A Simple Guide to Changing Web Hosts

Changing web hosting plans is a chore for any website owner. As with many things that involve change, a lot of problems can end up making a tedious but necessary task an all-out nightmare.

1 – Don’t forget to BACKUP

Easily the most important step, making a backup of everything with your current web hosting company is crucial. Things can get lost, damaged or deleted accidentally during any web hosting move, whether you’ve got an account with the best enterprise web hosting solution or a budget, affordable web site hosting plan. Remember that if your site relies on a database, that needs to be backed up, too. Create two copies of your backup and store them in separate physical locations to minimise the risk of the backups being damaged.

The best way to backup is to manually copy all your files from your web hosting provider. Some hosts offer backup features, but these sometimes rely on specific technology that is not compatible with other web hosting companies. If you need to backup a database, you can create a simple PHP, ASP or Perl script (depending on your web hosting solution) to do the job.

2 – Tedium Extra

Once you’ve done your backups, you’ll be ready to make the switch. The checklist below will help you gather your thoughts:

(a) Find out your new web hosting provider’s DNS

(b) Check environmental factors such as PHP/MySQL versions, settings and other differences that may require changes to scripts

(c) Find out the temporary address to your new web hosting space so that you don’t have to wait for the URL to be transferred to see if it all works OK

(d) Some scripts may not work correctly after being directly transferred across, and so may require re-installation on the new servers. Ensure that you have copies of the installation instructions so that you can do this, if necessary.

3 – Let the world know

Good and courteous practice dictates that webmasters should inform their users of a web hosting change in good time. This allows users to prepare for (or at least not be surprised by) a sudden loss of operation. Particularly if you run an online shop, there’s a tendency for users to worry that you have disappeared with their money if they find they cannot access your site after they’ve paid for something and don’t know why.

Offering a temporary or alternative e-mail address is always a good idea, too, and keeping users up-to-date on the change process will help make the move smooth for them.

4 – The actual move

Schedule the actual switch between web hosting providers for a time that your hosting logs show is less busy. Perform one final backup for the latest, most up-to-date information, and then start copying files. You can help your users by uploading the parts of the site they use most, such as the main page. Getting error pages up there early is also a good idea, as it will allow you to inform visitors about the web hosting switch and apologise for problems.

If your website is really big, you may want to span the web hosting move over a few days. Prioritising sensibly by uploading the most important parts of your website first can really help make the whole transition much more seamless. Constantly check that pages and scripts are working by using the temporary URL to your web host.

5 – Press the big red button

Once you’re satisfied with everything, it’s time to change your DNS over to the new server. The process, once started, will take between 24 and 48 hours, so there’ll be a space of time during which you can tweak your site if you need to.

By making a tiny change on the main page of the site on the new web hosting provider, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the new and old hosts, and see if the DNS has resolved (has been assigned to the new host).

6 – Keep those eyes peeled; you’re not out of the woods yet!

Keeping your old web hosting account for at least a fortnight after you make the move is a really good idea. Check for server activity, e-mails and online contact systems (such as web form messages). Once you are satisfied that all of your users are being directed to the new web hosting provider, it’s safe to close the old account.


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