Tutorial: Easily move a WordPress site to a new host with minimal downtime using UpdraftPlus

Moving a WordPress site from one host to another with minimal of downtime doesn’t have to be a huge hassle, and it’s easy to do it yourself even if you aren’t a web developer. Here is the process I use to move a WordPress site to a new host, with about 10 minutes or less of actual downtime (and because of caching, many visitors during the migration may not even see the outage).

I like this method because:

  • It’s easy
  • You don’t have to mess around in MySQL
  • It’s free
  • It’s maybe 10 minutes of downtime for your site, depending how fast you can upload your backup and how much you have to do to get your caching plugin/CDN (if you have them) on board with the new IP address

Before you begin, make sure you have:

  • A WordPress site on your current host
  • Access to your new hosting account (preferably with CPanel and phpMyAdmin to get the most out of this guide)
  • Access to your domain’s DNS records (yoursite.com may be registered with your current host, or a separate registrar)
  • Nameservers for your new host (they usually look like ns1.newhost.com)
  • FTP access to old host and new host via your choice of FTP software (I use Filezilla) *optional* – you can do the same stuff through your host’s CPanel File Manager if they have it
  • About an hour of time to dedicate to reading this guide and the actual migration

Step 1: Install UpdraftPlus plugin on your site

updraft_plus

Log into your WordPress dashboard (http://yoursite.com/wp-admin) and install the free UpdraftPlus plugin.

This plugin is awesome and I recommend it for use outside of just moving your WordPress site to a new host. Here’s why:

  • The backup files do actually work (this plugin has saved my ass a couple times now)
  • You can use it to make a manual backup of your site at any time
  • You can set it up to create automatic backups and put them on the cloud storage service of your choice (personally, I back up to Google Drive)

Step 2: Use UpdraftPlus to make a backup of your site

Use Backup Now to start the backup process.

move_wordpress_site_new_host_updraft_step1

I like to do this right before I’m ready to start the migration process, so the backups are as fresh as can be.

Step 3: Download your backup files

Go back to your UpdraftPlus plugin page and go to the Existing Backups tab. Find today’s date and click each of the buttons (database, plugins, themes, uploads, others).

move_wp_to_new_host_easy_no_downtime_save_backups_updraft

Updraft will prepare each backup file for you (there are 5 total). Wait for Updraft to prepare the files, then click Download to your computer for each one.

move_wp_new_host_easy_download_each_backup_file

You’ll get 5 compressed files:

save_backup_files

Step 4: Set up an account with your new host and install WordPress there

If you haven’t done so yet, sign up for an account at your new host.

I’m digging SiteGround as my host these days, and I’ve already moved several of my sites to SiteGround (including my top money-making blog).

I use the StartUp package for my up-and-coming sites, and the GoGeek plan for my top performers. You can upgrade your plan at any time as a site grows. I especially like the GoGeek plan because they throw in SSL for free (or at least they did for my first year) and because it has a separate staging environment for testing stuff on a copy of the site before pushing it live.

Next, install WordPress on your new host. Many modern hosts (including SiteGround and BlueHost) have an easy one-click install for WordPress nowadays – look in the CPanel or just the dashboard in general once you’re logged in.

Don’t worry about picking a login/password you want to use in the long run, your Updraft backups will replace whatever you choose during setup with whatever your existing site already has. Do write down whatever name/password you choose here, you’ll need it to access your new WP install until you overwrite it with your backups.

successful_wp_install

It’ll probably tell you the installation was successful and you can go see it at the following url, but that link won’t work because you haven’t updated your domain’s nameservers yet.

Step 5: Change your domain’s nameservers

I do this in dynadot.com’s domain manager because that’s where my domain is managed, but your domain may be attached to your old hosting. In any case, change its two nameservers from ns1.oldhost.com and ns2.oldhost.com to ns1.newhost.com and ns2.newhost.com (or similar).

It should propagate fairly quickly (check it here: https://www.whatsmydns.net/) but it may take a while to see the change on your machine. One way to speed it up (on Windows, anyway) is to open a command prompt (cmd) and type ipconfig /flushdns.

Load your site again (in an Incognito window in Chrome or after clearing browser cache) and you should now see your new WP install.

Step 6: Install UpdraftPlus on your new blog and restore backups

Now that you have dashboard access to your new WordPress installation, install UpdraftPlus and click Restore.

updraftplus_restore

Drag your 5 files here and wait for them to upload.

updraft_restoring_backups

When those are done uploading, click Restore.

restore

Follow the prompts until you’re force to re-log in to your site. It should now look exactly like it used to on your old host, but you can confirm that it’s actually on your new host by pinging it in a command prompt or Terminal window (ping yoursite.com). If the IP address returned matches your new host’s, you’re good to go.

Extra step for CDN users:

I’m on MaxCDN, but regardless of what CDN you use (if you use one) there will probably be some additional setup steps to make sure your existing CDN account references your new IP and host.

I went through this process for MaxCDN and documented it here: https://tilcode.com/what-to-change-in-maxcdn-settings-after-you-change-web-hosts/

Step 7: You may need to do some other setup on your new host

Leave your old host active for a little while while you confirm everything’s working on your new site over the next couple days.

You may need to move the following separately:

  • Email accounts. If you had email accounts set up at your old host, take note that they don’t come with the Updraft migration and you’ll have to recreate them (and redo any redirects) on your new host.
  • Favicon: if your site had a custom favicon sitting in your site’s root directory, you might need to copy it from your old host and upload it to your new one
  • Google Analytics .html file: If you put any .html files for analytics tracking (Google Analytics is the one I always have to move manually) in your old site’s root folder, you will have to copy them to your new host
  • Robots.txt and anything else sitting in root (this will vary by site)
  • Images or other media in dedicated folders: Anything that’s part of your site but not part of WordPress will have to be manually moved. For me, this is sometimes a site logo or images on the site that I keep in a separate images folder, not uploaded to WordPress’s file manager.

If you’re afraid of losing anything off your old site, take the time now to download a copy of its entire directory off your old host, before you shut down your old hosting account. That way, if you find something missing later on, at least you can dig around the old files and maybe find it.

Moving multiple WordPress blogs to one Bluehost account

This post documents the steps of moving multiple subdomain blogs from my old host to Bluehost. I had about 8 blogs to move from Lunarpages to Bluehost, and by the time I was done I had this process down to a science.

These steps are almost certainly applicable to moving from just about any shared host to Bluehost, but they are written specifically to WordPress and to the process of moving WordPress blogs that are using add on domains / subdomains and exist in folders contained within the root (public_html) directory.

If you have a bunch of WordPress blogs on one host, you probably have them set up as subdomains like this:

  • techblog.mydomain.com
  • koreanbbqblog.mydomain.com
  • catpicturesblog.mydomain.com

Most “how to move your WordPress blog” steps assume you’re moving one blog, but this post will help you move lots of blogs. This guide also assumes you were technically savvy enough to get yourself into the situation of having multiple blogs on subdomains and isn’t written for first timers.

Also, this process will take the specific site you are moving down for the some part of the move. My steps minimize the downtime, but be aware that there will be some downtime while you copy your database over to your new host. I was okay with that (it was about 25 minutes of downtime per blog), but if you’re not, you may want to look into alternative methods of moving your blog(s).

If you aren’t already a Bluehost customer and are still shopping for an excellent shared host for your WordPress blogs, personal portfolio site, etc, take a look at their current deals below:

Before you begin

Have all of these things handy:

  • an ftp program (such as Filezilla)
  • old host website login credentials (oldhost.com)
  • old host ftp login credentials (ftp into your site)
  • new host website login credentials (bluehost.com)
  • new host login credentials (ftp into your site)
  • domain registrar login credentials (if separate)
  • about 1-2 hours to step through this process

Prep Steps

These steps can be done any time. They won’t take your blog down, and the wp-content copy step can take a while, so feel free to start them and continue the “Moving Day” steps later.

Step 0: Log into your existing WordPress installation.

While you’re in here, make sure it’s up to date. Disable any plugins you can live without. Disable caching plugins. (You can keep all plugins enabled, but I find that they move more easily when disabled.)

Step 1: Copy your WordPress blog content to your local hard drive.

Open Filezilla (or whatever) and FTP into your old host. I use Filezilla 3.8, but you should beware of this bug with Filezilla affecting Bluehost users if you’re on 3.10 and reading this in early 2015.

Navigate to your WordPress install folder. It’s probably a sub folder of public_html.

Copy wp-content to your local hard drive. This is where all of your blog’s content is kept, and it’s really the only WordPress thing you need to copy over. Everything else will be handled by a fresh install of WordPress on your new host.

Fun fact about Filezilla: by default, there are speed limits on upload and download. Remove them by going to Transfer > Speed Limit.

filezilla_speed_limits

Step 2: Copy anything that’s in your subdomain blog’s root folder over to your local hard drive, too.

Did you upload a favicon, a banner, an .html file for identifying your site to Google webmaster tools, etc? You might have things in your site’s root folder, so copy those things over, too.

Step 3: Copy your blog’s sql database to your local hard drive.

  1. Log into your old host’s cPanel.
  2. Find phpMyAdmin and log in.
  3. Find the database associated with your blog (and click it)
  4. Click Export in the toolbar at the top
  5. The default settings are fine
  6. Click OK
  7. You’ll download a .sql file – hang onto this for later

export_db

If you have lots of blogs on one host, you might have lots of databases and they may have cryptic names. If this is you, look in the table with the _options suffix to verify which db goes with which blog.

check_options

Wait, there’s one more thing!

How large is your .sql file? If your .sql file is under 50mb, skip ahead to “Moving Day”. If it’s larger than 50mb, I have some bad news: Bluehost won’t let you upload it via phpMyAdmin. You’ll have to use .ssh and the command line to upload your database. Those steps are further down in this guide, but they’ll add 1/2 to 2 hours to this process depending on how experienced you are with .ssh and how quickly you can get set up and logged in.

If your database is under 50mb, you can keep following along in the next section.

Moving Day

These steps will take your blog offline while you complete them. Expected downtime is less than an hour, depending on your db size.

Step 4: Change your nameservers to Bluehost’s (or whoever’s). 

Log into your registrar (I use and love Dynadot) and find the domain of the blog you are moving. Change its nameservers to the nameservers Bluehost tells you to use for your account.

For me, that’s:

ns1.bluehost.com
ns2.bluehost.com

Step 5: Add the “add on domain” to your Bluehost account

Log into Bluehost, go to cPanel, and look for Add on Domains. Enter your domain into the field and wait for Bluehost to validate it.

assign_domainAfter Bluehost validates your domain, scroll down. Keep the “add on domain” radio button checked. Create a new directory for this add on domain. I like to name my add-on directory after the WordPress site it’ll soon hold.

Step 6: Return to cPanel, install WordPress.

Bluehost has (or at least had) a quick “Mojo Marketplace” WordPress installer. I like to reconfigure the defaults and name my site SiteNameBLUEHOST to help me identify its database later on, since Bluehost gives the WordPress databases cryptic names.

Choose your subdomain out of the list (I always pick the one without the .www, might just be personal preference).

Wait for the install to complete.

Step 7: In your FTP program, log into Bluehost and upload wp-content into the new install’s directory.

You just installed WordPress, so navigate to its folder via your FTP program and when you find wp-content, copy your site’s version of wp-content over it. This step may take a while.

Step 8 (small database): Replace that new Wordpress installation’s database with your site’s exported database. (This only works if your database is under 50 mb).

While wp-content copies, you can log into Bluehost’s cPanel again and go to phpMyAdmin.

Find the new database and click it. If you have a lot of databases, look in the table with the _options suffix to identify the correct one. (This is why I like to name my new blog installation something identifiable, especially when dealing with multiple sites. That blog title you entered at installation time will show in _options.)

With the correct database open, click “Check All” and choose With Selected: “Drop”. (Drop is database speak for “delete”).

phpmyadmin_drop_tables

Now use Import to import your existing .sql file into this database. Note the prefix used. (In my screenshot above, the prefix is wp_ but not all of the databases I imported came with wp_.)

Step 8 (large databases over 50mb): Log into your server via ssh and import your gigantic database using the command line.

If your database is over 50mb, congratulations – you get to use. ssh to upload your database instead because Bluehost’s implementation of php doesn’t let you modify the maximum upload size (BOOO).

Bluehost offers some guides to this process, which (when put in order) are basically:

  1. Enable SSH on your Bluehost account
  2. Generate a set of public/private keys
  3. Set up Putty if you’re on Windows and log into Bluehost via Putty
  4. Import your MySQL database via command line

The import command is really the only tricky part. It needs all of the following:

  • Your database’s username. This is not your Bluehost account name. The database user is defined when you set up the database and is probably prefaced with your db name. You can see a list of users associated with your databases by clicking on MySQL Databases in Bluehost’s cPanel and scrolling all the way down to where the users are kept.
  • Target database’s name. This is the database you’re going to overwrite. By default, Bluehost WordPress databases have cryptic names like youraccountname1_wo1234. If you have a lot, make sure you know which one is the one you want to overwrite.
  • .sql file name. You have this on your hard drive, and you’ll need to upload it to your account into a place you can find easily while you’re in the terminal (you can just dump it into public_html via your ftp program, just remove it when you’re done).

Go back to your FTP program (hopefully wp-content is done copying over by now) and upload your .sql file somewhere on your Bluehost account. I just dumped mine into public_html (you can remove it later). (What was that about .ssh being more secure?)

Now go log in via Terminal (Mac) /Putty (Windows).  Remember, you are on your account’s part of Bluehost’s server, not your local hard drive. Use pwd and ls to get your bearings. Navigate (cd foldername) to the folder you uploaded your .sql database file and run the command that imports it.

That command will look something like this:

mysql -p -u username_wo1234 username_wo1234 > yourdb_filename.sql

Uploading through .ssh got the job done, but using it for the first time came with a lot of kinks to work out and added nearly 2 hours to my site’s downtime. Hopefully, the steps detailed above will help you do it faster than I did.

Step 9: Hook up the database by ensuring $table_prefix matches.

If you’re here, congrats – you’re through the hardest parts. There’s a small chance your site is already working.

There’s a larger chance, however, that your site is just a white page or a database connection error message. This step fixes the database connection problem. If you don’t have that problem, skip ahead to the next section.

In Bluehost cPanel, go to File Manager.

file_manager

Navigate to public_html and click on the directory where you’ve set up your blog. Inside, you should find wp_config.php. Right click the file and choose Code Edit.

wp-config-right-click-edit

Inside, look for $table_prefix on or around line 65. Make sure whatever’s here matches what your db actually uses as a prefix.

wp_prefix_table_wordpress_bluehost

 

If you had a database connection problem, there’s a good chance this solved it.

Step 10: Disable plugins to fix blank white WordPress page

If you’re getting a blank white page, try logging in directly via yourblogurl.com/wp-admin. If you can get in, try disabling plugins until the site loads.

If you can’t get in, go into File Manger and find the plugins folder. Right click it, choose rename, and rename it something else – like pluginsX. Doing this will disable all of your WordPress plugins. Now try yourblogurl.com/wp-admin. If you can get in, reactivate plugins from within your admin panel.

If none of that works, try these steps from Bluehost to try to fix the “white screen of death”.

I found that firewall and security plugins were the most likely to get messed up in the move process and, at worst, had to be reinstalled from scratch.

Step 11: Help, all my blog links are DEAD! 404s everywhere!!

In your new WordPress installation, in the dashboard/admin column down the left side, go to Settings > Permalinks. Note the structure they are currently using.

Select Default (so your links look like http://yourdomain.com/?p=123). Save changes.

Try your links now – do they work? If so, go back to Permalinks and change them back to the way they were. If they don’t work, try editing a post and saving it.

Step 12: Set up email addresses, forwarders for your site. 

Chances are, you had some nice emailaddress@yourdomain.com for each of your WordPress sites, probably with forwarders to the main address you use. This step is just a reminder to go to Bluehost’s cPanel and recreate those, along with the forwarders.

Step 13: Move banners, favicons, Google tracking codes, .htaccess, etc back into root folder.

If your sites are like mine, you have a few special things in the root folder of your site. This is a reminder to re-upload those things to your new host.

All done!

At this point, your subdomain blog should now be fully moved over to Bluehost! Well done!

I hope you enjoyed this guide, and if you spotted any errors or outdated information, please let me know in the comments.

And, in case you’re curious, yes, I love Bluehost. I was a Lunarpages customer for 9 years but Bluehost outclasses it in every way – bandwidth, CPU allocation, ability to handle the traffic my blogs collectively pull in, uptime, ease of use, and customer service.

If you’re not already a customer, check ’em out – Bluehost is my favorite shared hosting service for my blogs. (Read more about my blogging-for-profit hobby here).


Note to readers: Tilcode is a participant in Bluehost’s affiliate program.