Misadventures with WP-CLI (or: Always Backup First)

I had the need to change the status on several hundred wordpress posts by a particular author, from “publish” to “pending” (more on this in a future post). This would have taken me hours to do through the frontend, so I figured I’d make my first serious use of WP-CLI, and script the job.

You can list posts using WP-CLI, and specify which columns to display, and even pass in basic filters, like so wp post list --<column>=value --fields=ID,post_title,post_status,post_author. You can also update posts. By combining these with some shell scripting, big jobs can be done fairly easily.

Easily. Oh, the hubris. The problem I ran into was:

  • The display column names are the names of the columns in the database, so to list the post author, you would refer to it as post_author.
  • The filter column names are as they are referred to in WP_Query, not how they are named in the database.

I didn’t catch on to this distinction at first, and the number of rows I was returning was large enough it couldn’t display all of them in the terminal. Yes, I should have used less to check. I should have done a lot of things, like take a backup first (wp db export ~/export.sql), but that wouldn’t be as good a cautionary tale.

Long story short, I ran wp post list --post_author=3 --fields=ID,post_title,post_status,post_author, saw only the results I expected because some rows were cut-off. When I fed this into a loop which would update the post_status, I ended up setting every post as pending.

wp post list --post_author=3 --format=ids \
| xargs -d ' ' -I % wp post update % --post_status=pending

The correct command should have been

wp post list --author=3 --format=ids \
| xargs -d ' ' -I % wp post update % --post_status=pending

Thankfully, having realised my mistake, I could make use of WP-CLI to fix it:

wp post list --author=2 --format=ids \
| xargs -d ' ' -I % wp post update % --post_status=publish

For everyone following along at home, my mistakes so-far were:

  • Not reading the documentation fully
  • Not taking a backup before altering a live site
  • Not double-checking my test results before running the command “for real”

I’ve returned all of the wrongly-pended posts to “publish” status. I do still have an issue with Post-Kinds data being missing on most of these posts; I think this is due to some wierd interaction between WP-CLI and the plugin, but I can’t be sure. These posts (~60) I’m going to have to fix by hand — I consider it a reprimand for my earlier flippant approach!

Cross-posted to /en/wordpress.


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