No matter how experienced you are with technology, I think we can all agree that power surges are the worst. Resetting clocks for your microwave, oven, and media devices like VCRs and DVD players is something you’ll find yourself doing for days after the fact. I still forget which buttons to push for the inevitable last device or two that needs my help after the fact.
Worse still is rebooting your computer. While we’ve become spoiled by newer versions of Microsoft Office that automatically recover the last document or email we were working on, this wasn’t always the case. The prospect of remembering the last several minutes – or hours – of work you did is an exercise in frustration that is unparalleled.
Then I started working in the world of websites and found there was in fact something worse.
Prior to my time as a GoDaddy agent, my experience with websites was largely limited to WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) platforms, Dreamweaver, and wordpress.com. I’d never run my own server, and had only developed basic sensibilities for how not to run one from my time at hibu.
Learning how limited my knowledge was and powering through it to make it my strongest area of expertise was, for lack of a better word, terrifying. I was expected to be able to identify enough information to fix an issue or competently explain it to one of our hosting experts so they could help me do it, and to say our training for this was inadequate is being quite generous.
My work history has shown me that adaptability is my strongest trait, as I’ve learned how to become an expert in a variety of topics with minimal guidance, including prescription drug coverage, digital cameras, mortgage paperwork, and most elements of website design, writing, and maintenance.
While I was able to lean on this strength to join the hosting team and became one of the most knowledgeable agents on the subject, many business owners don’t have this particular skill as they’re starting out. Fewer still know they need it, especially when it comes to managing their website.
While you don’t necessarily need to worry about power surges once you’ve uploaded a site with Dreamweaver or installed WordPress on a server, some of the scarier individuals of the Internet have made it a point to ruin as many websites as they can through the use of malware, bots, and targeted hacking.
These people suck, and are the reason firewalls and antimalware measures need to exist.
They’re also one of the primary reasons for today’s article. A good website is going to have many hours invested in it before it launches, and should something happen to yours, the loss of your income will seem like nothing compared to the painful prospect of redoing those hours of work – especially if you’ve utilized the additional maintenance time to bring out its best.
What steps can I take to protect my website’s data?
There are a few countermeasures you can take to protect yourself from this. Those who have read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire may remember the importance of constant vigilance, and while we won’t be using this concept against dark wizards, it’s a good motto to live by online. Web developers, firewalls, malware scanners, and regular visits to your website can help you catch an issue before it becomes a catastrophe.
Other essential countermeasures come from a pair of lessons power surges taught me when I was younger – save often and take backups. As important for websites as video games and documents, you never know when your power might be interrupted, a piece of hardware will fail, or your website will be hacked.
And yes, the use of the word “when” is on purpose. “If” is nothing short of naïve when it comes to hackers, regardless of how big your site is, how long it has been online, or where it ranks on Google. Trust me when I say bots don’t care about these or other circumstances when trying to break in – I speak from experience.
This is where website backups enter the picture
Websites get compromised all the time, but the good news is that the damage is limited to your web host’s server. If you’ve saved a copy of your website to your local computer, an external hard drive, or a flash drive (or all of them – you can’t have too many backups), fixing the damage is as simple as replacing your broken website with your backup.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Your first step, and the reason you’re here, is to learn how to take these backups. To that end, here’s a video we put together that covers the process from start to finish.
I’d rather read about how to perform a website backup than watch the video
No problem, we’ve got you covered. Just follow these steps and you’ll have a good idea of what needs to be done. There may be a little bit of variance depending upon the company that is hosting your website. Please also note most WYSIWYG platforms like Wix, Weebly, Strikingly, and GoCentral will NOT allow you to save a backup copy of your website to your computer.
• Download an FTP client. We recommend FileZilla, but if you prefer a different program like Cyberduck, that will work as well.
• Get your FTP connection details. These will include a hostname (your IP address or URL), FTP username, FTP password, and port (usually 21). If you use a platform like cPanel or Plesk, you have a root username and password that are already created. Otherwise you can create your own, or ask your web host for guidance about how to find this info.
• Connect to your server and download your website files. FileZilla has a “Quickconnect” bar across the top of its window where you can enter your FTP details. A successful connection will show your server’s files on the right side of the screen, while your computer’s files are present on the left side. Downloading or uploading your website only copies the files you are working with, so your website will continue to run smoothly afterward.
• Get the name of your website’s database (if any). If you built your website using HTML, Dreamweaver, Muse, or iWeb, you’re done backing up your site! If you used a CMS (Content Management System) like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, find the file that contains your website’s connection strings in your backup, then get the database name from that file.
• Download a copy of your database. Most popular providers will allow access to databases through phpmyadmin. From there, click the name of your database on your left, then the export button that appears at the top of the page, and finally the “Go” button on the next screen to save a copy to your computer (Button names may vary slightly depending on your web host).
If you are one of the few using a MSSQL (Microsoft SQL) database instead of the usual MySQL database, you may need a tool like SQL Server Management Studio to take your database backup. Reach out to your web host to verify you have the access necessary to do this.
• Copy the files and database to an external device. If your device isn’t plugged in, a hacker can’t get to it. This way, if your computer gets infected by a virus, you’ll have an untouched copy of your website backup once everything is cleaned up.
I need to upload a website backup to my web host’s server. How do I do this?
Whether you are uploading a finished product from your developer, fixing a mistake that has locked you out of your website’s dashboard, or cleaning up a hacked website, this 20 minute video has you covered.
I’d rather read the CliffsNotes version of how to upload my website
You’ve got it. Many of the steps are going to look similar to those presented earlier for backing up a website, but there are some key differences you’ll need to keep an eye out for with database driven websites to ensure they operate as intended once you finish uploading.
• Download and install your favorite FTP client. As before, FileZilla is our FTP program of choice, but alternatives like Cyberduck are just as effective.
• Jot down your server’s FTP information. The four things you’ll need are your IP address or URL (the hostname), your FTP username, your FTP password, and the port number. Most popular web hosts use port 21, though port 22 comes up for secure FTP, and developers running their own server can choose their own.
• Connect to your server and upload your website. The easiest way to do this in FileZilla is through the Quickconnect option at the top of the screen, as it has all the fields you need in plain sight. Once connected, you’ll drag your website files from the left side of the screen (your computer) to the right side of the screen (your server). Make sure you upload the files directly into the server folder they need to be in, and don’t hide them in a subfolder where your server can’t see them. The video outlines this in greater detail.
• Retrieve the name of your database (if any). As before, this only applies to certain types of websites, such as those created in WordPress, Moodle, Joomla, etc. If your website does not have a database, you’re finished once your files upload. All CMS environments that use a database (which is most of them) have a file that contains your database details. Keep this file handy.
• Create an empty database. This MUST use the same name as the one in your website files. If you intend to change it, do so in the file first, then create the empty database on your web host’s server using the new name. If they don’t match, your website will have an error establishing a database connection.
• Create a user and assign it to your database. Industry standards like cPanel and Plesk make this pretty easy, and you’ll often find these settings in the same area where you created your database. If your web host has made the process less than obvious, they should be able to point you in the right direction.
• Verify that your database host is correct in your uploaded website files. Platforms like cPanel make this extremely easy, as they’ll almost always use “localhost”. Some environments are trickier, requiring you to match up a specific IP or server name. As before, if your web host is obscuring this critical information, they should be able to help you find it.
• Upload your database. This can usually be done in phpmyadmin. Just click the name of your database, then the import button that appears at the top of the page, then use the browse button to find your database on your computer, and finally click the “Go” button to upload the file. Button names may vary between environments.
Those using a MSSQL database may need to resort to SQL Server Management Studio instead. Your web host should be able to clarify whether this is necessary and that you have the necessary permissions to do this.
My web host’s instructions are a little different than yours, who should I listen to?
Always defer to your web host in cases like this. No two companies handle web hosting exactly the same way, and this guide is not a comprehensive layout for every way you can complete a website backup or upload – that would get confusing very quickly!
That said, the general instructions you’ll find here are applicable to many big industry names like GoDaddy, Bluehost, and HostGator, and can be used with the hosting platforms we offer in our store as well.
We also provide a full website backup of any WordPress site we create for you free of charge, because we know they’re just that important. To learn more about how to have us design yours, swing by our contact page or give us a call at 319-229-5225 for your FREE consultation.
Braden is one of the founders of Midwest Websites, and has been professionally writing and developing websites for over 7 years. His blog posts often take an experience from his life and showcase lessons from it to help you maximize online presence for your business.