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How to Safely Edit the htaccess File in WordPress

Are you looking for a safe way to edit your htaccess file in WordPress? Editing this file can allow you to do some pretty awesome things on your website. However, it is notoriously difficult to edit because one syntax error could take your website offline.

Luckily, there is a simple and safe way to edit the htaccess file with a plugin. Today, I will demonstrate how to use Htaccess Editor to do just that.

What is the htaccess File in WordPress?

The htaccess, or hypertext access, file allows you to change how settings affect your web server. By default, if the file is generated (it may not exist in your directory), the webserver will fill it with information.

You can use the file to access additional functionality from your web server that is turned off by default. However, since the file represents the connection between your website and server, one mistake can sever that connection.

Thus, you need to be extremely careful when editing this file.

Where is the htaccess File in WordPress?

The htaccess file should be in your public_html directory, however, it is very common for the file to not be generated at all. There are also a variety of situations that could end up removing it without your knowledge.

If this happens, don’t worry there is an easy way to create it.

Note: Your website does not actually need the htaccess file to operate. It is only useful when you want to customize the way your web server operates.

Can I Just Use the cPanel to Edit the htaccess File?

Yes, you can.

However, it is far superior to do so using this plugin. But if you are against using the plugin for some reason, then you should edit it in a test environment.

A great way to do this is to create a subdomain, clone your website onto it, and make the changes there. If everything works correctly, you can then just copy and paste the changes to your main website.

Another instance is perhaps you have someone helping you with site development and you don’t want them to have root access to your site? Editing the file from WordPress instead of through cPanel prevents someone from making a lot of mistakes or moving files without your permission.

Installing Htaccess File Editor

The Htaccess File Editor plugin is truly the best plugin to use to safely edit this file. Unlike directly editing the file in the file directory via cPanel of an FTP, this plugin will automatically scan your htaccess file and look for syntax errors that would cause a fatal error.

On top of this, the plugin automatically generates a backup of your website each time you edit the file. This ensures that if it does not catch an error, you can still easily restore your website within minutes.

Luckily, getting started with the plugins is really simple, so let’s get started.

Note: If you are new to coding it is important to understand the difference between a syntax and logic error. A syntax error is when you type something out incorrectly or forget a semicolon. A logic error is when what you type is correct, but it does something different than intended. This plugin will only catch syntax errors.

Let’s start by clicking on Plugins and selecting the Add New option on the left-hand admin panel.

Add New

Search for Htaccess Editor in the available search box. This will pull up additional plugins that you may find helpful.

Htaccess Editor

Scroll down until you find the Htaccess Editor plugin, click on the “Install Now” button and activate it for use.

Install Now

Before Continuing

Before going forward, it is very important to talk about the dangers of messing up the htaccess file. Doing so can completely take your website offline and you will not be able to access your website. You will know it is an htaccess error if you see error 500 or a white screen.

If this happens, you will need to use an FTP client to upload a backup of your website. This can be a very frustrating experience if you are new to WordPress. Thus, I only recommend editing the htaccess file if you have the proper knowledge.

Using the Htaccess File Editor Plugin

On the left-hand admin panel, click on Settings and select the WP Htaccess Editor option.

WP Htaccess Editor

The first thing you should see is the “please read carefully before proceeding” section.

This outlines what to do if you do not correctly edit the file. I highly recommend to copy everything in this section and paste it into a Notepad or Word document. If you make a mistake, you will not be able to access your website to read it.

Underneath this section, you should see a red box warning you about editing the htaccess file. It also informs you that a backup is created when you make a change.

Click on the “I understand. Enable the editor.” button.

I Understand

You will now have full access to edit your Htaccess file. At the bottom, you will notice three buttons. These include the Save Changes, Test Before Saving, and Restore Last Backup buttons.

Editor Buttons

Always click on the Test Before Saving button first. This will check for syntax errors.

If something is not working correctly after making a change and you are not experiencing an Error 500, you can use the Restore Last Backup button to correct the problem.

Congratulations on learning how to safely edit your htaccess file in WordPress.

Uses for the htaccess File

Now that you know how to safely make edits, here are a few of the things you can do with the file:

Redirect Users to a Custom Error Page

There are many common WordPress errors that you will encounter while running a website. These errors are very inconvenient and can hurt your SEO. You can mitigate the effects by redirecting visitors to a customer error page.

Note: This can be used for general redirection as well.

Decide What File to Use as the index File

By default, when visitors access your website, they will encounter something along the lines of www.ggsexample1.com/index.html or www.ggsexample1.com/index.php. You can actually change what file will act as the index within the htaccess file.

Password Protect Files

Security is a big concern for every website, and one way to improve it is to password protect your files. This ensures that only people who are supposed to access a file do so. You can do this through the cPanel, but it is far quicker to do so through htaccess.

Caching

Caching can help speed up your website by removing temporary files that slow the experience. You can actually clear your cache from within the htaccess file, but you really should consider using a caching plugin to get the best results.

Consider if You Need to Edit the htaccess File

The htaccess file is convenient for making a variety of changes in one single location, but it is risky.

In almost every case, you can achieve the same result with a plugin or by editing a less important file. Thus, you should ask yourself, do I really need to edit the htaccess file?

To be perfectly honest, if you are not experienced in coding, you should not do it. The biggest appeal of the WordPress platform is that you can create an amazing website without writing a single line of code.

Why do you want to edit the htaccess file? Did you consider using a different method instead of editing htaccess?

Author: Robert Giaquinto

Robert has been writing tutorials about WordPress and other CMS for over 3 years since joining the GreenGeeks marketing team. Thanks to this, he has had the opportunity to research and master several areas of WordPress including plugin usage, SEO, website design, and social media integration. When he is not creating content for WordPress, Robert is digging up new content ideas for environmental pieces. These range from the pollution in our air to the danger’s wildlife face. And with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, he is always eager to discuss the way our technologies are affecting the environment, especially when it comes to solar energy.

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