Tips for Changing Web Hosts

A web server to your website is exactly what a home is to you. And when the time comes to move your website to anew home, either on a different server by the same hosting company or a different machine from a different hosting firm, webmasters are sometimes caught with panic. However, there are tasks you can carry out to make the process of changing web hosts much smoother.

First, the role of planning can never be over stressed. Take a detailed snapshot of your existing system that depicts every html page and associated files. Make a note of which pages are static in nature and which component of your website is dynamic. Recall any script or software installations you did resulting in modifications in configuration files. It?s a wise move to learn how to recreate those changes incase troubles arise after the transfer. List down all domains, sub-domains and IP addresses your web server might be holding.

Second, before you start moving your websites, make a backup copy. Do not depend on the backups that your web hosting company is supposed to provide you as a complimentary service. It?s a known fact that majority of hosting firms do not test their backup systems and give lame excuses in time of desperate measures. Your backup copies could be extremely important should issues arise while you’re changing web hosts.

If it?s possible for you, try restoring the backup file to your new location. You may need to change the host name or IP address if it?s mentioned anywhere in these restored files.

Most of the times, database files do need to be provided with new host name or IP address. If you are on the Windows platform, you?ll be glad to know that SQL server is intelligent enough to pick up the new host name during the move. Be it Windows or Linux, you also have commercial or open source utilities at your disposal helping you with backing up and restoring single or multiple databases with ease.

While it is possible to escape any downtime during the move, most of the times it does happen and should not worry you too much. It all depends on the technical expertise and the availability of required tools for these professionals to handle your hosting move, which unfortunately many of the hosting companies out there do not have. Thus a little bit of downtime is inescapable.

The most important step while moving your web host is changing nameserver records for your domain(s). The reason is as follows.

Internet is based on IP addresses, each website or machine connected to the Internet has an IP address associated to it. While it is easier for other machines or servers to remember a website by its IP address, it?s not friendly for humans. That?s why we have human friendly names for websites like Google.com. Each time someone enters this name / URL, his browser?s request is taken to a specialized server called Domain Name Server (DNS) that translates this name into a known IP address and forwards the request to machine owning that IP address.

Hence every website needs to register its IP address with these specialized domain name servers. Yeah there is not a single DNS record room but many servers share this responsibility. One DNS server may direct the browser?s request to another DNS server if it doesn?t know the right path to the requested domain name and then update its own records to include that domain for future requests.

So the first time you register a domain, the process of informing all of these domain name servers is straightforward. The information moves from one DNS server to the other. At any one point a DNS server either know about your site or it doesn?t but when you try to modify the IP address of an existing website, there?s a problem. Either a DNS server will know of your new IP address or it will still refer to the old IP address hosting your site.

Hence some visitors will land to your new destination while some would still be looking at the old server, until all DNS servers update and everything gets consistent. That is why it is very important to keep your pages alive at the old server while DNS update takes place.

But then it?s not just the DNS changes; a hundred other things can also break during a move. It gets very important to learn as much about available tools like FTP etc as possible and also be in constant touch with the support staff of the new host. This is the time they should really impress you with their expertise and courtesy so asking for a helping hand will not hurt as it will only make the transition during changing web hosts that much easier.

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