The article builds upon on from Ryan Battle’s post on EE Spotlight in which he discusses the ability to upload a single ZIP file to a web server and then unzip it with a simple PHP script.

We’ve been using this technique for a while, but have tweaked it to best work for us.

What we Want to do

We aren’t especially keen on base installs, we’ve used them in the past but they’ve always caused unnecessary issues down the road – so uploading an existing ‘cloned’ site isn’t really what we’re after. But what we do want is a simple way to do a clean install of the latest version of ExpressionEngine and then add our common plugins and templates in.

The One Zip Solution (Spoilers: it Doesn't Work)

Perhaps the most obvious way is to take the latest ExpressionEngine, and within your /system/ and /themes/ folder add all of the plugins you want and then whack a few templates in there. You would then ZIP this back up, and upload the archive to the server to take over.

The problem here is that the ExpressionEngine install script tends to fall apart when you have third party plugins trying to install at the same time as core. This often leaves you with an ‘Error 500’ and tears – lots and lots of tears.

The Better Solution (it Works!)

So instead of trying to cram everything into one ZIP, we should split them into the following:-

  1. ExpressionEngine Core Installation (
  2. Third Party (
  3. Templates (

The installation process will then go as follows:-

  1. Upload your three ZIP files
  2. Run the RC Unzipper (code provided for free below)
  3. When that's completed, jump into the ExpressionEngine install wizard and do your thing!
  4. Upon completion, delete the install folder and do any of the post-install procedures you do
  5. Go back to the Unzipper and click on 'Step 2:'
  6. At this point you can go into your admin panel and enable any of your newly installed plugins – or get to that bit later, if you prefer.
  7. One last time, you go back to the unzipper and unzip Templates
  8. Go to the EE Template Manager and make sure you’re saving templates as files and that the correct directories are setup.

You can download the unzipper for free, but be sure to change the $zip-extractTo line!

Download now