Moving web hosts is not something that most website administrators look forward to, and most of the time it is very time consuming and complex. With proper preparation, however, the transition can be smooth and your visitors will never notice the difference.
Recently I moved from Bluehost’s shared hosting plan to MediaTemple’s (gs) Grid Server. This was brought about by a second DDOS attack on my Bluehost box in a few months. The first time it happened it was annoying because I hosted some very important email with them, but this time it was seriously inconvenient because I host about 5 sites in addition to mine, and one of the companies I host for was about to start a critical press release send out before going on an important trip. Downtime was not an option, so I moved to the (gs) to have multiple redundancies as well as lots of room to grow. The (gs) is unique because it relies on dozens, and often hundreds, of servers to host websites, meaning each site has the equivalent of far more powerful dedicated hosting packages for an excellent price.
After I decided to move hosts, I made a list of things that needed to be done, so here’s what you should check before flipping the switch on your new hosting service.
Have a good ‘Net connection
You’ll be doing a lot of uploads during the switch, as files are returned to their places. If you have a local copy of your website you can skip the download process and start right away with the uploading. I mirror all my websites every night, but since I wasn’t at home at the time, I couldn’t utilize the backups. Uploading the files again took a while though, so make sure your connection is strong and free of bottlenecks.
Plan your attack
As with many other daunting tasks, be sure to plan out what you want to do beforehand. Make a list of everything that needs to be done for your users to maintain access. Extra time here thinking hard to remember everything will save headaches later on.
Keep your original hosting package
I’ve made this mistake before. When I moved to Bluehost originally, I actually cancelled my very first package prematurely, and for a few hours my site was completely inaccessible. Purchase your new hosting package, move your files, but don’t change over the DNS records until the very end. You might not get some of the money back from your original host, but you’ll save your visitors many frustrations.
Backup MySQL databases
MySQL is the cornerstone of many online applications now, and they’re easy to forget because they cannot be accessed via FTP. Be sure to log into your account control panel and download the .sql backup files of all your databases. Upload them to your new databases, and you shouldn’t need to make any changes to their content. You will need to update your configuration files for connecting to these databases before you can properly access them. This is a very important step because it can have a huge negative effect on your website when it is running again (You’ve seen those WordPress database errors before).
Check email records (or use Google Apps)
A somewhat of a hidden setting, the MX record of your domain indicates to incoming mail where you’d like it to be sent. If you host email on your own domain, you’ll just have to make sure the same username/inboxes exist on both servers. If you use Google Apps (and you probably should be), make sure the domain name record on the new hosting package is updated to reflect the Google information. This is typically done in the domain list file somewhere in your control panel.
Make the switch
This step is very easy to do, but requires a little though beforehand. If you don’t remember which service is hosting your domain name, you’ll need to use a service like Whois.net to do a Whois query. This will point you to the correct website, where you’ll then need to find the correct log in information. Once you have access, it is as simple as changing the DNS record to the new hosting.
Wait for the changes to take effect
With the DNS record changed, you’re left waiting for the change to take effect. Be sure to follow the website closely so that when the change goes through, you can find anything that might be wrong. The reason for the delay is that your DNS record is cached throughout the internet, meaning a change to one server needs some time to “propagate” through the rest of network. You might even find that some people are able to access the new site before you, which is just because of the way ISPs are connected to the web.
That covers most of the things you’ll need to remember when changing your site. I followed each of these while moving mine over, and so far have had few problems. A hosting upgrade can give you much more space to work with, and provide power for your website growth in the future.