Silence is Golden: Unraveling a Mysterious WordPress Comment

If you’ve ever used a file manager to explore your WordPress site, you may have found something that surprised you in a directory like /wp-content. Taking a look at your site files, you ran across an index.php file containing nothing but:

<?php

//Silence is golden.

Is this evidence of a malicious hack? Has your site been compromised? Is this little bit of code compromising your site security right now? Don’t worry, it’s actually helping to protect your site— the ‘code’ just does not explain itself very well. Let’s take a more in depth look.

PHP Files And Website Directories

PHP is an immensely popular programming language. WordPress sites, themes, and plugins are built using PHP. If you want, you can think of the entire WordPress Content Management System (CMS) as an elaborate CMS framework. While web developers work directly with PHP files on a daily basis, many WordPress users only need to open PHP files when trying to solve a problem.

Examining the File

Let’s take a look at that index.php file again.

<?php

//Silence is golden.

The first line represents the starting point of a PHP file. All PHP files will contain a <\?php somewhere inside the file— usually near the beginning. The second line is a comment. Computers always ignore comments; programmers add comments to help people reading these files understand them. PHP comments are created using two slashes: //.

Comments are supposed to be helpful. Good comments explain what is going on in a program and why code exists in the first place. This is not a great comment: it does not explain anything about what is going on!

But What’s the Point?

The interesting thing about this file is that nothing seems to happen. No code seems to run, no data is transferred. Why does it exist? The entire file is a placeholder. Whenever someone visits a web page, the server attempts to run index.php or index.html. If you take a look at your site directory’s index.php, you’ll see the code that generates a WordPress site.
Why bother with an empty file? Developers place an empty index.php in directories like /wp-content to restrict access to your site’s directories and files. Without index.php, anyone could just visit your site’s /wp-content and see all of the media, files, and directories it contains. You’ve probably encountered this before on broken or very old websites. The index.php file functions like a privacy screen: it blocks visitors from directly accessing your directories. It’s a small, but vital, part of WordPress security!

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