There are a number of technologies and platforms available to assist with the process of website migration from one server to another. It’s unfortunate, that even with the existence of such a plethora of tools, the average user will experience periods of downtime while completing (or attempting to complete) the transfer process. There are additional factors that come into play that are not so visible. For instance, transfer speeds for the DNS servers to update from the old to new host may have downtime of somewhere around 12 – 72 hours once the request to change has been submitted to the new provider. The process of transferring a website to a new host server may cause a site to experience up to 24 hours of inactivity as files, databases and configurations are set up on the new host server and validated. Although, it does not have to.
However, as we all have come to understand with the greatness that is the open source market, tricks and resources exist to help avoid a natural disaster during this process. The information following is fairly straightforward and easy to do as long as the developer has a general knowledge of cPanel/Plesk, IP addresses, and detailed FTP login practices. This will ensure they are able to work with the new web hosting plan’s configuration before DNS is altered and transferred to the new host provider’s server.
The ultimate goal for any website administrator is to ensure this process is accomplished with the customer being completely unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes. Multiple factors will dictate a more defined process such a hosting provider, server type and software configurations. The goal of the following is to provide a working framework to base the migration on.
Let’s dive right in.
Step 1: Website Migration Planning
There are a few pre-transfer tasks to ensure all points are accounted for prior to undertaking the project.
Ensure all necessary website files are updated, important databases are optimized and all software installs and subdomain configurations are current and in working order. Once existing functionality has been validated, avoid any additional changes or updates to the site until the transfer is complete and the site is live and functioning properly on the new server.
Proper planning prevents poor performance
A key step at this point involves preparing for the DNS changes. This can get tricky and timing is everything to ensure minimal to no downtime during the website transfer. Login to the domain manager where the website is currently registered. This may or may not be the same as the current website hosting provider. There should be various records (A, CNAME, MX etc.) available.
The changes here involve lowering the record Time-To-Live (TTL) value for the A record which is where the new hosting server IP address will be updated later in the process. This basically determines how frequently DNS details are retrieved. Updates are usually effective within 24-48 hours hence the need to complete this step as early on as possible. 600 seconds is a good starting point but let the project needs define the necessary value.
Hold That Call
A common error made by website developers and administrators who are newer to web hosting endeavors, or new to transferring their websites between servers all together, is that they will contact their old host to let them know they plan to move their services to a new hosting provider’s servers. This can and should wait! Notifying the old web host provider in a timely manner is necessary but doing so prematurely can result in more than a few hours of downtime. The possibility of a complete loss of files and database information also arises since the hosting providers often immediately process the request when a cancellation is submitted, deleting all of the website information from their server forever.
Step 2: Set The Flow
After validating the current hosting environment, we need to purchase and configure the new server. Most host providers offer various plan options. With a little research, it’s fairly simple to select a good web host provider for the defined hosting need. Grab the login details and head over to the control panel and get familiar. The process of configuring the new hosting server will vary dependent on the host provider selected and the desired platform which will be used to actual power the website. It is common for website host providers to offer ‘one-click’ installs of Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress and Drupal.
Grab a complete copy of your server files and databases along with any email configurations/forwarders. This is accomplished easiest through FTP but manual downloads should be an option as well, if deciding to go that route. Modify database table references as needed depending on whether or not the website domain is being updated. I won’t bore you with those details here. I will mention that, through use of a CMS, more specifically WordPress, there will possibly be the need to update various configuration files to ensure the site reads properly from the new server. Get more details here.
Step 3: The Finale
The final step begins with transferring all files downloaded in the previous step to the new website hosting server and validating complete functionality. There will likely be a ‘preview site’ option that provides a temporary url for your newly hosted site. If there are errors, this is the time to dig in and correct them. Check with the selected hosting provider for more details on access to site previews. Do not proceed until you have confirmed the new site is working. It may be limited on access but it should at least be reading from the new server, displaying the site content or some variation of it.
Once everything is satisfactory the DNS management can begin. Head back to the DNS manager and update the A record to point to the new website hosting server. Since the TTL was lowered and is now refreshing more often, changes should reflect within that time frame. Sit back and enjoy!
Now is the time to consider cancelling the current hosting plan with the old provider. Allow the website to run for a few days on the new host servers just to be sure there are absolutely no issues missed.
Again, many factors will determine how detailed of a process the migration of a website to a new hosting provider is but this outline should provide a good framework to keep the tasks focused and effective.
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