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Moving websites between web hosting providers for beginners

Updated on April 26, 2012

The process of how to move large websites from one host to another can be complex, even smaller ones can be a cumbersome task. It depends greatly on the experience you have with such transfers and your knowledge of how hosting works. The majority of websites can be easily transferred without losing any information, corrupting your data, or having any real downtime due to the transfer between hosting providers.

How to move a larger size website from one host to another are simple, but somethings must be kept in mind.

Ask Yourself, Do You Need Assistance?

First of all, you should consider what level of assistance you really need, as a user. Some users are completely prepared to engage the transfer process independently, so they probably will not need to worry about this first warning. When moving larger websites, this means websites that are generally from 1 to 3 GB of data or larger. You want to be sure that you have access to both the new and old accounts before transferring anything, so make a list of all passwords, user names, account information, and backup all relevant data prior to starting the hosting transfer process.

Almost all hosting providers will require the use of file transfer protocol software or FTP for the transfer process. If you are not familiar with FTP software, you should take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with it before you begin also. Remember that larger websites require a lot of downloading and uploading time, so this will take some time with a very slow online connection. Some providers will have Secure Shell or SSH servers that will allow you some freedom and maneuverability when accessing your accounts, but not all will have this and some compatibility issues can occur. You may also want to decrease the download and upload time of your data by creating a tar file or other exportable version of your data, so that it can be unzipped from a smaller archive by the host server. These options will save some time in the transfer of your data from host to host.

Just because you have some of these user options, it does not mean that the process will be necessarily made easier for you. Again it really depends greatly on the experience that you have with host to host transfer of larger websites. With any of these user options, keep in mind that often the server will restore uploaded data to the default behavior for the regular users. Very often this causes transfer protocol issues that must be resolved by the superuser or administrators for the server host.

If you are not sure about how to correctly move your large websites from one host to another one safely, it is smart to contact your hosting providers for help. This is usually the swiftest and simplest way to get your large scale transfers done correctly. Besides you are paying for hosting, so why not ask for the help you need from the providers you have hired. Often they can FTP your data and extract it correctly with no problems at all, so when in doubt ask for their assistance. You really are saving everyone time, if you are very inexperienced at large website transfers from host to host.

What is DNS?

The one thing that maybe separate from you web hosting provider is you domain name, since it maybe registered with a separate DNS registration website or with you current website hosting provider.

Although many millions of people are using the Internet to access global information and databases today, so few still understand how the basics of it works. One such inner working of the online universe is DNS or the Domain Name System. Online users access and make use of the DNS everyday, but most do not understand how it functions at all.

Essentially DNS is the globally used system for organizing the naming of resources that are connected to the Internet or any privately maintained network. This naming system is organized by a traceable distribution hierarchy that allows for recognition of computers, networks, or services that are participants by being interconnected through the world of online resources. The DNS allows for all associated types of information to be understood via the domain names that have been assigned to any of the entities participating within the Domain Name System.

The DNS makes queries that are translated into numeric IP addresses, so that the domain names are easier to use by various entities across the Internet. The IP addresses also create an understandable grid that is used for finding and locating devices, computers, and services globally. The Domain Name System makes possible the ability to give singular domain names to multiple Internet related users or resources. Thus the assigned domain names translate information that is meaningful to the worldwide networks of computers or devices, but are not reliant on each one and their individual locations physically.

The DNS also allows for registered and assigned domain names to be easily translated, such as for purposes of Internet protocol variations like IPv4 or IPv6. For purposes of illustration and how the DNS works worldwide the following example has been made available for the public by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. The registered domain name would be translated into the IP addresses based on their protocol formats, for IPv4 and 2620:0:2d0:200::10 for IPv6.

In some instances DNS can also refer to the terms domain name space or domain name syntax. These are references to the structure of the Domain Name System, but are not the same by definition. Domain name space refers to a grouping of domain names called a tree. Domain name syntax refers to the rules used to formulate proper naming for domain names.

Be sure you know for sure how your domain name is registered for purposes of the DNS globally. This will have to be either reassigned or forwarded once you transfer your website from one host to another.

Websites With Or Without Databases.

Once you have decided whether you need assistance from your hosting providers with the transfer of your large website, the rest of the process is simple enough. The main thing to keep in mind is what type of website you are transferring. This means are you transferring a large website with or without a database. There are some basic differences between the two which should be considered during the process of your host to host transfers. It is easy enough to keep the differences straight by using a checklist for either of the two.

This is important, do not cancel your accounts with either of your hosting providers, until you have successfully completed one of the processes for transferring between the two hosts. Also be sure that you have registered accounts with both hosting providers before you begin either of the two processes listed below. Otherwise you will have a great deal more work to do and so will your hosting providers, so try to keep things simple.

Here is the rundown for websites without databases versus websites having databases.

Basic Details For Transfer Of Large Websites Without Databases.

The first step is to find yourself a new website hosting provider. Once you have done this, contact them about purchasing an account and find out any particulars that you need to know about transferring from your current hosting service. Tell them this is what you are intending to do, so that they can inform you of how they suggest you go about the process. Again remember you are paying them, this is their job and they are happy to do it. It saves you and their company time, money, and work hours.

Now that you have found your new hosting provider and purchased a hosting account, you are ready to being the process of uploading your website. If you have not downloaded a backup of your old website data and content, now would be a good time to do so.

Once you begin the process of uploading your website content to your new web hosting account, be prepared to stick around during the process. This means, do not go wandering off and expect that all will go smoothly. It probably will, but if there are any problems, it helps to be around to fix them in real time.

As your website content completes the process of uploading, you should be able to see if it is working correctly. You can check this by maneuvering yourself to the destination of your content or the new IP address assigned to it. If you surf your way to the new IP address, you should be able to see that it is working to your expectations. Be sure to type in the actual IP address when using your browser to view the new destination of your website, do not just use the domain name or the information saved in your browser settings. This information will only lead you to the older website designation at this point in the process.

Now go to the website where your domain name registration is at. You need to login to your domain name account, so that you can enter the new nameservers, IP addresses, and any other information about the location of your new web hosting provider. All hosts will utilize nameservers. Generally your new hosting provider will setup 2 nameservers and they will read something like If the domain name you are using, was originally purchase through your old hosting company, they may have to assist you with this. If so, then contact them and they should be able to do it for you.

Once these steps are completed, it will usually take from 24 - 48 hours time before the process updates between both hosting services. This is the time period that allows for the nameservers to propagate. Once both ends of the transfer are updated, then your website should automatically be served up by your new website hosting provider. If this is not the case, then you should contact the new hosting service about any problems.

This is the easiest way to be assured that your nameservers have completely updated. When beginning the process of transfer, make a very slight change to your old website location, such as a few characters of text at the bottom of the homepage. Once the propagation of the nameservers is finished, you should not see those characters anymore. This will let you know for sure, that your website has completely switched over to the new hosting provider.

It is now safe to cancel your old web hosting account. Be sure to double check that everything is still functioning as expected, after you cancel your old web hosting account. Now your work is done.

Basic Details For Transfer Of Large Websites With Databases.

If you are transferring a large website that has a database, the process is not that different. Even so, you need to ensure that none of your data is lost during the transfer of your website between hosting providers. You must also be sure that the integrity of the database is not compromised in any way. If you do not generally change your database, or it is not rewritten very often, then it should be similar to the scenario as described above.

As described already, you will need to go through the process of finding a new provider for web hosting, contact them about your intended large website transfer, ask about any particulars from your new hosting service, and finalize the purchase a new website hosting account with their company.

Where in the last scenario backup of your intended website for transfer was recommended, now it is a must. With any large website that includes a database, this is absolutely essential. Any problems that could occur can usually be fixed by having a complete backup at the time of your transfer. So the next step is to completely backup your database and all associated files. FTP these completely to your work PC, developmental network computer system, or to your home PC. It is not a bad idea to do this to more than one location, if time constraints permit doing so.

Now you can safely upload your website to the new web hosting account, as described before. Again, you should be able to check that it is working and functioning as you expect. This is done by surfing to the actual location of the IP address, by typing the numeric IP address into your browser and not just using the website domain name. Especially in cases involving a large database, it is advisable to check how the website appears in more than one system browser. This maybe overkill, but it is nice to see how different browser types maybe interpreting a large database of information. An example being, does the browser default to a font that truncates information in any unusual way or make the database data hard to access for users.

Next you want to create a database with the same name as what your older database used. Then you should restore it using the backup file, the one that you should have already saved.

Once you have completed these steps, you should login to the location where your domain name account is registered, and change the nameservers over to your new website hosting company. Typically all the information will be the same as described for websites without databases. There will be 2 new nameservers that are setup by the new hosting provider, they should look something like this, and if your domain hosting is through your current hosting company, you may have to contact them for assistance.

At this point you should stop all activity on your website and allow the nameservers to update, so that all data integrity is preserved. Until the website switch over to the new host is complete, anyone using the website will be writing data to the database which could be lost.

After approximately 24 - 48 hours the new nameservers should have had time to update themselves. Once they have done so, your website should automatically begin being served and updated the company that is now your new website hosting provider.

Some web hosting services offer an alternative for websites with databases. This alternative method lets website owners setup their old site to communicate with the new destination website, so that during the transfer the old database writes to the database on the new site. If this is an option, your new hosting provider should be able to help with the coordination of this for your website.

At this point, the process is complete and so is the transfer of your large website.

It is my hope this is helpful to someone out there that is trying to understand the basics of their website transfer between hosts.


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