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WordPress S3 Tutorial: How to Connect WordPress to Amazon S3 Bucket

Looking for a WordPress S3 tutorial to get your WordPress site up and running with Amazon S3? Or maybe you simply want to offload WordPress media to S3? In this post, I’ll take you through everything that you need to know about WordPress, Amazon S3, and how to make the two work together.

First, I’ll start with an overview of what Amazon S3 *actually* is and how it can benefit your WordPress site. Then, I’ll take you through the exact process you need to follow to start offloading your WordPress site’s files to Amazon S3.

There’s a lot to cover so let’s dive in…

WordPress S3 tutorial

Amazon S3 is an object storage service from Amazon Web Services. You might not realize it, but a huge chunk of the Internet relies on Amazon S3, which is why even a brief S3 outage in one location can cause the whole Internet to collectively…well, freak out.

I’m not super interested in getting into the specific details of what object storage is (Wikipedia can help you out there). Instead, I’m more interested in how Amazon S3 and object storage connect to your WordPress site.

The most common use of Amazon S3 is to store all of the files that you would usually store in your WordPress Media Library in the cloud. Essentially, you can store (“offload”) your:

  • 🖼️ images
  • 📹 videos
  • 🎵 audio files
  • 📁 PDF documents
  • etc.

Beyond that, some people also use S3 to store assets like CSS, JavaScript, etc.

Each Amazon S3 storage area is called a “bucket”. A bucket is basically a collection of files (you can read up about object storage if you want to know how those files are actually stored).

So essentially, rather than storing files on your own server, you’ll store them in a bucket at Amazon S3.

What are the benefits of using Amazon S3 for your WordPress site?

  • Reduced requests to server – because your server no longer has to deliver media files (or potentially assets), you can reduce your page load times.
  • More affordable storage – if you’re butting up against your host’s storage limits, I can almost guarantee that S3’s storage prices are cheaper than what your host will charge.
  • Detached media – because your media files are detached from your site, it’s a heckuva lot easier to move your WordPress site around (like between hosts). You’re basically just moving the PHP files, which takes up almost no space.
  • Scalability – because Amazon S3 powers the entire Internet (ok, that’s a bit of hyperbole), you can be pretty confident that Amazon can scale with whatever’s happening to your site.

And here’s the fun part:

Amazon S3 is free for your first year (up to 5GB storage). And even after that, it’s surprisingly affordable.

What’s the difference between Amazon S3 and a CDN?

A lot of people talk about Amazon S3 as if it’s the same as a CDN. I understand why – there are definitely some surface-level similarities that make it easy to confuse the two.

That is, like a CDN, you can opt to load images from Amazon S3 instead of from your WordPress site’s server.

But here’s what’s not like a CDN:

When you create a bucket at Amazon S3, it’s located in one physical location (that you can choose).

A CDN, on the other hand, has distributed locations around the globe.

So in this respect, Amazon S3 actually has more in common with your own server (a single physical location) than a CDN (lots of locations around the globe).

In a nutshell:

Amazon S3: While you can definitely serve files from S3 to your visitors, S3’s primary focus is storage.

CDN: A CDN is focused on delivering files as quickly as possible, rather than affordably storing them (like S3).

Why not just use a CDN, then?

Well, here’s the thing:

You still can use a CDN. It’s surprisingly simple to connect your Amazon S3 bucket to your favorite CDN. You can use it with everything from Cloudflare to KeyCDN to Stackpath.

Amazon Web Services even has their own CDN, called CloudFront, that’s also super easy to connect to Amazon S3.

In fact, that’s how I recommend you do it if you have a global audience.

By using both, you:

  • still get the storage benefits of S3
  • also get the performance benefits of a CDN

You may also be interested in:

The WordPress S3 connection explained

If you follow the instructions in this post, here’s how your WordPress site is going to function at the end of this WordPress S3 tutorial:

  • You upload files to your WordPress Media Library like normal (i.e. through the regular Add Media button)
  • Your chosen WordPress S3 plugin automatically copies or moves those files to Amazon S3
  • Your WordPress site either serves the file that’s stored on S3 or uses a CDN that’s connected to your S3 bucket

Here’s what you need in order to set up the WordPress S3 integration

To connect WordPress to Amazon S3, you’ll need:

  • An Amazon Web Services account – this is free to sign up for.
  • A public Amazon S3 bucket – this is free for your first year (up to 5GB). I’ll show you how to create one.
  • A WordPress S3 plugin – this helps you automatically offload the files that you upload to WordPress to your S3 bucket.

Which WordPress S3 plugin should you use?

There are a few different WordPress S3 plugins that you can choose from. We’ll primarily focus on the two most approachable ones:

  • Optimole – the simple option. It just takes simple config, and your media will be sent over to Amazon.
  • WP Offload Media Lite – has a fairly generous free version, but that free version only works with newly uploaded files. If you go Pro, you’ll also be able to store and serve your assets from S3 and upload existing files. Also makes it very easy to use a CDN later on (if that’s in your plan).

Other options:

  • W3 Total Cache – W3 Total Cache includes a feature that lets you connect your site to Amazon S3 if you choose S3 as your CDN in the W3 Total Cache settings.
  • Media Library Folders Pro S3 – lets you manage your WordPress media library with folders while simultaneously offloading all or some of those files to Amazon S3 and maintaining the same folder structure.
  • Human Made S3 Uploads – with no actual interface, this GitHub-hosted project from Human Made isn’t built for casual users. But developers should appreciate it. You can read more about it here.

Introducing Optimole – the simple option

Optimole offers the easiest way to offload WordPress media to S3

Optimole is a full-service image optimization solution for WordPress sites that offers real-time processing and optimization.

It can handle every part of optimizing your site’s images, including the following:

  • Serving adaptive images that are being optimized for each user’s device in real-time.
  • Compressing images in an optimal way for each device.
  • Resizing images to the best dimensions for each device.
  • Converting images to the optimal format, with support for WebP and Avif.
  • Serving images via its built-in Amazon CloudFront CDN.

If you want to offload your images to S3, Optimole also offers a one-click option that lets you do that.

When enabled, images will be moved off your server and onto S3. Optimole will also still serve them via Amazon CloudFront, which offers better performance than serving from S3 directly.

If you ever want to restore the offloaded images to your server, you can also do that with one click.

The main advantage of Optimole is its simplicity. You literally just need to enable one toggle and click a button to fully offload your images – you won’t find a simpler way to offload WordPress media to S3.

👉 There are two things that you’ll want to consider, though:

  1. Optimole is mainly focused on offloading images. While it does offer a feature to handle short GIFs (including converting GIFs to MP4 and WebM), Optimole is not the best option if you want to offload long-form videos (e.g. video content for your online course).
  2. You don’t control your own S3 bucket. Optimole is able to make the process so simple because it eliminates the need to create your own S3 bucket and sync it to WordPress. However, if you do want to actually have your own S3 bucket, you also might want to consider the other tool.

Optimole is free for up to 5,000 monthly visits on your site(s). After that, paid plans start at $19 per month for 50,000 visits.

Introducing WP Offload Media – the technical option

WP Offload Media offers a more technical way to offload WordPress media to S3

WP Offload Media is a freemium WordPress plugin that lets you offload all of your WordPress media to S3, with additional support for DigitalOcean Spaces and Google Cloud Storage.

You’ll create your own S3 bucket via the AWS console and then connect it to WordPress by creating an AWS user.

If you want to serve your media via a CDN, you’ll also need to set up your own CDN integration as it’s not built-in like Optimole.

Those are the main disadvantages – it’s not nearly as simple to set up and you’re responsible for configuring everything.

👉 However, this approach also has some potential advantages:

  1. It works for any type of media, including images, videos, documents, and so on.
  2. You control your own S3 bucket, which might be important if you’re a developer who wants to make your own customizations.

WP Offload Media has a limited free version. However, one huge limitation is that the free version only lets you offload new files – it doesn’t let you do that with your existing media. The free version also doesn’t let you remove the files from your server after offloading them.

If you want to fix those limitations (plus get other enhancements), the paid version starts at $39 for up to 2,000 offloaded media items and goes up to $199 for 40,000 offloaded media items.

How to offload WordPress media to S3 with Optimole

Optimole offers the absolute simplest way to offload WordPress media to S3. It literally takes just a few clicks.

Let’s go through it…

  1. Install Optimole and connect API Key
  2. Offload WordPress images to S3
  3. Configure other Optimole image optimization settings

1. Install Optimole and connect API Key

To get started, install the free Optimole plugin from WordPress.org.

When you activate the plugin, Optimole should prompt you to register for a free API key (or provide your existing API key if you already have a free Optimole account).

If you don’t see this screen automatically, you can access it by going to Media → Optimole.

If this is your first time using Optimole, enter your email address and click Create & connect account.

Sign up for API

Optimole will now work on setting up your site automatically – it should only take 30 seconds or so.

Once that’s done, you’ll see a success message:

Optimole dashboard

You’re almost finished!

2. Offload WordPress images to S3

To offload WordPress images to S3, follow these instructions:

  1. Go to the Settings tab in Optimole (in your WordPress dashboard).
  2. Click the Cloud Integration tab in the sidebar.
  3. Enable the Enable offloading images toggle.
  4. Click Save changes.
How to offload WordPress media to S3 in Optimole settings

Optimole will now automatically offload all new images that you upload.

If you want to also offload the existing images in your Media Library, you can click the Sync images button (you need to save your changes before this button appears).

Enable the offload WordPress media to S3 option for existing images

That’s it!

If you ever want to restore the offloaded images to your WordPress site’s server, all you need to do is click the Rollback images button and Optimole will restore all of the images for you.

3. Configure other Optimole image optimization settings

At this point, you’ve successfully offloaded your images to S3.

However, as I mentioned above, Optimole also offers lots of other features to help serve your WordPress images in an optimal way.

While a lot of these optimizations happen automatically, you can explore the Advanced settings area to customize your preferences for details like image compression, image resizing (including an option for smart cropping), lazy loading, and more.

Other Optimole settings

How to offload WordPress media to S3 with WP Offload Media

To set up WP Offload Media, the process is a little more technical and will require more time than Optimole. Again, this is the tradeoff that you make in exchange for having control over your own S3 bucket.

Here’s a quick summary of the steps – keep reading for a more detailed breakdown of how it works:

  1. Create an IAM user in AWS.
  2. Attach the proper access policy for the IAM user.
  3. Create a programmatic access key for your user.
  4. Add your access keys to the plugin’s settings.
  5. Create a new S3 bucket for your WordPress site (you can do this right from the plugin’s settings).
  6. Configure the plugin to offload media to S3.
  7. Set up a CDN to serve your media (optional).

For this tutorial, we’re using the free version of the plugin, but the basic steps are the same for the paid version.

1. Create a new IAM user in AWS

To start, log in to your existing AWS account, or create a new one if you don’t have it yet.

Once you’re logged in, click this link to open the IAM users dashboard and then click the Add users button:

Add a user in AWS

On the next screen:

  1. Give your user a unique name to help you remember it – e.g. [site-name]-wp-offload-media.
  2. Click Next.
User details

2. Attach proper policy to IAM user

Now, you need to attach a permission policy to this user so that it’s able to access S3:

  1. Choose the option for Attach policies directly, which should display a Permissions policies search below.
  2. Search for s3full in the Permissions policies box.
  3. Check the box next to AmazonS3FullAccess (which should be the only policy that your search returned).
  4. Click Next.
Attach policy to user

On the next screen, verify that the information is correct and then click the Create user button.

Create the AWS user

3. Create an access key for your user

Now, go back to the main IAM users list and select the user that you’ve just created.

Create an access key

Next up:

  1. Go to the Security credentials tab in the user’s settings.
  2. Scroll down to the Access keys box.
  3. Click the Create access key button.
Open security credentials

On the next screen, choose the Application running outside AWS option and then click Next.

Select access key type

Then, add a description – e.g. WP Offload Media – and click Create access key.

Create your AWS access key

AWS will now show you two pieces of information:

  1. Access key
  2. Secret access key
AWS access keys to offload WordPress media to S3

Copy both of them to a safe spot because you’ll need them in a second and AWS will not show them to you again after you leave this page.

Don’t worry, though – if you do accidentally lose your access key, you can just repeat these steps to create a new one.

Once you’ve copied them to a safe place, click Done.

4. Add access keys to WP Offload Media settings

Now, open your WordPress dashboard.

If you haven’t already installed and activated the WP Offload Media plugin yet, you’ll want to do that now.

Then, go to Settings → WP Offload Media.

Choose Amazon S3 as your provider.

Then, choose your Connection Method.

I recommend adding the access keys to your site’s wp-config.php file using the code snippet that the plugin provides. However, if you’re okay with a less secure method, you can also choose the I understand the risks… option to add your access keys to the plugin’s settings (which will save them in your database).

Choose connection method

Here’s how to add the access keys to your wp-config.php file:

  1. Take a backup of your site just in case anything goes wrong.
  2. Connect to your server using FTP or something like cPanel File Manager.
  3. Edit the wp-config.php file.
  4. Add the following code snippet near the top of the file, making sure to replace the asterisks with your actual access key and secret access key.
define( 'AS3CF_SETTINGS', serialize( array(
    'provider' => 'aws',
    'access-key-id' => '********************',
    'secret-access-key' => '**************************************',
) ) );Code language: PHP (php)

Here’s what it might look like:

Add AWS access key to wp-config.php

Once you’ve saved the wp-config.php file (and reuploaded it if needed), click the Save & Continue button in the plugin’s settings. It also might automatically detect the change and reload the page without requiring you to click anything.

5. Create an S3 bucket for your site (or select an existing one)

Now, you’ll see an option to select an existing bucket from your AWS account or have the plugin create one for you.

For this tutorial, I’ll choose the Create New Bucket option, but you’re free to choose an existing bucket if you’ve already created one.

Create a new S3 bucket to offload WordPress media to S3

Then, click the Create New Bucket button.

6. Configure how to offload WordPress media to S3

Now, you’ll see a bunch of settings that let you control how to offload media.

The defaults should be fine for the most part, but you’ll want to pay special attention to two settings:

  1. Offload Media – make sure this is enabled.
  2. Remove Local Media – enable this if you want to delete the local version of your media after it’s been offloaded. If you leave it disabled, the file will exist on both your site’s server and the S3 bucket.
Offload your media

7. Set up a content delivery network (CDN)

Unlike Optimole, using WP Offload Media does not automatically serve your media via a CDN. Instead, your media will be served directly from the S3 bucket, which isn’t optimal for performance.

If you’d like to use a content delivery network, the plugin does include a feature to let you rewrite your media URLs to serve from the CDN instead of the S3 bucket.

You can do this from the Delivery Settings tab. Click the Edit button next to Delivery Settings to view the option.

Configure a CDN for your offloaded media

However, setting up a CDN is outside the scope of this article. If serving your S3 media from a CDN is important to you, you can consult WP Offload Media’s documentation or use Optimole for a simpler CDN setup.

WordPress S3: A helpful partnership

By using a WordPress S3 plugin, you can easily offload your files and take advantage of Amazon Web Services’ infrastructure.

While the process might take 30 minutes or so to get set up, once you’ve knocked it out the WordPress S3 integration is pretty pain-free and shouldn’t require any further work.

If you want the simplest way to achieve the benefits of offloading your images, Optimole is probably the best option because the setup is quick and painless.

On the other hand, if it’s important to you to have access to your own S3 bucket (or if you primarily want to offload long-form videos), WP Offload Media might be a better option.

Do you still have any questions about how to offload WordPress media to S3? Let us know in the comments.

Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. Learn more below:

 
Yay! 🎉 You made it to the end of the article!
Colin Newcomer

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Syed Shariefi
October 13, 2018 1:38 am

Why are you using WP Offload S3 Lite plugin here? It only offloads images, nothing else…

Madreas
May 7, 2018 6:15 pm

Was actually just looking for this.. thanks!

Dan Stramer
April 18, 2018 5:14 pm

Thanks Colin!
Question – can 1 bucket serve a few WP installs?
Thanks
Dan

Steve Yakoban
April 18, 2018 3:23 pm

Colin – Wow, thanks for a thorough article. One piece does not make sense to me:
“Reduced requests to server – because your server no longer has to deliver media files (or potentially assets), you can reduce your page load times”
If a page is requesting 6 images, 6 images have to load. How is that saving time just because those images are on Amazon? Is it the fact that two servers are pushing content instead of one? If so, has this really been tested thoroughly to see if the theory holds up to reality in a meaningful way beyond a few milliseconds advantage?

raviswam
June 25, 2018 5:33 am
Reply to  Steve Yakoban

Because you are using Cloudfront those images are cached at edge location (around the globe) so the latency is reduced.

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