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Web Hosting - Changing Web Hosts, Pitfalls and Planning
At some point, nearly everyone finds it necessary to change web hosts. It may be just a migration to another server, or it may be changing web hosting companies entirely. Either way, the process is fraught with potential dangers. But there are ways to minimize the odds of problems and maximize your changes of a smooth migration.
Plan, plan, plan.
Make a very detailed list of everything that is on your current system. Review what is static and what changes frequently. Note any tailoring done to software and files. Be prepared to remake them if the systems aren't transferred properly or can't be restored. Keep careful track of all old and new names, IP addresses and other information needed to make the migration.
Backup and Test
Backup everything on your system yourself, whenever possible. Web hosting companies typically offer that as a service, but the staff and/or software are often less than par. Often backups appear to go well, but they're rarely tested by restoring to a spare server. When the time comes that they're needed, they sometimes don't work.
Do a dry run, if you can. Restore the system to its new location and make any needed changes. If you have the host name and or IP address buried in files, make sure it gets changed.
This is often true of databases. SQL Server on Windows, for example, picks up the host name during installation. Moving a single database, or even multiple ones, to a new server is straightforward using in-built utilities or commercial backup/restore software. But moving certain system-related information may require changing the host name stored inside the master database. Similar considerations apply to web servers and other components.
Accept Some Downtime
Be prepared for some downtime. Very few systems can be picked up, moved to another place, then brought online with zero downtime. Doing so is possible, in fact it's common. But in such scenarios high-powered professionals use state-of-the-art tools to make the transition seamless. Most staff at web hosting companies don't have the skills or the resources to pull it off.
Prepare for Name Changes
One aspect of moving to a new host can bedevil the most skilled professionals: changing domain names and or domain name/IP address combinations.
When you type a URL into your browser, or click on one, that name is used because it's easier for people to remember. www.yahoo.com is a lot easier to remember than 22.214.171.124. Yet the name and or name/IP address combination can (and does) change. Still, specialized servers called DNS (Domain Name System) servers have to keep track of them. And there are a lot of them.
There may be only two (rarely) or there may be a dozen or more DNS servers between your visitors' browsers/computers and your web host. Every system along the chain has to keep track of who is who. When a name/IP address changes, that pair has to be communicated to everyone along the chain, and that takes time.
In the meantime, it's possible for one visitor to find you at the new place, while another will be pointing to the old one. Some amount of downtime will usually occur while everything gets back in sync.
The Little Gotchas
But even apart from name and IP address changes, there are a hundred little things that can, and often do, go wrong. That's not a disaster. It's just the normal hurdles that arise when changing something as complicated as a web site and the associated systems that underlie it.
Gather Tools and Support
Having an FTP program that you're familiar with will help facilitate the change. That will allow you to quickly move files from one place to the next to do your part to get the system ready to go or make repairs.
Making the effort to get to know, and become friendly with, support staff at the new site can be a huge benefit. They may be more willing to address your problem before the dozen others they have to deal with at any given moment.
Ok. On your mark. Get ready. Go.
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Web Hosting - FTP and Other File Transfer Tools Anything related to the Internet or computers is bound to introduce technical issues pretty soon. One of the earliest that novice web site owners encounter is FTP, which is an acronym for File Transfer Protocol. Seeing it spelled out, it's easy to see why those in the know quickly move to speaking in short hand. The reason web site owners soon will (or need to) become familiar with FTP is obvious to anyone who has built a site on a remote server. You have to have some way of getting the files to the remote computer and FTP is one of the most common tools. It's also one of the simplest and most efficient. FTP is composed of two parts: the client software and the server software. It's similar, in a way, to talking to someone on the phone who writes down everything you say. You (the client) make a request ('transfer this file to the server') and the listener (the server) takes the request and acts on it. That request to copy a file from a local computer to the remote one is carried out (often 'under the covers') by a PUT command, as in PUT this there. You create the web page (in the form of a file) and then PUT the file on the server. To move a file in the opposite direction, from the remote server to your local computer, your client software issues a GET command. Many FTP clients have graphical interfaces, similar to Windows Explorer, that allow you to drag-and-drop or otherwise copy the file without ever seeing the actual commands that carry it out. But it's helpful sometimes to know what goes on underneath. In tricky cases it can be an advantage to use a command line interface (in Windows, the 'DOS box', with a similar interface familiar to most Linux users). Knowing the commands and being able to use them in the command line form can sometimes help you diagnose what is going on when the graphical tools misbehave. But FTP is not the only way to get a file from here to there. In fact, your browser moves files around from a remote computer to your local one all the time. In most cases, when you type in or click on a URL, what happens under the covers is in essence a file transfer process. The web page is transferred from the web server to your local computer then displayed by the browser. Alternatively, you can sometimes even email a web page/file from your local computer to the remote server, then use an email client on the server itself to get the file and put it in a folder. That requires that you have some form of access to the remote computer. But there are many ways of doing that, such as in-built utilities in the operating system or using commercial remote control programs. Those alternatives can be helpful to know in cases where the FTP file transfer process is misbehaving. Having more than one way to accomplish the task helps you diagnose what might be going wrong. It also helps you get the job done when the usual tools aren't cooperating. The more you learn about these sometimes puzzling acronyms, the easier you can accomplish your own goals.