How to Backup your Website
What Parts of my Website Need to be Backed Up?
- All of your text content: pages, captions, blocks of text, title tags and other meta tags.
- All of your images.
- Your software, if you have a site that is not in a web service.
The reason to back up your website is so that you can replace it or move it. Reasons that you might want to replace your site are 1) in the case your site is hacked, 2) in case your site is broken. You may want to move your site if you are not satisfied with your web host or if your web host goes out of business.
situation 1: If your Site is on a Web Service
How much of your site you can backup is dependent on who owns the system that runs your website. If your site is on a system like Wix, Weebly, Shopify, etc. your site is running inside their software, and their software is one big engine that runs thousands, and possibly millions, of websites. In this case, your website cannot run outside of their software. The only part of the site you own is the images you have added and the text. In this case, you should maintain copies of the images and text in a place where you can get to them all in a different location than your website.
Situation 2: If you Own or License your Own Website Software
Most likely, your website is made up of files and a database. If you have a static site, you may not have a database, but you still have files. The files and database exist on a web server, which has the software to deliver websites to viewers. In the old days of development, we always had a backup because web work was done on the local computer and then uploaded to the server.
Now, much of the work is often done right on the server through a dashboard in the browser. For example, I am writing this article in a WordPress form. When I click the Update button, my text will be sent to the database on the web server. That means that if something happens to the site on the server, it’ gone because I don’t have a local copy. You need a copy (backup) to replace the problem files and/or database in case the site is hacked or there is some kind of failure.
Click this link for instructions on how to back up the database with PHPMyAdmin.
For this article, we will focus on how to get a copy of the files from your web server into your computer.
Your Host Control Panel May Have a File Backup Function
If your host has CPanel, there is often a File Manager tool. The problem with this tool is that it often only allows you to download one file at a time. Since a basic WordPress setup generally has at least 2000 files, this is not a practical solution for a site backup.
Your host probably also has a whole website backup system. This system protects them, as well. If there is a catastrophic failure with their server system, they can restore all the websites in their care. I have seen systems that only maintain a 7 day backup. Other hosts maintain a 30 day backup. The ideal situation is that your host allows you to choose how far back you want to have backups available, within reason. I have seen one situation where we had to restore a hacked site back 3 months to find a version that did not have bad code.
Your Software May Have a Backup Plugin / Extension / Module for Site Backups
Typically, content management systems, such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla either have a backup system as part of the core, or have additional software you can install to do backups. WordPress has many backup plugins, some free and some paid.
There are a number of issues to understand when you are using backup software. First, security is a priority. Backup software has access to your files and database. Hackers would love to gain that access through your software. Check the update status on your backup software on a regular basis. The size of your website is another issue with backup software. For example, I find BackWPUp to be a great little tool, but only for small sites. It tends to bog down and quit on larger sites, especially sites that are image heavy. In fact, I would not use BackWPUp for this site.
It is not uncommon to have to give more than one piece of software a try to find the one that works best for your site.
With all the great tools out there to do the backups for you, it might seem like a waste of time to do a manual backup, especially when you have to pay someone for that time. There are some benefits to doing manual backups.
Whenever a plugin needs to be updated, I backup the previous version, in case the update causes a problem on the site. My manual backup process includes documenting what has been backed up when. That means that I have a visual on the plugin list. Plugins that have a short backup list are an indication that the plugin may no longer be maintained and should be replaced.
To do a manual backup of your files, you need a way to transfer a copy of your files from the server to the computer that will hold the backup. Commonly, the tool used is FTP software. There are free FTP programs, such as WinSCP for Windows and CyberDuck for Mac.
Before the software can work for you, you will need an FTP account into your hosting space. For security, there will (hopefully) be a separate user name and password for your FTP account than what you use to login to your hosting account.
If your site is on a host with CPanel, there is generally an icon group called Files with an icon for FTP Accounts. Again, for security, create a separate FTP account for each person who needs FTP. After the FTP accounts are created, the host address, user name and password can be used in FTP software.
Most FTP programs show your local computer files on the left and your server files on the right. Here is an example of how the MontanaWebmaster.com file structure shows up in the WinSCP software. Files from the server side (on the right) can be dragged across to the local computer (on the left).
When to Backup
How often to back up depends on how often you make changes to your website. Changes can be software updates or new content. There isn’t much value in having two backups that are exactly the same. I typically backup when I do software updates, unless I have added a significant amount of new content to my site.
What to Do with your Backups
It’s important not to store your backups in the same place as the original files, that is your web server. If your site is hacked, or the server crashes, your backups will be lost as well. When you backup your website to your computer, the files are then in two different locations. Backups on your local computer are easy to find and use. Also, having a local backup should cover you in case you lose your cloud storage.
Even if you keep a local backup, I still recommend zipping up the archive files and copying them to a cloud account, such as Amazon, Google Docs, Dropbox, Carbonite, etc. If you use Dropbox, I have found that the free version of Dropbox fills up too soon to hold an effective number of backups. Having a paid cloud storage account should be considered a normal website expense.
Using the Backup
Restoring your website from a backup is a very different process from creating the backup. It has its own set of considerations that should be addressed in a different post!