Beginners Guide to Installing a WordPress Plugin

A WordPress plugin is a piece of software written in the PHP language that contains functions that are added to a WordPress website and is used to add new features or extend the functionality of the WordPress website. They integrate seamlessly with WordPress. There are so many plugins available today, an example of one is the Custom Login Page Customizer. In this tutorial, we are going to cover three ways through which we can add a plugin to a WordPress website. They include;

  1. Searching for a plugin from the admin panel and installing it
  2. Manually uploading a plugin file from the admin panel
  3. Uploading the file through ftp.

Searching for a plugin from the admin panel and installing it

I am going to assume that you have a WordPress website running to install the plugin. For this step, we are going to install WooCommerce, which is a free eCommerce plugin.

Step 1: The first step is to log in to the WordPress admin dashboard and select the Plugin option from the left hand side menu as shown below;

WordPress Dashboard

This will take you to the plugins page where you can see all the plugins you have installed. Here, you can activate, deactivate, update and delete any of the plugins you have already installed.

Step 2:

  • At the top of this screen, there is an Add New button that you can click to take you to another screen to search for the plugin you would like to install.
Installed wordpress plugins
  • Clicking on the Add New button will take you to a screen that looks like the one below;
Plugin Add New button

Another option of getting to the screen above without having to go through the installed plugins screen would be to point at the Plugins menu option at the dashboard and selecting on the Add New menu option from the dropdown menu, as shown below;

Add New button from Dashboard

Step 3:

  • We are now going to search for the plugin that we would like to install. There is a search bar at the top of the plugins screen. Type in the name of the plugin that you would like to install. I am searching for the WooCommerce plugin. WordPress will then show you all the available plugins that match the one you have searched for.
  • When you get the plugin you are looking for, you will see an Install Now button adjacent to it. Click on this button to start installing the plugin.
Plugin Install button

Step 4:

  • After the plugin is installed, the Install Now button above will change to activate. Click on the Activate button to activate the plugin.

You have now installed and activated your plugin successfully.

Manually uploading a plugin file from the admin panel

You can also install a plugin by manually uploading the plugin file from the admin dashboard.

Step 1:

  • We are first going to visit the WordPress plugins website to search for the plugin we want to install and download it. The plugin will be downloaded as a zipped file. I am going to search for and install bbPress plugin, a forum plugin.
  • Once you get the plugin that you want to install, click on the download button to download it to your computer.
WordPress plugin download

Step 2: 

  • After doing that, we will go to the Plugins section on our WordPress website by clicking on the Plugins menu option on the admin dashboard or by clicking on the Add New option from the plugins menu.
  • This will take you to the page showing you all the installed plugins. At the top of this page, click on the Add New button.
Plugin Add New button

Step 3:

  • This will again take you to the plugins page where we searched and installed the Woocommerce plugin. Instead of searching for the plugin here, we are going to manually add it by uploading the plugin file we have just downloaded. At the top of this screen, there is an Upload Plugin button. We are going to click on this button which will open an option allowing us to select the .zip plugin file that we have just downloaded.
  • Click on the Choose File button and select the file from your computer, then click on Install Now.
Choosing plugin file from the computer

Step 4:

  • This will upload and install the plugin. Once it is done, you will be taken to this screen where you can click on the Activate Plugin button to activate the plugin.
Activate the plugin

The plugin has now been successfully installed and activated.

Uploading the file through FTP

FTP is short for file transfer protocol which allows you to easily transfer files from your computer to your hosting account, where you have your WordPress website hosted. I am sure that you might be asking yourself why we need to upload a plugin through an FTP client when we already have two easy to use methods to upload and activate plugins. Sometimes, you might have an error with your WordPress installation that might not allow you to upload and activate a plugin through either of the methods discussed above. To avoid such errors, you can upload the plugin file through FTP.

Step 1: Installing an FTP Client

To get started, you will need to have an FTP client installed on your computer. There are many FTP clients available for use, such as Filezilla and WinSCP. For this example, I am going to use WinSCP on Windows 10. WinSCP is one of the most powerful and easy to use FTP client for Windows users. It works the same way for other operating systems that it supports. 

Step 2: Getting Started with WinSCP

When you launch WinSCP for the first time, you will see a window that asks you for your website hosting login credentials. Enter these credentials to grant WinSCP access rights to the hosting account. On the left hand side of the WinSCP window, we have the files locally stored on your computer and on the right, we see the files on the server. Just click on a file to download, upload, or edit it. 

WinSCP FTP client

Step 3: Uploading a Plugin using WinSCP

  • Download the plugin zip file on your computer from the WordPress plugins website like we did earlier.
  • When you have the .zip file downloaded to your computer, go ahead and extract the file to a folder. This is the folder that we are going to upload using the FTP client. I am going to show this using the bbPress plugin I had downloaded earlier
  • Using my FTP client, I am going to log in to my website hosting account and navigate to the wp-content/plugins folder. This is where we are going to upload the plugin to. In the screenshot below, note the paths at the top of the two windows.
WinSCP window showing paths to file locations
  • Drag and drop the plugin folder from the left hand side (which shows files locally stored on my computer) to the right hand side (files available on the website host) which is connected to my hosting account. This will upload the plugin to the WordPress website.
Uploading the plugin files

Step 4: Activating the Installed Plugin

  • After successfully doing that, log in to the admin dashboard and select the Plugins option from the dashboard menu. This will take us to the Plugins screen where we can see all of the plugins that we have, including the one we have just uploaded.
Uploaded plugins
  • Click on the activate button just beneath the new plugin to activate it. The plugin is now successfully installed and activated.
Activating the plugin


Those are the three ways through which you can successfully install and activate plugins to your WordPress websites. It all depends on your preferences or any situation that you might be faced with to select the one that best suits you.


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