Automatic Deployments to WP Engine with Branch


Branch is a continuous integration and deployment platform, designed to help you automate the building, testing and deployment of your WordPress projects whenever you push to Git.

Branch makes it easy to deploy your code to WP Engine from GitHub, Bitbucket or Gitlab. Simply connect Branch to your WP Engine account with your API credentials and use the built-in WP Engine deployment recipe to automate the workflow.

This guide will help you create a Branch account, link it to your WordPress project on WP Engine and automate your builds and deployments.

Note: If you aren’t yet using a Git based workflow, start out by reading our guide on Git for WordPress teams.

Follow the full step-by-step instructions below, or skip straight to the section you need using one of the following links.

Table of Contents

  1. Sign up to Branch
  2. Set up a New Project on Branch
  3. Connect Branch to WP Engine
  4. Add Build Steps
  5. Build and Deploy a Theme or Plugin to WP Engine
  6. Build and Deploy a Full WordPress Site to WP Engine
  7. Managing Environments
  8. Need Help?

Sign up to Branch

Signing up to Branch is easy and free — all you need is a GitHub, Bitbucket or GitLab account.

Once you have an account, you can do 20 deployments for free every month, with the option to upgrade to a paid plan for unlimited deployments.

Signing up for Branch is free and gives you 20 deployments per month.

To sign up from the Branch homepage:

  1. Select the Git host you would like to use (either GitHub, GitLab or Bitbucket)
  2. After clicking, you will be redirected to your chosen Git host’s website and prompted to log in and authorize Branch to access to your account. Note: it’s important that Branch has access to the organization hosting the project you will be using.
Authorize Branch to access your GitHub account – remember to grant rights to the organization owning the repository you are connecting.

Set up a New Project on Branch

Next, you will be prompted to pick a project. Start entering the name of your chosen project to see a list of matching Git repositories and select the correct one.

You can connect Branch to any Git repository containing a theme, a plugin, a full WordPress site, or any combination of the above. With WP Engine, you can keep either an entire WordPress project in the repository (say if you are managing it with Composer) or just a theme or plugin.
Start typing to select your Git repository.

After selecting a project, Branch will set up the connection to your Git provider by taking the following steps:

  1. Adding an SSH key associated with the project. This lets Branch clone the repository.
  2. Adding a webhook to the repository. This lets Branch know when there are new commits and pull requests to build.

Once your new Branch project has been created, you will be redirected to the project configuration screen on your Branch dashboard.

This is where you’ll add your build, test and deployment steps. This is also where you can add (secret encrypted) variables to your Branch build environment and where you can manage the settings for your project.
When your project has been created, it’s time to add the first build step to your pipeline.

But first you will need to give Branch access to your WP Engine account.

Connect Branch to WP Engine

Branch has a native integration with WP Engine, which means that by providing a set of API credentials, Branch can automatically provision the integration with WP Engine. Branch will automatically add your project SSH key to your WP Engine account and set up a few handy environment variables that you can use in your build steps.

All Branch needs to connect to your WP Engine account is a set of API credentials.

To integrate a project with WP Engine:

  1. Log in to the WP Engine dashboard to generate a new set of API credentials
  2. Paste the API username and password into the project integrations tab in Branch and click Connect
  3. Pick the site on WP Engine you want to connect to your Branch project
Pick the site on WP Engine that you want Branch to connect to.

Once you’ve picked a site, Branch will exchange SSH keys with WP Engine and set up a few environment variables for your project. These variables are used by the WP Engine recipe in Branch. By default, Branch will configure environment variables with the names of each of the environments you have for your site. You can see these variables under the Environment tab for your project:

These environment variables are set up automatically when you connect to WP Engine.

Add Build Steps

To add a build step:

  1. Click into your project from your Branch dashboard and select Steps
  2. From here, you can start adding your build steps. Scroll down to the section Add your first build step and click Add build step.

You have the choice to either use one of Branch’s built-in build recipes or define your own custom steps.

For common use cases, there are ready-made build recipes. For example, compiling frontend assets with NPM or validating your code with the WordPress Coding Standards.

Common Build Steps

To use an existing build recipe:

  1. In the Build recipes menu browse to find the tool you need
  2. Click Add step to add it to your build steps
Branch comes prepacked with many different build recipes.

Custom Build Steps

To define your own build steps, click Other in the Add a step section and pick Custom. Fill in the following fields and click Add step:

  1. Name: enter a name for your step
  2. Environment: select an environment in which to run the step eg php, node, ssh and so on
  3. Commands: add the commands you want to run in this step

Test and Q/A

One of the benefits of using Branch is how simple it is to add a few test and Q/A steps to your deployment pipeline. For example, you could add checks to test for PHP syntax errors or tests to make sure your syntax is valid with a given version of PHP. You could also add a Lighthouse step to the end of your pipeline to run Lighthouse checks and be notified if your site scores too low on page speed, SEO or accessibility after deploying new code.

Use the Lighthouse recipe to set up automated Lighthouse monitoring for page speed, SEO and accessibility.

To learn more about Lighthouse testing, check out our guide on automated site monitoring. To learn more about simple ways to add tests to your WordPress project, read about alternatives to PHPUnit for WordPress development.

Advanced Options

You may want to run certain steps on specific Git branches only, say if you only want to deploy when pushing to master.

If so, toggle the Advanced options section of the build step and enter the name of the required branch.

Build and Deploy a Theme or Plugin to WP Engine

In this example, we will deploy a plugin from GitHub to WP Engine. The process would be the same if we were deploying a theme, or if we were using Bitbucket or GitLab.

  1. Connect Branch to your WP Engine account
  2. From the Branch dashboard, go into your project and click the Steps tab
  3. Add the steps necessary to build your theme or plugin For example, you might need to run composer install to pull in the PHP dependencies used by your plugin or, if you’re building a theme, you may have some frontend build steps using Node or Gulp. Branch has a number of built-in build recipes for tasks just like these.
    Note: if you’re running npm install, make sure to delete your node_modules directory before attempting to deploy.
  4. Next, add your deployment step. Branch has a built-in WP Engine recipe that you can use to deploy with rsync. To add this deployment step:
    1. In the Deploy recipes menu select WP Engine
    2. Configure the RSync connection by completing the following fields:
      • Environment: If you’ve connected the WP Engine integration, you should now have environment variables containing the names of the environments you have for your site. Pick the one environment you want to deploy to, such as WPE_PRODUCTION_INSTALL_NAME.
      • Files: The * means that we want to deploy all non-hidden files. In most cases you can just leave this as it is – but make sure to delete any files you don’t want to deploy (for example, node_modules if you’re running npm install)
      • Path: Because we are deploying a plugin, we want the path to be the path to the plugins directory in WordPress, which is /wp-content/plugins/Cool-Plugin.
      • Advanced options: To assign a build step to a specific Git branch, click on this section and enter the branch name. For example, if you only wanted to deploy when pushing to master, you would type ‘master’ in this field.
The easiest way to deploy to WP Engine is by using Branch’s built-in WP Engine recipe.
Branch automatically configures environment variables for each of your environments in WP Engine. Just pick which environment you want to deploy to.
  1. Click Add step to add your deploy step
This build pipeline will pull in all the dependencies and deploy to WP Engine.

Your build pipeline is now ready to trigger your first build and deployment.

Triggering Your First Build

There are two ways to do this:

  1. Manually: click Run build on your project’s configuration page. This will trigger a build from the default branch (this is set to ‘master’ unless you change it under Advanced options)
  2. Automatically: push new code to GitHub using Git to automatically trigger a build for that specific commit

For now, let’s trigger a build manually. Clicking Run build will redirect us to the build overview screen, where we can follow the progress of our build.
This build will be picked up by a build bot any second now.

Once the build has finished running, the build steps will turn green and you will be able to see the build logs.
A successful build in Branch is all green.

If you log into your WordPress site on WP Engine, you will be able to see that your plugin has been deployed.

The plugin that Branch just deployed to WP Engine.

Now every time you push a new commit to GitHub, Branch will automatically run your build steps for you and deploy with RSync.

Pull Requests

If you have an open pull request on GitHub while the build is running, this will show as pending.

Pending pull request waiting for Branch to complete a build.

You will be able to merge any pending pull requests once the build has finished.

This pull request was successfully built in Branch.

This is especially useful if you’re using Branch to put new code on a staging site before merging it into your master branch.

Failed Builds

If something goes wrong during any of the build steps, the whole build will be stopped and any incomplete steps will turn red.
A failed build in Branch.

If a build fails, you can check the Build logs to find out the reason why. In the above case, we misspelled the name of the environment variable.

If you have an open pull request, the error will also show up on GitHub.

This pull request failed to build on Branch.

Build and Deploy a Full WordPress Site to WP Engine

You can also use Branch to automatically build and deploy a full WordPress site to WP Engine.

For example, you might keep your entire WordPress site in a Git repository, either by committing core files or by pulling in WordPress core as a dependency using Composer.

To deploy a WordPress site to WP Engine, you can follow the same steps to deploy a plugin or theme to WP Engine.

Note: When configuring the WP Engine deployment step you will need to provide the path to the WordPress root and not the plugins or themes folder.

Managing Environments

When setting up automated deployment solutions like Branch, it’s a good idea to consider your deployment workflow.

For example, you might want to push your code to a staging or development environment for testing before unleashing it onto your production site.

Branch lets you add different build and deploy steps for different environments, helping to make your deployment process more robust.

Deploying to a Staging Environment

WP Engine has excellent support for environments. When you connect Branch to WP Engine using the native integration, Branch will automatically know about the different environments you have. When adding a deployment step, just pick the environment you want to deploy to. By default, all commits will result in a deployment. By toggling the Advanced options part of the recipe, you can specify a branch. For a staging site, leave this blank to deploy all new commits.

This deployment step should only run whenever code was pushed to the “staging” branch.
Each of your sites on WP Engine can have a production, staging and development environment.

Deploying to a Production Environment

To complete your deployment pipeline, you could add an additional step to put your code onto your live site.

To do this, add another WP Engine step to your project.

Note: make sure to specify the ‘master’ branch under Advanced options if this is the branch you want to live on the production site.

Your code changes would then be deployed to your live site every time you merged them into your ‘master’ branch.

Sign up to Branch

Signing up for a Branch account is free and easy. Just head over to and sign up with GitHub, Bitbucket or GitLab.

» Sign up to Branch

With a free account you get 20 deployments every month. If you need more than that you can upgrade to a paid account.

Need Help?

We hope this guide has been helpful, but if you still have any questions or feedback, or if you just want to say ‘hi’, please reach out by clicking the chat icon or by email at Don’t be a stranger!

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