What Is the .htaccess File in WordPress? Plus How to Use It

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WordPress is an expansive platform that offers its users an array of options and customizations directly from within the platform, no matter which WordPress hosting provider you’ve chosen. You’ll be able to accomplish quite a bit from directly within the WordPress dashboard itself. 

If you want to take your customizations and functions one step further, it helps to understand what is going on “backstage” behind the main WordPress dashboard. This is where WordPress htaccess comes in. 

When you understand how to use the WP .htaccess file, you’ll have even more possibilities than before. This .htaccess file is one of the primary core files that WordPress relies on to carry out its primary functions. 

Its main purpose is to perform tasks related to the permalinks of your site, but it can also be altered to add additional functions like enhancing your site’s security or redirecting visitors to your site. 

The purpose of this post is to give you an introduction to the WordPress htaccess file and what it does. We’ll then show you how you can access the WP htaccess file and what are some primary things you can do through adjusting it. Let’s go! 

What is the .htaccess file in WordPress is (and how it works)

Most WordPress hosts use the Apache web server, and the WordPress htaccess file is basically a configuration file that is meant to instruct this server. The htaccess file contains rules that provide instructions on what the server should do. 

Virtually 100% of all WordPress sites have a .htaccess file that can be found in the central (root) directory. This WordPress htaccess file is hidden and has no extension. You can tell that the file is hidden because the file name begins with a period. 

The principal tasks that is handled by the WordPress htaccess file is this: 

It controls how your WordPress site’s permalinks are displayed. Every time you make a change to your permalinks, the WordPress htaccess file will update the server’s instructions. It’s not uncommon for this .htaccess file to be created only after you customize your site’s permalinks for the first time. 

For the majority of sites, controlling the display of its permalinks is the only task the WordPress htaccess file will execute. If you know how to alter it, though, it can provide you with other functionalities for your website. 

For instance, you’ll be able to set up 301 redirects via the WordPress htaccess file, or even to restrict site access or core file access, which enhances your site security. It’s also common that some different plugins, including WordPress caching plugins or security plugins, create different rules within your WordPress htaccess file. 

While it may be a daunting concept at first, don’t get discouraged— you don’t have to have a complete understanding of technical aspects to be able to alter your WP htaccess.   

Let’s find out how to locate and edit your WordPress htaccess file now. 

How to locate and edit the .htaccess file in WordPress

As we dive into this next section, we want to make sure that your WordPress site stays safe, which is why we want to talk about a few safety precautions you can take to protect your site when making changes to your site’s direct files. 

If you’re not careful about what you edit, you may cause issues in your site’s functionality or cause your site to go down altogether. To avoid this, you can do one or all of the following: 

  • Create a backup: You should always back up your WordPress site before making any changes to its files. You can do this directly via your hosting provider or use a WordPress backup plugin to help you. This will allow you to then reverse any undesired changes or correct any mistakes you may have made. 
  • Use a staging site: A staging site offers you a palace to test your edits before you make them live on your website. This allows you to try things out without having to worry about damaging your site. 
  • Download the WordPress htaccess file: If you save the file directly to your local computer, you can simply upload the original copy and revert any of the changes you made. 

These safeguards will help you avoid any issues with the key functionalities of your website. If you want to access your WordPress htaccess file, first use the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) to make a direct connection with your site. 

To use FTP, you’ll need an FTP client such as FileZilla as well as some FTP credentials through your web host. 

Once you download and connect your website, the main FileZilla window will appear as below: 

WordPress htaccess

Take a look at the first box on the right side; all of the information here pertains to your website. You should see a folder that has your website’s root directory. When you select this folder, you’ll see a variety of other folders appear, and you’ll also see the WordPress htaccess file there as well. 

WordPress htaccess

In order to open it, follow these steps: 

  • Right-click the file
  • Select View/Edit to open the file into your computer’s text editor

There, you’ll be able to make any changes you want to the file using that text editor. Once you’ve made the desired changes: 

  • Save the file
  • Close the file 
WordPress htaccess

If you are unable to find the WordPress htaccess file, you may not have one in existence. You can generate an .htaccess file by visiting your WordPress dashboard. Navigate to Settings > Permalinks and click the Save Changes button. You don’t have to change it at all, but we recommend the Post name option. 

Once you do this and reopen FileZilla, the WordPress htaccess file should appear. 

What you can do with the .htaccess file in WordPress

Now that we know how to access the WordPress htaccess file, what can you actually do with it when you edit it? This is what we’re going to explore in the final section of our post. 

There are quite a few possibilities that exist when you alter this file; too many, in fact, to explain in one simple post. We will explore some of the most useful and most accessible options to get you started. 

One of the best things you can do with your WordPress htaccess file is set up redirects. You’ll need to use redirects if you move a page or a post, or even your entire website; in order to automatically send users who visit the old URL, you’ll need a 301 redirect, something that is possible through the WP htaccess file. 

If you’re looking to redirect a single page, you simply need to add this line to the bottom of your WordPress htaccess file: 

You’ll want to adjust the parts you see in blue; replace the first blue box with your old page’s permalink and in the next two boxes put the new URL to the new page. You can also add a new line for each page you want to create a 301 redirect for. 

If you need to create a redirect for your entire website, you can use similar pieces of code to do so. You can also use a snippet to direct all traffic to a secured HTTPS version of your website if your site has an SSL certificate. 

Alternatively, you can use the WordPress htaccess file to create changes to your site and enhance its security. You can implement the following code, for instance, to prohibit unauthorized access to various core files: 

If you want to learn more about what WordPress htaccess can do, check out the WordPress support guide on the topic for even more relevant information. 

Conclusion

Every time you learn more about the behind-the-scenes of your website, you become closer to becoming an effective WordPress expert and have the potential to enhance your website’s functionality. The WordPress htaccess file is a simple way to do exactly that. 
Don’t forget to back up your WordPress site and/or use a staging environment to test out your changes before saving them completely. You can then use FTP to access your site, open your WP htaccess file, and edit it. From there, look up the code that you need to expand your htaccess functionality.

By Nicole

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By Nicole

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