(Gawkwire.com) Saying goodbye to an old home, no matter if you live in an apartment, shack or three story house is never easy to do. Before you can say hello to your new dwelling, you have to get all your personal belongings organized, boxed up, onto the moving truck and sent over. Now depending on how much stuff you have gathered over the years and how well you organized before hand this could a very simple task to complete or a difficult one. The same mind set could be used when it comes to moving you web site over to a new web hosting company.
For hosting clients, the move is not always an easy one to understand. Some do not even realize that the files must be moved to a new machine. Often times I’ll get people who almost seemed shocked. While this is amusing to us who spend our day to day lives neck deep in server, disk space and bandwidth, others still find the process of moving from host to host a difficult one to wrap their minds around.
The first and most important thing you can do is backup your web site and get it ready for the move. Remember to grab all of your static files. This would be all of your non-dynamic pages, images, templates and more. To make it easier to understand, consider it anything and everything you can FTP into the account to grab inside of where your public files live. The exact files that you do backup might change depending on how your site is setup. If you have organized your web site well you should know exactly what files are in what folders and you should have no problem knowing for example, all the images are in the image folder. If your like me though, and a ‘bit of a server slob you might have a more difficult time. Those of us who just kind of "toss" things onto the hosting account and say, "I’ll organize that later" will have a harder time finding all the static files to backup.
Backing up Isn’t Fun To Do
If your using a content management system, then you might search the official site for that CMS to find the best way to backup the information it stores. Often you can also backup you databases (MySQL, MSSQL, ect). Control panels can really come in handy when it comes to backing up too. All of the major control panels that your hosting account could come with should have a backup function built in.
You should also always keep a backup of your web site in my opinion (make one at least one a month) no matter if your moving or not. That makes this job easier to manage and getting everything moved from the Web to your computer shouldn’t be such a big job.
Put Your Moving Pants On…
Next step you are going to want to take is to take all of those files, folders, databases and more from your computer to the new web host. Before transferring the information over, check with your new web host to see if you will be able to view your web site as it should be seen with the temporary URL they give you. Often if they give you a URL like this: http://www.dummyurl.com/~yourname
You will not be able to execute JSP, PHP and other advanced code types. If that is the case, see if they can set you up with a temporary real domain or sub domain. Most web hosts will be happy to do so – but it will be a service you need to ask for. Then you will know your web site will be able to be viewed by your domain name (with the old web host) or your temporary domain name (with the new web host).
They give you a domain such as testsite.testermctesttest.com. Now that you have a temporary domain that works with your new hosting plan you are ready to transfer over (via FTP) all of your static web site files.
Syncing Content, Keep it Static
Once the files are uploaded with your new web host – go back to your older web host and disable your databases and put up a nice message saying, "Web site going through move, will be back soon." or something to that effect. You need to turn off any dynamic content generation (like with forums or blogs/comments) so that your information moving from the old host to the new host will not be out of sync when your done.
Now let us go back to your new web hosting account and upload your scripts, services and databases that need to be restored. Each script will have it’s own way of doing this so best to check with the script provider to see what the best method might be.
Take a break. At this point you should have two working versions of your web site. They are: the web site with your domain name at the old web host and the web site with the temporary domain with the new web host. Both should be static, so that no content can be added or removed from them at this point in the move.
If all systems are go, then you are ready to move to the next step in the process.
Domain Names and Nameservers
Now you need to get your domain name to point to your web site with your new web host. To do this, login to the place where your domain name is registered and update your nameservers. These should be supplied to you by your new web hosting company and are what tells the domain name to point to the new hosting account and away from the old one.
Also, please not that if you talked your new web host into giving you a temporary domain (remember testsite.testermctesttest.com), now you will probably need to tell them you want to go back to using your actual domain name.
Now this nameserver update will take some time to complete. I would say give it 24 to 48 hours. After that time has gone by your domain name should be pointing at your new hosting account. While the change over it taking place, people will be taken (most often) to your web site with your old web host or your web site with the new web host.
As another side note of something to consider Matt Cutts (who works for the quality group in Google, specializing in search engine optimization issues) says that before you cancel your old web hosting account and take down that old web site you should wait until you see in your web site statistics that your new hosting account is being crawled by the search engine spiders. To quote his post on the subject on his blog, "Once you are sure people or Googlebots are fetching from the new webhost/IP address, you’re done. You can shut down the old site". Although the post where this advice was given is a little dated, this is still good advice in my opinion.
Once your domain starts pointing at your new web hosting plan, you are almost all done. Turn back on your dynamic content, forums, blogs, comments, and more. Break open some of the good bubbly stuff too because you just completed something that most people dread. I would put moving a web site from web host to web host right up there with doing your taxes. It is no fun at all. I would give it a week or two there before you cancel your old hosting account so that if you forgot to backup something you still have time to grab it before you old web host deletes it for good.