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david winter

Install and manage WordPress with Git

I’ve been a massive fan of the ‘Installing/Updating Wordpress with Subversion’ instructions on the WordPress codex for a good few years. If you have ssh access to a server and are managing a couple of WordPress sites, keeping them up-to-date with the latest version is easy with just one svn command.

However, with a bigger WordPress project in the pipeline, I need to be able to manage my themes and plugins in a git repository, while at the same time keep a reference to the core WordPress files, and allow it to be as easy to update when a new version is released.

I’m not going to continue with the SVN instructions because that’d add a lot of mess to my git repository - including SVN history. I want to keep track of my changes only - none of the WordPress related ones.

The good news is, this is all possible. It takes a few minutes longer to setup, but once done, updating will be as easy. You’ll also have a really tidy git repo.


Note: You can view the finished project on Github; davidwinter/wordpress-with-git

Create a new project directory:

mkdir mysite && cd mysite
git init
git add
git commit -m "Initial commit."

You now have a blank project to start with.

We’ll be using the Github WordPress mirror that is synced with the official SVN repository every 30 minutes. It includes all tags and branches.

We want to add this as a subrepository to our main project.

git submodule add git:// wordpress

WordPress is quite a big project if you haven’t already noticed, so it might take a while to make a clone. Once done, commit the new subrepository:

git commit -m "Add WordPress subrepository."

We want to ensure our project is using the current stable version. As of writing, this is 3.3.1.

cd wordpress
git checkout 3.3.1
cd ..

This has now updated the WordPress repository to 3.3.1 - commit the changes to your main project.

git commit -am "Checkout WordPress 3.3.1"

The subrepository is now isolated, and we don’t want to make any changes to it, besides bumping version numbers. This means we can’t modify wp-config.php, themes or plugins. We’ll have to move things about a bit.

First up, we’ll create our config file. WordPress allows for this to be stored one directory up from the core WordPress files.

cp wordpress/wp-config-sample.php wp-config.php
git add wp-config.php
git commit -m "Adding default wp-config.php file"

Now that this is outside of the WordPress repository, we’ll be able to configure WordPress and commit the changes to our main project repository.

Now, in order to manage themes and plugins we need to make a copy of the wp-content directory:

cp -R wordpress/wp-content .

This will copy the directory and its contents into our main project repo.

Now, at this point you may like to tidy up that directory a little. This isn’t required, but will save you commiting themes and plugins you’ll probably never use.

rm wp-content/plugins/hello.php
rm -rf wp-content/themes/twentyten

If you plan on using the default WordPress theme, Twenty Eleven, don’t run the following command:

rm -rf wp-content/themes/twentyeleven

Now commit this directory:

git add wp-content
git commit -m "Adding default wp-content directory"

We now have a trimed down wp-content directory ready for only our themes and plugins.

To finish off the project structure, we need to copy the WordPress index.php file:

cp wordpress/index.php .
git add index.php
git commit -m "Adding index.php"

Now we need to configure these files and let WordPress know where to talk to everything.


We’ll start with index.php. This is the file all requests go via, and we just need to update a require statement. Find the following line:


And update it to:



git commit -am "Pointing index.php to the correct location"

Now into wp-config.php, open it up. Because we have the core WordPress files in a different directory to that of the index.php file, we need to let WordPress know about it. Add the following two constants to the file. I prefer just below the @package WordPress statement so my changes are near the top of the file:

 * @package WordPress

define('WP_SITEURL', 'http://' . $_SERVER['SERVER_NAME'] . '/wordpress');
define('WP_HOME',    'http://' . $_SERVER['SERVER_NAME']);

This lets WordPress know that the core files are in the wordpress directory, but that the site is to be served at the root of the project directory.

Because we moved the wp-content directory out of the core WordPress directory, we also have to let it know about this change. Add the following after the previous define statements:

define('WP_CONTENT_DIR', $_SERVER['DOCUMENT_ROOT'] . '/wp-content');
define('WP_CONTENT_URL', 'http://' . $_SERVER['SERVER_NAME'] . '/wp-content');

And finally, if you’re not using the default twentyeleven theme, and want to specify the one WordPress should use instead:

define('WP_DEFAULT_THEME', 'mytheme');

Simply replace mytheme with the name of the theme you have. Be sure that you’ve placed it inside the wp-content/themes directory.

Now simply complete the database details as normal further down in the file, and then visit the project on your webhost and you’ll be up and running.

git commit -am "Update settings in wp-config.php"


Change into the WordPress subrepository:

cd wordpress
git fetch --tags
git checkout 3.3.2

Replace 3.3.2 with the correct version number.

Now commit the changes subrepository version to your main project:

cd ..
git commit -m "Update WordPress to version 3.3.2"

Helpful references