Anatomy of the WP CMS

Anatomy 1

Comments left on my previous post have prompted me to explain in layman’s terms how the WP CMS is structured. This is important if someone switches to a fork and, for whatever reason, wants or needs to go back to WP without losing their current data.

I have used colour coding to help show the relationships.

For example, green + orange = brown.

This first image gives an overview of how your website works. You have two parts, the files and folders that make up the code that runs the installation, and the database that holds the information you type in. These then work together to produce your website.

The second image shows a further breakdown which separates the core files from your content files such as themes, plugins and any media you have uploaded.

By understanding how content is separate from the core files, you will be able to see how you can switch back to WP 4.9.9 at any time, even 3 or 4 years down the track, and not lose any of your content.

My aim is to make this as simple to understand as possible, so I’m using some poetic license here.

Files and Folders
There are files and folders that are created when you install WP or a fork of WP, that make up the skeleton of the CMS. They are the same for everyone.

Where you install the CMS is called your “Root” or top-level folder. If you installed it at your domain name and not a sub-domain or sub-folder, then the root folder is the first one you would see in your hosting panel’s File Manager.

There are about 18 files that get put there, that tell your website where to find configuration information and how to display your index page and login form. It is also where you will find your .htaccess and robots.txt files.

Then there are 3 folders added to the root folder:

  • wp-admin
  • wp-includes
  • wp-content

That’s about all you need to know about how the skeleton structure is organized.

When you installed the CMS, you created a database and were asked some details about it, such as its name, the user name for it and the password. The installer then pre-filled all the necessary information to make a functional website with an example post, comment and page.

Any future posts or pages you make and any comments for them will then be added to that database.

Separating Core and Content
In this image, I have gone one step deeper and broken the Files and Folders into two parts. Yellow + blue = green:

Anatomy 2

The Core
The core folders are:

  • wp-admin
  • wp-includes

They contain the files that determine how your website works. You don’t need to ever go into them in your hosting panel’s File Manager.

The Content
This section contains:

  • wp-content

There will be sub-folders there for your themes, plugins and any media you upload. Unless you want to hack into these files directly, you do not need to manage these sub-folders either.

Website Content
As you can see in the image, the wp-content folder and the database interconnect, to format how your website is displayed. Blue +orange = brown.

Core Isolation
As you can see from the flowchart, the core files and folders are isolated from the content and database. This is the important piece of information we need to understand when it comes to forks.

Forks only modify the core files.

When you migrate from WP to ClassicPress, calmPress or any other fork, the core files are replaced. Your content and database remain untouched.

This means you can also do the the reverse and migrate back to WordPress by getting a new migration file. To go back to WP 4.9.9 you can download this file:

The zip file, as the name suggests, does not contain the wp-content folder, or wp-config file. You can unzip it and upload the contents to your website, wherever your root folder is. This is done using FTP software and electing to overwrite existing files.

When you log back in, you will be back to WordPress and your website will look just the same!

You can migrate back to WordPress at any time, even in 4 years or more. Your content will remain as it currently is and you will not lose anything.

The fact that the core is separated from the content is what enables you to do this. So, if a fork suddenly shuts down or you simply decide it’s just not for you, you can go back to WP at no risk. It’s then up to you which version of WP you want to update to.

While you may need help using FTP if you’ve never done it before, it is not hard. The important thing is that, unlike restoring from a backup, you keep your up-to-date content. Also, since the forks don’t use block editing, your formatting won’t be affected.

So, if you have resisted trying a fork up until now because you were worried about the long-term ramifications, then hopefully I have explained things simply enough that you feel confident that you can always switch back whenever you choose, even years later!

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