To Manage Plugins with WP-CLI

You can manage plugins in a similar way to themes. They have many of the same sub-commands:

wp plugin list

| name    | status   | update | version |
| akismet | inactive | none   | 2.5.9   |
| hello   | inactive | none   | 1.6     |

We have two themes installed, but neither are active.

Let's get a plugin that can urge users to share content on social media sites. There's a plugin called Digg-Digg that is known for this:

wp plugin search Digg

We can see a few different alternatives. Let's actually switch it up and install the "aas-digg-digg-alternative" plugin instead. Again, reference the plugin through the slug name:

wp plugin install aas-digg-digg-alternative

We can activate the plugin by typing:

wp plugin activate aas-digg-digg-alternative

We can see the results by visiting one of our posts:

WordPress Plugin demonstration

How To Manage Content with WP-CLI

If you are comfortable composing posts with a command-line editor, you can make entire blog posts through the wp-cli interface.

To get a list of the posts on your blog, type:

wp post list

| ID | post_title   | post_name   | post_date           | post_status |
| 1  | Hello world! | hello-world | 2013-10-31 20:02:18 | publish     |

Right now, there's only the default message. Instead of deleting this post, let's edit it to be something more useful. We reference the post by its ID:

wp post edit 1

Delete the content and replace it with:

Hello.  This is my first official blog post.  I hope to be adding some additional content here soon.

Have a great day!

When you save and close the file, the changes will be live. We should also change the title to match our new content:

wp post update 1 --post_title="An Introduction..."

You can see your new content by revisiting your blog:

WordPress edited post

We can add a completely new post by typing something like this:

wp post create --post_status=publish --post_title="Second Post" --edit

This will open an editor where we can type our second post:


Here is another post.

I am becoming quite prolific.

How To Do Database Queries with WP-CLI

One of the most useful features of wp-cli is integration with the SQL backend.

You can get right into the WordPress database in an interactive session by typing:

wp db cli

This will give you a MySQL prompt, which you can use to do any sort of database administration required. You can exit the interface by typing:


For most common database operations though, you control it directly from the wp-cli interface.

To query our users and their associated IDs, we can use something like:

wp db query "SELECT user_login,ID FROM wp_users;"

| user_login | ID |
| admin      |  1 |

As you can see, we only have one user. We can use this information though to update the post we just made. Let's add an author field to our post. Be sure to get the post ID you wish to update:

wp post update 6 --post_author=1

Now, our post should have an author listed as "admin" beside our content.

We can optimize our database by typing:

wp db optimize

How To Update WordPress with WP-CLI

We can keep WordPress up-to-date by performing the following procedures:

wp core update
wp core update-db

More importantly, we can update our plugins, which have a tendency to be a weak link in WordPress security, by typing:

wp plugin update --all


You should now have a pretty good handle on how to complete tasks in WordPress through the command line. This is not only a fast and easy way to manage multiple sites for different clients, it also provides very nice scripting capabilities to do very complex tasks easily.

By effectively using wp-cli, you will no longer have to continually switch between the web browser and the terminal window when doing changes that might not be available from within the web interface.

By Justin Ellingwood


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