Changing Web Hosts
Changing web hosts can be a pain. As long as everything is running smooth and prices and features are Ok, you have no real reason to move your website to a different web host for cheaper web hosting. But when things are falling apart because the web host does not provide good support and your website is down a lot – sooner or later you will look at different options. The same thing is true to say, if you require features that your current web host does not offer. Once you reach that point, moving your website to a new web host is inevitable.
Now what? You decided to move on but you are also very concerned about the whole process. Will your site experience downtime? How difficult will it be to move everything? There are lots of thing to put into consideration and proper planning will help eliminate many of the problems related to moving a website to a new web host. Please read the whole article first before you get started to avoid any mistakes.
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The good thing is – moving a website to a new web host is no rocket science and you do not have to re-invent the wheel. Depending on your existing web hosting environment, the main part of the process might only require a few clicks. For now we assume that you already decided on a new web host and signed up for a new account. Make yourself familiar with the new account. Check the basic functionality and play with the control panel a little bit (you do decided on a web host who offers you a web control panel, do you?!). Once you know how to access the account and where your website files need to go, you should get started. Remember – you are paying for two (2) accounts at this moment.
Make a backup of your existing website and download it to your computer. If you have any databases in use – make sure you are also doing a backup of those. Upload your website files to the new account and place them in the proper location. Your new web host will be able to help you to determine where the files will have to go. Also – if you have databases in use, create a matching version on the new hosting account and upload the data into the database. Now it is time to adjust everything to the new environment. Some scripts require certain permissions that need to be reset to the proper level. Double-check passwords in configuration files of software that you eventually have installed. Take your ‘new’ website for an extensive ‘test drive’. Visit every page and every link. Test your scripts and installed software.
Uploading all the files is not everything that needs to be done. Email accounts and ftp accounts might need to be re-created, too. Don’t miss those important steps. If your old web host has a control panel that allows you look at all these settings, use it to be able to set everything up the same way at your new web host. Here’s a quick check list to work your way through (not everything eventually applies to your situation): email accounts, ftp accounts, email filters, email forwarders, redirects, SPAM settings, rules, blocked ip addresses, Cron jobs, sub domains, log files, etc.! Again – take your time to test and to double-check everything. It’s less painful discovering mistakes while the site is still running on the old account – fully functional.
Now is also a good time to document all these things and settings in case you haven’t done so before. A well-documented website saves you a lot of hassle down the road and helps troubleshooting issues quick end effective.
You double-checked everything and your website seems to be fully functional on the new hosting account. You’re almost done. Now you need to make sure that the website can be found on the new hosting account. This requires a change of the DNS servers (Domain Name Service) at the registrar level. The DNS servers are holding the information where your website is located. Your new web host will provide you with the information necessary. Once you know the new DNS servers you will need to go to the place where you registered the domain name and change the DNS settings to the new servers. If you have difficulties doing this, check for an FAQ section (usually under support) for details of how to do this.
During the DNS transition period, which is also referred to as the “propagation period,” your web site will be resolved by both your new and old web host. The DNS change has to propagate through the Internet. This process usually takes between 24 and 96 hours. I personally would add additional 48 hours on top of the 96 hour time period to be safe. You want to make sure everyone visitor of your website is being referred to your new web host. Once you feel safe, go ahead and cancel the old web hosting account. Make sure you get a confirmation from the web host. Keep it in your records. Monitor your credit card for the next 2 months to make sure that the old web host has indeed stopped charging you for the hosting account.
If your old web hosting account included some sort of a web control panel (like cpanel), the whole moving process might be much less painful. Modern web control panels for web hosting offer an integrated backup option. If your new web host offers the same web control panel it is very easy to backup your website and to restore it at the new account. A backup often includes everything of your hosting account (email accounts, passwords, – everything). Some web hosts also might help you moving your website. Ask for help in the beginning. Even if the new host does not offer this service, they might have some support documentation helping with this process and to explain the situation specific parts.
It is important to retain both web hosting accounts for a while until you are sure that all visitors are hitting your ‘new’ website. Especially if you are running a business from your website it is better to be safe, than sorry. Those few bucks won’t kill your budget while moving a website.
It might sound paranoid, but it might not be a bad idea NOT to tell your old web host that you are moving your business somewhere else. Once they know you are leaving, they do not have that much more motivation to help you. Imagine you need support while still being on the old account. The web host might put a lower priority onto your ticket and rather helps a customer that is still there and will be there after you left.
Keep frequent backups of your website. Sometimes web hosts disappear – go out of business. You will not always have the luxury to access your old account to download all the files. We recommend making a backup every time something changes on your website. You will need to do this more often if you use databases on your website. This procedure should be plan of any good disaster recovery plan.
If you purchased your domain name from your existing (old) web host, it might be a good idea to take control over the domain name first. You want to avoid that the host is taking the name hostage. Moving the domain name to a different registrar before moving the website and before canceling might be worth a consideration. Personally I think it is always a good idea to keep the domain name registration and the web hosting completely separated.