For many website owners, web hosting is kind of a mysterious thing, and migrating from one host to another can be a confusing process. It’s also a technical process, and because of that, can cause stress when things don’t go right.
Understanding what web hosting is, and the basic hosting migration process will help you be a better website owner and more informed business owner.
What is Website Hosting?
Web hosting is an essential component for a website to be able to exist, and be accessed by public on the internet. More a more technical level, web hosting is a digital container, of sorts, where a website’s files and database are stored. Whenever a person types a website address into their browser, the browser attempts to connect to your hosting provider in order to load and display the website.
Hosting has evolved substantially in the last decade, and is continuing to evolve.
Not too long ago, websites were hosted on physical servers. Picture a desktop computer box like the one you have in your home or office. That’s what a physical server looks like except it is setup to run a website, not the programs you use everyday. While such hosting solutions are still in use today, there are also newer hosting solutions available such as “virtualized” hosting or cloud hosting. With cloud hosting, many servers at a time are clustered together and each tap into a pool of centralized resources like memory and processing power.
Dedicated vs. Shared Hosting
If you are in the process of shopping out hosting options, you will probably come across these terms. You will also notice that shared hosting is far less expensive than dedicated. So what’s the difference?
Shared hosting refers to a specific server setup in which many websites are hosted on one server. All of the websites on the server share the same set of resources such as CPU and memory. Because one server is sharing resources between many websites, it allows the owner of each website to pay a fraction of the price they would for the entire server.
You can think of purchasing shared hosting like renting an apartment. Apartment renters don’t pay for the cost of owning an entire building, instead they only pay for the single space they occupy within a building.
There are occasions when shared hosting is not enough to power a website, and a more robust solution (dedicated hosting) is needed instead. Some of the common circumstances that call for dedicated hosting are:
- When a website receives high amounts of daily traffic
- Websites that are large in size and need additional storage space
- When a website performs complex functions, or hold sensitive user data
Let’s go back to to the apartment comparison from earlier. If shared hosting is like an apartment, then dedicated hosting is like a house. Unlike an apartment, it is your space exclusively and shared with no one else. It is more secure, larger, and can be customized to fit your needs and personal tastes.
Typical Migration Process
Hosting migrations are complex and should be done by someone who has the expertise to carry out all the required steps and troubleshoot errors if they occur.
The process we outline below is very basic, but is typical for simple and small websites. But before you start working with a new hosting company, you should ensure that you have the following things ready-to-go:
1. DNS admin access
2. Website admin access
3. Backup of your website
1. New Environment Setup
The first step to a proper hosting migration is to ensure that the new host is setup properly and functioning well. This step of the process will depend upon what type of website you have. For WordPress websites, we want to ensure that the server is equipped with the latest version of PHP, Apache (or Nginx), and MySQL.
PHP is the programming language the WordPress needs in order to run, and likewise, MySQL is the database that WordPress uses to store information. They are both important, and without them, your website couldn’t exist. You can always check the latest version requirements suggested by WordPress by checking their codex.
As a smart website owner, you should ask questions to ensure that the agency or hosting provider you are working with is aware of these requirements. If they aren’t then you shouldn’t work with them, I can promise you it will cost you money in the long run.
2. Migrating Web Files & Database
Once the new server and hosting space are properly provisioned. The next step is to “stand up” the website on a temporary website address or IP address. To do this, the website files and site database need to be copied to the new hosting space and properly configured.
To perform this for a WordPress website, your web developer will need back-end access to your website. In order words, they need your username and password that would use at sitename.com/wp-admin
This step generally results in an identical and fully functional version of your website being available to test. We do suggest you test thoroughly, and cannot reiterate this enough. Components of your website can break while it is being migrated, and it will work out much better for you if you can catch any discrepancies during your migration instead of weeks later.
Don’t just take a quick glance at your homepage and call it day. Really test drive your site. Play with the search, add things to the cart, create a new account. Do whatever you need to do in order to ensure your site is running as you expect it to.
If you don’t test, and weeks later you find an issue, I can promise that the line, “I swear it worked before” won’t get you very far and your host will tell you to go hire a programmer to fix the issue. If they do, call us 🙂
3. DNS Changes
Your Domain Name Service (DNS) is a crucial component to migrating a website, so it is important you can access it. Your web host will need to be able to log into your DNS and make changes in order for your migrated website to be “live.” Your domain’s DNS is like a phonebook that tells web browsers where to lookup and retrieve a website when the web address is typed into a browser.
On a more technical level, because web browsers interact through internet protocol (IP) addresses, a DNS translates domain names to IP addresses so they can load web assets.
Hosting migrations can always be done faster if you can provide your web developer with DNS credentials up front.
Show Up Prepared
Look, the reality is that you have a business to run. The last thing you want to do is spend hours on a tech support chat or sending tickets back and forth with a faceless support agent getting nowhere.
I’ve conducted thousands, literally thousands, of hosting migrations, and do you want to know what the #1 source of delay in getting websites properly launched was?
Clients not knowing where their DNS login information is.
No one on the planet, regardless of skill or ability, can pull any form of technologic wizardry that makes you void of having to know where your DNS credentials are. And when you’re paying some company an hourly rate to migrate your website, you don’t want to pay them to give you bad news.
Our advice? Before you start looking for a new web host, go track down your DNS credentials first. You’ll thank us later.