Auto deploy with git

Using git hooks to automatically deploy sites


Occasionally I’ll pick up smaller development jobs outside of work. Usually these jobs follow a standard template: WordPress on shared hosting with a theme already in place. And up until now, my workflow for these jobs looked similar: spin up a new WordPress instance, download their theme, create a child theme, then copy the result to the shared server via FTP. But it’s 2017, we can do better than that! For this most recent job, I decided to utilize git’s hook features to automate deployment using a better (and safer) workflow.

After reading, you will be able to update your website with a simple git push production master!

Prelinary setup - shared hosting SSH access

First, you’ll need to have SSH access to your shared hosting environment. This is available on most sites under “Home > Security > SSH Access” in cPanel. You’ll need to add a new key; I won’t go over that here, but GitHub has a great how-to on generating a new SSH key.

After following the how-to on generating a new SSH key, add the public key to cPanel’s SSH Access. If you’re on a mac, here’s an easy command to copy your newly generated SSH key to the clipboard:

cat ~/.ssh/ | pbcopy

Now that the key is copied, in cPanel, click “Import key”, and paste the public key into the appropriate text box. Note that you don’t need the private key for this deployment. I’d also recommend naming the key something like “”

Server setup

For this part, we’re going be working with these two directories on our server:

  • Server site: $HOME/public_html/
  • Server git repository: $HOME/vcs/site.git

Now that you’ve got SSH access, you should be able to connect to your shared hosting server via the command line. try it now; connect to the server using your login name and the server’s IP using SSH:

ssh name@

Creating the repository

On the command line, type the following:

cd $HOME
mkdir -p vcs/site.git && cd vcs/site.git
git init --bare

Using the git command --bare means the folder will only contain version control about our site.

Creating the hook

Git provides hooks to run commands after certain tasks have been completed. Its documentation isn’t that great, but DigitalOcean have done a great job of documenting things on using git hooks to automate development and deployment tasks here. The git hook we’re interested in is post-commit.

On the command line (assuming we are still in the /var/vcs/site.git folder), run the following command:

cat > post-receive
git --work-tree=$HOME/public_html/ --git-dir=$HOME/vcs/site.git checkout -f

After writing this, press “Control-d” to save. Now set proper permissions so the git hook can be executed:

chmod +x post-receive

This post-receive hook does all the heavy lifting for our deployment. It is run every time files get pushed to the /var/vcs/site.git repository, and work-tree defines where the files will be transferred to. The checkout-f command ensures our old files will be overwritten on successful push.

Our local site

Locally, the only thing that needs to be done is add the remote path of the production website to our repository. I’ll assume you’ve already got a local folder for, and all files are checked in and committed. On the command line, after cding into the correct directory, run the following:

git remote add production ssh://name@

Notice the ~ tilde; we have to specify that we want the home folder for our user in the SSH path so we can get to our repository correctly.

From here, it’s business as usual. Run the following command:

git push production master

Your changes will be pushed up to the shared hosting server, and your files will be added to $HOME/public_html/!


This is pretty handy, and is by no means the only thing you can do with git hooks. For example, you could write a local post-merge hook that SSHes into the production server, creates a database dump, copies it locally and updates your local database, so your local environment is always up-to-date with production.

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of these git hooks is that they cannot be stored in version control and shared with teams. This is understandable as they have the potential for remote code execution, but it would be lovely to store an entire project’s build process into a tool that’s already being used… I suppose that’s what Jenkins CI is for :)