5 Time-Saving Uses for WP-CLI Automation

    Jeff Smith

    WP-CLI Automation

    This article is part of a series created in partnership with SiteGround. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.

    What is WP-CLI?

    The WP-CLI is a tool that allows you to perform actions on a WordPress installation straight from the command line. WP-CLI automation is the automating of repetitive manual tasks by using WP-CLI driven scripts. This may seem unnecessary, awkward, or too difficult a task to bother with when you’re deploying or managing a single WordPress installation, but when you’re managing many, or constantly creating similar new sites for testing, it becomes an extremely valuable tool to have in your developer toolkit.

    About WP-CLI

    With WP-CLI, you can essentially perform any action that you could have via the admin panel, but from the command line instead. You can install or update core WordPress files, plugins, or themes. You can activate and deactivate plugins or regenerate image thumbnails. You can also perform database actions, such as export and import of the database, or find and replace the database for information, such as a changed URL during a migration.

    Some plugins have WP-CLI support as well — including many of the more popular ones. This means you can set up automated scripting to install and set up WordPress, install those plugins, and then to set up the plugins as well, using their own customized WP-CLI commands!

    WP-CLI Automation

    WP-CLI automation goes beyond simple command line usage when setting up or managing multiple WordPress installations. The ability to update or back up multiple sites at once, or create complicated boilerplate installations repeatedly with single commands are incredibly useful and can save a significant amount of time for maintainers of those sites.

    If you don’t already have the WP-CLI installed, take a look at the installation documentation and get the WP-CLI up and running.

    Five Use Cases for WP-CLI Automation

    Installing WordPress

    Once WordPress is installed, this example script could download, configure, and install WordPress core, remove starting plugins, add and activate a specified theme (saved in example-theme.zip), and install and activate a list of plugins you’d prefer to use with new installations.


    #!/usr/bin/env bash
    #plugins to install and activate (slugs)
    WPPLUGINS=( test-plugin1 test-plugin2 test-plugin3 )
    echo "Starting WordPress Installation Script"
    # Site Name Input
    echo "Site Name: "
    read -e sitename
    # Site URL Input
    echo "Site URL: "
    read -e siteurl
    # Download WP and configure it
    wp core download
    wp core config --dbname=$dbname --dbuser=root --dbpass=root
    wp db create
    wp core install --url=$siteurl --title="$sitename" --admin_user="admin" --admin_password="examplePassword123" --admin_email="test@example.com"
    # Remove default plugins, install plugins, install Base Theme
    wp plugin delete --all
    wp theme install example-theme.zip --activate
    wp plugin install ${WPPLUGINS[@]} --activate
    echo "WordPress installation complete!"

    However, you could automate this process even further, by asking the user for relative path information, so that you don’t have to be in the installation directory to run it, by asking for database name and password, and more. You can also do (as you’ll see later in this article) a setup for a hosting environment that handles multiple WordPress installations on one server, and set up and install more than one site at once. Customize the script in the way that you need, so that it can be maximally effective for your own projects, and so that you won’t have to constantly rewrite it — make it efficient!

    Backing Up WordPress

    Backing up your WordPress installation is a must, but there are a variety of ways to do it. You can backup easily with a number of WordPress backup plugins, but you can also do so straight from the command line.

    First, you’ll want to run (whether at the command line, or via a script) wp db export example.com_20170501T1420 from the website’s directory, with the last parameter being the filename you prefer. Of course, if automating that process entirely, it would be handy to add in a timestamp to file names.

    Once that is done, your website’s root directory will contain a .sql file which is a backup of the site’s database at the time it was exported. You can then run a simple tar -vczf example.com_20170501T1420.gz . (using the same file name for this backup archive), which will compress both the website’s files, and the .sql file along with it. Now, via the command line, a script, or an SFTP client, you can copy that archive file to another computer, drive, or cloud storage, a backup of both files and database, within moments!

    WordPress Core Updates

    To update the WordPress core files for the site in your current directory, run the wp core update command. This command really shines when you set up a script to loop through a list of the installations on the current server, updating each in turn, all by entering a single command.


    #!/usr/bin/env bash
    # Assumes site directories are under /var/www/siteurl
    WPSITES=( example.com example2.com example3.com )
    echo "Starting WordPress Core Updates"
    for i in "${WPSITES[@]}"
      wp core update --path:$WPPATH$i
      echo "Updates for $i Completed!"
    echo "WordPress Core Updates Complete!"

    WordPress Plugin and Theme Updates

    Similarly to the core updates, loop through a list of your sites, running wp plugin update -all to update all plugins installed on each site, or wp theme update --all to do the same for themes.


    #!/usr/bin/env bash
    # Assumes site directories are under /var/www/siteurl
    WPSITES=( example.com example2.com example3.com )
    echo "Starting WordPress Plugin and Theme Updates"
    for i in "${WPSITES[@]}"
      wp plugin update --all --path:$WPPATH$i
      wp theme update --all --path:$WPPATH$i
      echo "Updates for $i Completed!"
    echo "WordPress Plugin and Theme Update Complete!"

    If you wish to do core WordPress updates as well as plugins and themes, you could also combine those into one update script.

    WordPress Migrations

    As a part of your migration flow, when migrating a site between servers, to another domain, or between development and production or staging environments, you can handle all of your database concerns with WP-CLI as well.

    Export the database from your old hosting server (run from the website root directory) with:

    wp db export example.com_20170501T1420

    Import it to your new hosting server (run from the website root directory) with:

    wp db import example.com_20170501T1420

    Then replace old information (like a URL) with new information (run from the website root directory) with:

    wp search-replace oldurl.com newurl.com

    The search-replace command replaces any instance of oldurl.com with newurl.com).

    This process could also be automated, by extending the same scripts you might use for a backup. You could easily have an export script, then an import script that has added inputs for search and replace fields, and perhaps even extend it with options for new database credentials, if they’ve changed.


    The number of tasks that can be automated with WP-CLI is simply amazing. You can customize an installation script to download WordPress core, create your configuration and your database, install WordPress, strip it of any bloat, add default plugins and themes and activate them, and more. You can also use it to run backups, updates, migrations, and more.

    Choosing a good host is important when you want to use WP-CLI. Many hosts don’t support the usage of WP-CLI, so finding one that does is of paramount importance if you intend to utilize WP-CLI automation. SiteGround is one of the hosts that actively supports and invests in the maintenance of the WP-CLI project. It’s a great choice for hosting your WordPress website, especially when you need to use WP-CLI — it has WP-CLI enabled on all WordPress hosting plans. SiteGround also has a useful tutorial on using WP-CLI on their servers.

    Check them out, and get to work automating your installation and maintenance of WordPress with WP-CLI!