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Changing Web Hosts

Step-by-step guide to changing web hosts

Changing web hosts - Just thinking about it sends a chill up the spine of most webmasters. Much like moving into a new home, changing web hosts can be a difficult chore and often problems come up. But if you follow this simple step-by-step procedure, changing web hosts will be much easier for you.

Steps for successfully changing web hosts:

  1. Backup your site while it's still on your old web host.

    This is without a doubt the most important step in the entire process. If you've always made regular backups, you have a lot of insurance to fall back on if something goes wrong. But you should make a fresh backup right before changing web hosts "just in case". If you haven't made regular backups, do it now, before moving your site to your new web host!

    Backup everything you can, and don't forget about your database files if your site relies on them. Make at least two copies and store them in separate places. One copy is for you to work with. Keep the other as an archive. It's very easy to accidentally copy over your files as you change web hosts or to simply mess up the configuration.

    If you're moving your site to a web host that uses a different control panel, create a manual backup by downloading all of your files via FTP. The control panel used by your new web host might not be able to restore the backups that were created by your old web host.

    The new directory structure might be different as well, so your file trees will likely be in a mess. If you need to, record your old server configurations on a notepad. This will be a big help to you as you make changes on your new web host server. It will also eliminate much of the confusion while moving back and forth between the two web hosts.

    Remember to download the files using the correct file type (Binary or ASCII). If your download isn't performed correctly, you'll probably have a difficult time getting your site to work properly on the new web host server.

    If you value your old server logs and wish to keep them, remember to back those up along with the rest of your files. There's no simple way of moving server logs as yet because different web hosts may log site statistics in different ways. The best thing for you to do is to simply download them and use a log file analyzer on your local PC to refer to later on.
  2. Gather odds & ends for use with changing web hosts:
    • A good FTP program (you probably already
      have one)
    • Your new web host server's DNS settings
    • It also helps to use a script that tells you the server environments that are installed on your new server for quick reference.
    • Write down the temporary URL provided by your new web host so you can preview your site before you making the DNS change.
    • If your web host controls the domain for you, instruct them not to change your DNS settings until you tell them to.
    • If you run scripts, get a copy of each script along with the original installation guides. Often, after moving scripts to a new web host, they just don't work correctly. You might end up having to install the scripts from scratch.
    • Make a list of all the server paths, especially Perl, Sendmail, and the home directory on your new server.
    • If a script requires special server modules or programs in order to run, make sure they're installed and write down the path to them. Although these might be included with your new hosting account, the host may have removed them or simply not installed them yet.
  3. Tell your visitors about your new web host.

    It's very common, and always a good practice to let your visitors and customers know that you plan to move to a new web host. If you run an e-commerce site, this helps reassure your customers that you haven't fled with their money should there be any downtime.

    Also provide an alternate email address so you won't miss any important emails during the transfer. You may also wish to provide periodic updates prior-to, during, and after the move. If you have a large site, this is very helpful because your visitors can alert you if there is a part of the site that isn't working.
  4. Moving the site to the new web host.

    It's recommended that you schedule the move for a time when the site receives the least traffic. Remember to back up the site just before you start the move so you'll have a copy of the latest data.

    Start by creating a custom error page on both the new web host server and the old one. Place a short note on the page explaining that you're in the process of changing web hosts. You can always remove this page later.

    Next, upload the most visible parts of the site first, such as the main pages. Then move on to the least important parts of the site. If you have a huge website with many directories, it might be best to split them across different days and move the least critical directories first.

    Just make sure you always make a fresh backup before you do any moving. Using your temporary URL, check your site by visiting as many pages as possible.
  5. Change the DNS settings to point to the new web host server.

    Once you're satisfied that everything has been moved to the new server and the site is working correctly, you need to go ahead and change your DNS settings to point to the new web host server.

    It usually takes anywhere from 24-48 hours for the new DNS settings to propagate around the world, so you'll have plenty of time to make minor adjustments to the site if required.

    To help you determine when the DNS has resolved (and visitors are now seeing your site on the new server), make a small change on the new pages to help you quickly differentiate between the old site and the new one.
  6. Monitor the site on the new web server.

    After you've moved the site to the new web server and the DNS has resolved, keep the old site active for a few weeks. Go back and check the logs on the old server for user activity. Check your old email accounts to see if any messages are being left there.

    Be sure to keep your old account active until you start seeing referrals from Google in your new server logs and stop seeing Google referrals in your old server logs. You don't want potential visitors to find you with a Google search only to be unable to reach your site when they click!

    Once you're sure that all email and traffic is being correctly routed to the new web host server and that Google has indexed the site on it, you can close out your old web hosting account. You're done!
The steps in this guide will help you move your site to a new web host with the least amount of trouble and downtime. Just be careful and plan the move carefully and you'll do just fine!

Article courtesy of HostVoice.net, a free online service that brings hosting companies and consumers together. Visit them and request a free quote. You'll receive offers from qualifying hosts within 15 minutes!

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