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Is It Time To Switch Hosts?

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December 20, 2006

Hypnotique is the owner of The Next Generation Host which provides inexpensive web space hosting.

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Not every webmaster is happy about changing web hosts, some may even cringe at the thought. Just like when you’re moving to another house, things can get lost and a lot of mistakes can be made that will affect you. I will be going through some things to help you make your move of web hosts the easiest move that is possible.

Backup is a very critical part to running any type of website. You never know when the moment will come that you have to rely on your backups to get things back to a normal operation status. If you have been good at keeping backups, you should find it quite simple to switch web hosts with ease. However, you always want the latest backup on hand. Be sure that everything your website needs to function properly is backed up, this includes databases if your website utilizes them. Save AT LEAST 2 copies and store them somewhere else. One copy will be for you to work with. The other will be for your archives. You shouldn’t ever underestimate the power of writing over these files if you mess up somehow.

If the host that you’re moving to has a different control panel, you will need to manually back up your files by downloading them. Different control panels may not be able to restore your backups that were made at your old host. Also, they have different directory structures, which means that your file trees will be a mess. If you feel it is needed, make a notepad file to record memos so that you know what your old server’s configurations were. This will cut down the part of moving back and forth between hosts in order to make the move. Remember as you download, make the correct transfer type (ASVCII or Binary). If you haven’t chosen the correct transfer type, more than likely when you move your website to the new host, it won’t work.

If server logs are important to your website as well, remember to back those up too. There isn’t a good way to move logs as of yet. This is because different hosts might log statistics differently. The best thing to do is to download it on your computer and use a log analyzer to refer back to it later.

One of the most important steps is getting everything together. You should already have a good FTP program. If not, there is a link to FileZilla, which I have found to be quite useful, and it’s free on top of that. You will need to obtain your new host’s DNS. It has been found to be useful if you have a script that will tell you what the server environments are that are installed on your new host server. Keep this for quick reference. Before you make a DNS change, get the temporary URL that is in your new host. Make sure that your website is up on the temporary URL before making the DNS change. If your host controls the domain, make sure that you tell them not to change your DNS until you have said to do so. If you run scripts, get the original copy of the installation guide and the script itself. Sometimes, you will run into a move where your script just won’t work after the transfer, and in certain circumstances you will need to reinstall the script from scratch to get it working properly once again. Also, you will need to get all of the server paths such as , Perl, and Home Directory on your new server. If your scripts need special server modules or programs, make sure that they are installed and you know where they are installed at. These are usually covered before you ordered the hosting account with the new hosts. However, sometimes your host has removed them or hasn’t even installed it yet.

It isn’t only good practice, but, it is common to inform your clients and visitors about the server move that is fixing to take place. For example, if you run an online store, this will assure customers that if you have experienced downtime, you HAVE NOT ran off with their money. Be sure that you give an alternate e-mail address so that you’re not losing any e-mails amidst the move. We all hate the idea of downtime, but, we must face reality, it DOES happen. In the case that there is any downtime during the move, be sure everyone is kept up-to-date during as well as after the downtime period. If you operate a large website, you will find this to help you out, as visitors can let you know which sections of the websites are working properly.

Make sure that the move is scheduled at a low-traffic period. Back up once more before the move so that you have all of the latest data. First, start by creating or copying your custom error pages onto the new host server. Insert a small note that tells about the move. You will always be able to remove that note once the move is complete. You need to upload the most visible parts of the website first. For example, the main pages are the most visible parts that visitors look at on a frequent basis. Now, after you have uploaded those parts, you can move on to the less-critical parts of your website. If you have a large website with a lot of sections, you might want to spread out the sections among different days. You may also want to upload the least-critical sections first. I can’t stress the importance of making sure you perform a backup before you start moving things. Use the temporary URL that your new host has provided you and check as many pages as possible.

Once you are satisfied and everything seems like it’s working correctly, change over your DNS to the new host. This usually takes 24 or 48 hours, so, you have a little time to perform minor fixes if it’s necessary. You may also want to use this spare time to modify your old website’s custom error pages to inform your visitors of the move and give them a new URL if there has been a URL change during the move.

After your DNS has finally resolved, don’t release your old hosting account just yet. Keep it on hand for as long as 2 weeks and run it frequently. Go back and check out your old servers for activity. Check out your old email account on the old hosting server to make sure that there isn’t any communication left over there. This is especially important if you have a web based form on your old server. Once the site is running at a good rate on the new server, and all traffic as well as communication has been successfully transitioned over, you may cancel the old hosting account. That’s it, you’re done, just make sure the move is as smooth as possible for your clients and visitors. If you’re not sure triple-check your work.

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