If you own/manage a website, it is inevitable that you will have to change your web host one day. It could be due to the poor services of your current host, or that your site traffic exploded and you need to move on to a bigger host to accommodate the traffic. Whatever the case, most people will agree that it is never a joyous event to switch server. Your site will be down/unstable/inaccessible during the migration period and it could potentially lead to loss of sales. In this article, we are going to show you how you can migrate your site to a new server effortlessly and without any (or minimal) downtime.
There are two main type of web hosting: Shared hosting and VPS/Dedicated hosting. Shared hosting means that the site is hosted in a shared environment and share the same IP address as hundreds (or even thousands) other sites. In shared hosting, the administrative control given to the user is usually very limited, so there is practically no way to manipulate the DNS feature. On the other hand, VPS/dedicated hosting gives the users absolute control over their servers and they can play around with the DNS feature to reduce the downtime. Let’s take a look below at how we can reduce the downtime for these two hosting environments.
Note: This tutorial assumes that you are using cPanel/WHM for your site hosting.
Migrating site in a shared hosting environment
1. Back up all the files in the old server. You can easily do this with any FTP programs. If you are running a dynamic site (like WordPress), remember to backup your database as well (via the PhpMyAdmin->Export)
2. Set up the new server. Copy all the files from the old server to the new server. Pay extra attention to keep the file structure intact. For dynamic website, set up a new database (with the exact same name and password) and import the whole database in. Again, make sure that the database structure is intact.
For static website
3. Go to your domain registrar and change the nameserver to the new server. That’s it. The DNS will take 24-48 hours to propagate. During this period of time, your site will be unstable, oscillating between the new and old server, but since it is a static website, so your visitors won’t see any differences. Avoid making any changes during this period of time.
For dynamic website
4. You will need to configure your site to point to the database at the new server (some web hosts don’t allow remote access to their database, so check with your web host before you begin). Open your cPanel in the new server. Scroll down until you see the icon Remote MySQL. Click on it.
Enter your domain name in the field and click “Add Host“.
Log out of cPanel. In your old server, open your database configuration file (for WordPress, it is the wp-config.php file). At the field where it asks you for database hostname detail, change it to the IP address of the new server. In WordPress:
/** MySQL hostname: Change 123.456.789.000 to your new server IP address */ define('DB_HOST', '123.456.789.000');
Save and upload to the old server.
5. Go to your domain registrar and change the nameserver to the new server. That’s it. While the DNS is propagating, your visitors will see content from the old server. However, as the database is pointed to the new server, all changes make on the site will be updated in the new server. Once the migration is done (24-48 hours time), your new server will be up and running with all the changes make during the migration.
Migrating site in a VPS/Dedicated hosting environment
Before we start, it is assumed that all users have root access to their servers and both the old and new servers are running cPanel/WHM.
1. Log in to the WHM in the old server. On the left panel, scroll down till you see the “Edit DNS Zone” link. Click on it.
2. Select the domain that you are migrating.
3. Look out for this field where it shows the domain name and the IP address.
Change the 86400 (or 14400) to 300. Save the changes.
What you have just done is set the TTL (Time To Live) value to 5 minutes so the DNS client will only cache the information in that record for 5 minutes (the common setting are 24 hours and 4 hours). Now you have to wait for 4-24 hours for this TTL value to propagate, depending on the original value.
4. Meanwhile, you can backup your old server and migrate all your files and databases to the new server. Test the new server to make sure that everything is working fine.
5. When you are ready to migrate the site, log into your old server WHM again. Go to the DNS zone page. This time, change the IP address to the new server’s IP. Save the changes.
What you have just done is to set this as a relay and point it to the new server.
6. Go to your domain registrar and change the nameserver to the new server. That’s it. In as little as 5 minutes, your new server will be up and running. As in all cases, the DNS will take 24-48 hours to propagate, so meanwhile, keep your old server intact (do not delete any files or terminate the service) until the DNS propagation has finished.
Let us know in the comments if this is useful to you.
Image credit: EJP Photo