Website migrations can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ll walk you through four different ways to migrate your site based on your unique situation.
- Automated migration to a new server
- Manual migration to a new server
- Automated migration to live server
- Manual migration to live server
Moving to a new server
It’s much easier to launch your site on a new server than to launch it on the one hosting your live site. With a new server launch there’s no downtime for your website.
You can take your time to make sure everything is working, and only then update your domain’s DNS settings. Users will begin to see the new site as the DNS change propagates, with most seeing it within a few hours.
With a new server, you can take your time to make sure everything is working, and then update your domain’s DNS settings to seamlessly transition with no downtime.
Automated migration to a new server
Many webhosts have automated tools to help you migrate your site.
I use WPEngine as my development server and migrate all my client sites using this plugin before starting work on their redesign. It works great, even for very large sites.
- Purchase your new hosting plan
- Log into My WPEngine, and click SFTP in the left sidebar
- Add an SFTP User and write down the Username, Password, Server Name, and Port Address.
- On your live site, install the WPEngine Automated Migration plugin.
- Click “WPEngine Migration” at the bottom of the admin bar menu and you’ll see this screen.
- Type in your email address, WPEngine URL (yoursite.wpengine.com), and your SFTP details
- If your WPEngine install is password protected, click “My site is password protected” and type in the username/password. All transferrable installs are password protected, and this can be found in My WPEngine on the Overview page (screenshot).
- Click “Migrate” and wait for the migration to complete! You can close this window if you’d like. They will email you when the migration is finished.
For hosts that don’t have an automated tool, you can use Migrate Guru. The steps are similar to the WPEngine ones listed above. You can also try the Duplicator plugin – see this tutorial by WP Beginner.
Once the site is on your new hosting environment, it should be accessible from an internal URL like yoursite.wpengine.com. You should confirm that the site looks and works correctly.
You’ll need to update the URLs in the site to match your live site. Either ask your host’s support to help you, or use one of these tools:
- Better Search Replace plugin
- wp cli on the server. Type
wp search-replace clientsite.wpengine.com clientsite.comwith the first one being the temporary URL and the second one being your final URL. If you’re using WPEngine, you can click the “Advanced” tab to access wp cli (screenshot).
Finally, you should update your domain’s DNS settings with your domain registrar (ex: Godaddy) to point to your new host (more information).
Manual migration to a new server
A manual migration is pretty straightforward. Assuming WordPress is already installed on the server, you simply need to move all the site’s files (the wp-content directory) and the site’s database.
It’s easier to move one large file than lots of little ones. I like to package the wp-content directory into a tarball, then upload that to the server.
In my local copy of the site, I run
tar pvczf wp-content.tar.gz wp-content. That compresses the entire wp-content directory into a single wp-content.tar.gz file. I then upload that directly to the server.
If I have SSH access, I’ll delete the existing wp-content directory, then run this to unpack the file:
tar zxf wp-content.tar.gz. If I don’t have SSH access, I’ll ask the host’s support to unpack it for me. You might also need to ask them to update file permissions.
There’s a few ways you can migrate the database. You can log into phpMyAdmin on the server and manually upload it, but if it’s a large database it will time out before it’s fully uploaded.
If you have SSH access, you can upload the sql file to the server, then run
mysql -p u username database_name < file.sql to import it. Tip: do the same tar compression shown above. SQL files compress super small.
I personally prefer using Migrate DB Pro to move databases. It works in all situations – I don’t need SSH access, and I don’t have to worry about the database size.
Install the plugin on your local copy and the new server’s WordPress install. Log into the new server, go to Tools > Migrate DB Pro > Settings and copy the Connection Info. On your local site, go to Tools > Migrate DB Pro, click “Push” and paste the connection. You can even tell it to update all the URLs before pushing to the server.
Once all the files and database are in place, test to make sure everything works, then update your domain’s DNS settings to point to the new server.
Migrating to your live server
This is more complicated. You need to have a solid plan in place – make a checklist so you don’t forget anything – and work fast. If you do it right, you can minimize the downtime.
Automated migration to live server
You could use the exact same tools shown above for the automated migration to a new server. But I’m personally afraid to let an automated tool start overwriting the database and files on my live server. If something goes wrong, there’s no “off” switch to stop those tools.
Any time I’m migrating a large site back to it’s original host, I speak with the host directly about setting up a staging environment. We then migrate to the staging environment, exactly like the new server approach above.
Once the site is setup (staging.clientsite.com), we ask the host to flip the switch. It usually takes about 30 seconds and they’ve swapped the files and databases for the two sites.
This depends upon having a high quality host who can provide this level of support. When working with lower tier hosts, I typically do a manual migration.
Manual migration to a live server
The goal here is to minimize downtime by getting all the pieces in place before making changes visible to users.
First, upload the wp-content directory to the server (same as the manual approach described above), but use a different name for the directory. I typically call it
Determine how you’re going to migrate database: via phpMyAdmin (make sure the database is much smaller than the max upload size), SSH, or Migrate DB Pro. If SSH, upload it to the server so it’s ready for you.
Rename the current
wp-content directory to
wp-content. There should be minimal disruption at this stage since all the themes, plugins, and uploads from the old wp-content directory should already be in the new one.
If possible, create a second database on the server and upload the new tables there. Toggling between old and new versions of the site is as simple as changing the database name in
wp-config.php. If you can’t create a new database, make a backup of the live database so you can restore it if something goes wrong.
Change out the database and make sure everything looks good. If something looks broken, rename the wp-content directories again and quickly swap out the database so you’ve restored the “old” version, then figure out what went wrong.
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