Once you have a website up and running, people often regard web hosting as a bit of a utility - pay for it and it's there. Often, websites sit on the same web host's server for many years without any issues. But one day - perhaps completely out of the blue - you will need to move your website to another provider. And that can be a daunting prospect.
Why would I want to move my site to a new provider?
There are countless reasons why you might need to move to a new web host. One of the reasons might be that the site has outgrown the account you are using right now. What once was a small website with only a few html pages, might well now be a database-driven site with, if not all, but quite a few of the available bells and whistles that are available.
Before it gets to the stage where you need a new host, your current provider is most likely to contact you and let you know that some sort of upgrade (perhaps to a VPS account or dedicated server) might be necessary. If the web host you have now really can't manage your site, it is time to move on. However, possibly the principal reason people move hosts is because they are not satisfied with their current provider.
A few years ago sites I owned were taken offline because a programming error on one of my sites was impacting my host's server. The first I heard about it was when people I knew contacted me to ask me why my sites were down. Obviously, I could not stand for that, and so started a journey I would rather not have taken, but one I was glad I did.
Where should I move my site to?
Obviously, the first step was to find a new host, and with thousands of alternatives available,that wasn't the easiest part of the journey. Thankfully, the web hosting community has a number of key outlets where people ask for and receive advice. The FindUKHosting.com forum for instance is a great source of information where you can find out which web hosts are great, which are good, which are cheap, and which you shouldn't touch with a bargepole. Within no time I had made what I thought was a great choice of web host.
Who's going to move my site?
The reason I chose the host I did was because they claimed in advertising they migrated your websites to your new web hosting account. Which was true, except for the fact that once an account was paid for they informed customers that it actually took a calendar month for them to make the migration. I hadn't expected this. While most of my sites weren't mission critical, one or two were, and so I had to set about dealing with my new set of circumstances.
The html-based sites were easy to transfer - just set up an new folder on my new server, upload, and there they were. Nothing to it. My Joomla and WordPress websites proved not to be so easy. Although the web host I chose had an installer for a range of scripts, they didn't include the versions my site were built using. As a result, I was forced to install the latest versions myself - not too much of a hassle but time consuming and time I hadn't expected to use on this task. However, at the time installing software on a server was the limit of my technical abilities and moving databases over to the new account had to be done by a freelancing programmer - at cost of course... a cost I hadn't expected to incur. And the freelancer wasn't available to do them all, so I had to learn how to do it myself - URGH!
My .php-based custom-built ecommerce site was another story. It had all the bells and whistles and moving it needed the full-time attention of my developer - time he didn't have available. For a month I had to run too accounts until my developer made the move for me. The bottom line here was my move was a kneejerk reaction to my host's tardiness and not thinking things through cost me in terms of time and expense. Even though my host offered a 30-day money back satisfaction guarantee, they really hadn't done anything wrong. Yes, they may had been a bit misleading on the migration issue, but in fact it had been my responsibility to read their Service Level Agreement and contracts and make sure I understood their terms before I used their services.
What about the domain names?
I made the big mistake of using the same provider for my domain names and my web hosting service - in retrospect a disaster waiting to happen. I had to move my domain names from my current provider and to do that I needed to get codes from them, etc. which I then needed to send to the new domain company - a domain name specialist rather than my new host. It wasn't difficult, but it caused tensions, and it could have been easier. I realize now that with a separate entity managing my domains, it would simply have been a matter of going into an account, changing the DNS to point to my new hosts servers, and waiting - usually a lot less than the 24 hours companies suggest it takes for the DNS to propagate and redirect. Learn from my mistake!
What about databases?
I now know what to do to transfer a database, but as I said before, I learned under duress and would rather not have had to learn that way. Luckily, the host I chose had excellent tutorials which taught me how to do it. If you are intent on doing it yourself, tools such as phpMyAdmin make it relatively painless. You have to set up a new MySQL database on your new server, import your existing database, then edit the config.php file so it has the name required for it to function with your site. My advice now is, of course, choose a host with excellent tutorials!
What about email?
One way or another, I got the sites transferred and then sat and started working on my sites as I had before. At that stage I realized my email accounts were brand spanking new, without even a single email to sully their shininess. I realized then that not only did my previous host manage my site and my domain, they also stored my emails.
Again, it became quickly apparent that I should have used a third-party for my email. It's such a key element of a business's survival, and losing emails is so disruptive, that spending $50 a year for one of the key players like Google to manage your email certainly pays dividends. Of course, I had to change my DNS for email to reach my new server, and that's when the reality of using Google/Microsoft/Yahoo, etc. kicked in.
I managed to export my email and then import it into a Google account, but it was messy, and I didn't manage to keep all the folders and rules I had on my old server - it all needed setting up again and that was a real time and spirit killer.
What about DNS?
With everything in place, my websites on my new host's servers, and my email now in Google, it was necessary to change the DNS of my domain name so it pointed at the new domain, and also add Google's DNS on my new server so emails were directed to my new Google account - with the excellent tutorials my host had, both relatively easy tasks - simply a matter of adding numerical codes and waiting for a transfer to take place.
Within 24 hours everything was working as it should, and I said goodbye to my old web host.If I had to change web hosts again I think it would be a relatively easy affair because I would be prepared. I have now everything in compartments (domain with one provider, email with another, hosting with another) and if anything should go wrong it is only going to be a matter of making sure I plan the migration - get my developer on board and let him tell me when to make the shift and when to do the spadework beforehand. And then do it!