We show you the 4 simple steps to installing and activating WordPress plugins via SSH below.
For the other ways to install WordPress plugins, see our Install WordPress Plugins post.
Step 1: Connect via SSH
In order to connect to your WordPress site’s server via SSH, a hosting provider may give you an SSH key or a password. You will also be provided with a hostname and an SSH username.
To connect with an SSH key, open up Terminal on a mac or download PuTTY on a PC and open up PuTTY. Then, enter the following command into the command line:
ssh -i "example-ssh-key.pem" email@example.com
To connect with an SSH password, use the following command:
In this second case, you will be prompted to enter in your SSH password. Congrats, you are now connected to your WordPress site’s server!
Step 2: Ensure WP-CLI is Installed on your Server
In order to proceed with installing and activating WordPress plugins via the SSH, you need to ensure that WP-CLI is installed on your server. To do this, navigate to the directory where your WordPress wp-config.php file is (use cd commands) and run the following command in PuTTY or Terminal:
If WP CLI exists on the server, `wp help` will provide you with information on WP CLI including a list of commands available on your server, that may look like the following:
NAME wp DESCRIPTION Manage WordPress through the command-line. SYNOPSIS wp <command> SUBCOMMANDS cache Adds, removes, fetches, and flushes the WP Object Cache object. cap Adds, removes, and lists capabilities of a user role. cli Review current WP-CLI info, check for updates, or see defined aliases. comment Creates, updates, deletes, and moderates comments. config Generates and reads the wp-config.php file. core Downloads, installs, updates, and manages a WordPress installation. cron Tests, runs, and deletes WP-Cron events; manages WP-Cron schedules. db Performs basic database operations using credentials stored in wp-config.php. dotenv Manage a .env file embed Inspects oEmbed providers, clears embed cache, and more. eval Executes arbitrary PHP code. eval-file Loads and executes a PHP file. export Exports WordPress content to a WXR file. fastly Define the "fast" WP CLI command. help Get help on WP-CLI, or on a specific command. i18n Provides internationalization tools for WordPress projects. import Imports content from a given WXR file. language Installs, activates, and manages language packs. maintenance-mode Activates, deactivates or checks the status of the maintenance mode of a site. media Imports files as attachments, regenerates thumbnails, or lists registered image sizes. menu Lists, creates, assigns, and deletes the active theme's navigation menus. network Perform network-wide operations. option Retrieves and sets site options, including plugin and WordPress settings. package Lists, installs, and removes WP-CLI packages. plugin Manages plugins, including installs, activations, and updates. post Manages posts, content, and meta. post-type Retrieves details on the site's registered post types. rewrite Lists or flushes the site's rewrite rules, updates the permalink structure. role Manages user roles, including creating new roles and resetting to defaults. s3-uploads scaffold Generates code for post types, taxonomies, plugins, child themes, etc. search-replace Searches/replaces strings in the database. server Launches PHP's built-in web server for a specific WordPress installation. shell Opens an interactive PHP console for running and testing PHP code. sidebar Lists registered sidebars. site Creates, deletes, empties, moderates, and lists one or more sites on a multisite installation. super-admin Lists, adds, or removes super admin users on a multisite installation. taxonomy Retrieves information about registered taxonomies. term Manages taxonomy terms and term meta, with create, delete, and list commands. theme Manages themes, including installs, activations, and updates. transient Adds, gets, and deletes entries in the WordPress Transient Cache. user Manages users, along with their roles, capabilities, and meta. widget Manages widgets, including adding and moving them within sidebars.
As you can see, the list of commands includes any extensions that were added to the base WP CLI package. And, as long as you can see the plugin command in the list above, you’re good to proceed.
Step 3: Install WordPress Plugin
Installing a plugin via SSH with WP CLI is super simple if your plugin exists in the WordPress plugin directory. All you have to do in that case is find the plugin slug associated with the WordPress plugin. The plugin slug is what appears after https://wordpress.org/plugins in the WordPress plugin directory. Then, run the following command:
wp plugin install plugin-slug
For example, if you would like to install the wpmerchant plugin (a Stripe plugin for WordPress that allows you to add a payment form or payment button to your WordPress site), go to its WordPress plugin directory page and see that it’s at http://wordpress.org/plugins/wpmerchant, so the slug is wpmerchant, and you would simply use the following command:
wp plugin install wpmerchant
You should receive a response in the command line confirming that the plugin was installed.
If the plugin that you wish to install doesn’t exist in the WordPress plugin directory, that’s no problem, you can install a plugin .zip file from any external source. For example, if you built a custom plugin called Crazy Awesome Functionality and the .zip file of that plugin is located at https://blog.wplauncher.com/crazy-awesome-functionality.zip, you would use the following command:
wp plugin install https://blog.wplauncher.com/crazy-awesome-functionality.zip
Step 4: Activate WordPress Plugin
You need to activate a WordPress plugin in order for the functionality of that plugin to actually work on your WordPress site. And, activating a WordPress plugin only works if it has already been installed on your server. Activating a WordPress plugin via SSH with WP CLI is just as easy as the installation process. You simply navigate via the command line to the directory that holds your wp-config.php file and run the following command to activate a plugin:
wp plugin activate plugin-slug
For example, if you would like to activate the wpmerchant plugin on your server, you would run the following WP-CLI command:
wp plugin activate wpmerchant
If you would like to activate the Crazy Awesome Functionality plugin from above you would need to get the plugin’s slug from the actual code of the plugin (typically a file called index.php or plugin-name.php). The plugin slug is usually the plugin name separated by hyphens. Once you have the plugin slug from your custom plugin, you need to run the following command:
wp plugin activate crazy-awesome-functionality
You will receive a message back from the command line saying that the plugin has been activated successfully.