Changing web hosts seems scarier than it really is. Here’s everything you need to know about transferring your website to a new hosting company.
Like many small business owners, you may own and run your own website. Whether it’s a small site providing basic information, or a much larger one used for e-commerce or marketing, there will likely come a time when you find yourself needing a new hosting provider. And like many small business owners, knowing all of the intricacies of website building and management is not necessarily on top of your list of top.
Finding a new host
Your first step into transitioning will be to shop around and evaluate your options. There is a virtual (pun intended) feeding frenzy of hosting providers, all competing for your attention and patronage. So much so that the process of finding a new hosting provider can often be the most challenging aspect of moving your website. All of these companies may have their pros and cons, and it’s hard to make sweeping generalizations as to what may work best for your particular company. Some hosting providers may be a great option for some, and a terrible option for others. It may be helpful to first look into the big-name companies in the hosting world, such as GoDaddy, Dreamhost, and Hostgator. But don’t ignore some of the smaller and lesser-known companies out there who may provide a better value or better overall experience for you and your organization. Another thing to keep in mind: if you happen to run a WordPress blog, it may be helpful to look for companies who specialize in WordPress hosting.
Your domain name
The next hurdle you may need to jump through is having your domain name transferred. This step will only apply to those who have registered their domain name through their previous hosting provider. Those who have registered their domain name through a separate service should only need to change the name servers to direct to the new host provider once the site is up and running. Your hosting provider should have some instructions on how to do this, and where to find the correct name servers.
For those who have registered their domain name through their current hosting provider, this is where things can get tricky. You may need to contact your current provider to first see if this is something the company will allow. You may be surprised to find out that the process isn’t exactly straightforward. The next thing you need to find out is how long it will take to have the domain name transferred. This process can often take several days, so be sure to plan accordingly, so as to avoid any downtime.
Moving Your Data
This is where the real “fun” begins. The first thing you need to do is to save all of your files from your previous server. There are two ways this can be done. The first way will not work for all websites, and may not be the most thorough, and in some circles may be seen as less than orthodox. However, for some simple, basic, websites this should do the trick just fine. Just go to the file manager, if your host offers such an option, and download all of the files from your website, compress it all into a .zip file (some file manager tools on some hosts may have this ability built-in – results may vary), then simply upload the .zip file to your new host’s server and extract the files. All of your files should then be located in all of the same folders and directories as they were in your previous host. This process will most likely not work with more complex websites, especially those with a MySQL database.
The other option would be to simply download each individual file from the old host, and upload each individual file to the new host via an FTP client. Though this may be time-consuming, it can help you maintain control over which file goes where, and making sure each and every piece of data is present and accounted for. For websites that do use a MySQL database, you will need to export the database so that you can import it to the new host. Luckily, there are a few tutorials that can show you how to do this with relatively little pain and, hopefully, few tears.
Switching your DNS
The next step is to update your name servers. Your DNS (domain name system) essentially ties the link between your domain name, and the numerical IP address assigned to it. This is a relatively simple step, however, it can take quite some time for the entire switch to take effect. For reasons much too long and complex to go into fine detail in a brief article, one should expect the full change to take effect within 24 to 48 hours. Your new host should have instructions on how to change your name servers, and what numbers go where. In the meantime, it’s important to avoid making any major changes during this 24-48 hour window, since some users may see the changes whilst others may not. You can use a site like whatsmydns.net to check on the status of your DNS transition and keep up to date on whether the process is finalized or not.
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You have now completed the entire process. The last step is to delete your files from your previous host and cancel your account. If all goes according to plan, your website should be up and running just as well as it was before. It may be helpful to double-check, then triple check, to make sure your website is functioning properly and everything is running smoothly. Then treat yourself to a victory lap around your office, you deserve it.