Backing up WordPress the old fashioned way

Good to have a back up plan so your website doesn’t free fall after a hacking (Image Horia Varlan via Flickr)

Every now and then, I like to do an ‘old fashioned’ back up of my WordPress websites for an extra slice of peace of mind.

While we have talked about various automated options, there is nothing like clicking the buttons and doing it yourself to give you a sense of control and comfort with your website.

You might be surprised to learn just how quick and easy it is.

With the steps I am about to show you, you will have everything you need to hand over to your webmaster, should your site ever get hacked or broken.

It helps to understand that your WordPress website consists of a string of different files and folders containing code, text, images, and media, and a database containing commands and details on how various elements are related to each other. Your site needs both of these elements to function.

All you need for this backup exercise are:

  • Your login details for your web hosting
  • Five minutes
  • (Optional/Recommended) Filezilla or some other FTP program

If you are ready, here we go.

Accessing your cPanel

If you are running a WordPress website, you will undoubtedly have your web hosting in what is called a Linux environment, running cPanel.

If that was all gobbledeegook, don’t worry, just follow these instructions.

Go to your cPanel (your web hosting) which is usually find at one of these combinations:

When you go to this address, you know you are in the right place when you see a screen pop up, asking you to login in with your username and password.

Your webmaster should have given this to you. NOTE: It will NOT be the same username and password you use to log in to WordPress to manage your site.

When you have logged in, go to an icon called File Manager and click it.

Select the Web Root directory and then choose your domain from the drop-down list and click go.

On the next screen, click the ‘select all’ button at the top of the file list screen and then click Compress at the very top.

Choose compress with ZIP as the format and modify the name of your file which will be in the bottom of the box, ending with .zip. You can carefully change the name but leave the .zip in tact.

Click go.

In just a few minutes, your system should have created a nice backup of all your files and images and plugins, etc, and saved them to your web server.

We’ll come back to this in a moment.

Backing up your database

The second step in backing up WordPress is to backup the database that controls how all your bobs are related to all your bits.

Back in your cPanel screen, look now for a menu icon called PHP MyAdmin. If you cannot see it, you will need to ask your webmaster or web hosting company to help you.

Click on the icon and then in the next screen, click on the database that runs your website.

TIP: There will be one called information schema (it is not that one). You are most likely looking for a database with a name that ends with _wrdp1 (or similar).

On the next screen, click the Export button at the top of the screen. On the next screen make sure SQL is the format and then click Go and choose somewhere safe to keep the file on your computer.

When that is finished so are you.

Extra step for real peace of mind

Remember that File Manager zip file we created earlier? It was saved by default to the ‘root’ of your webhosting. This is not the best place to leave it.

So, using an FTP program such as Filezilla, which is free (yes, you can safely download it from that link) we are going to transfer it from your web hosting to your computer.

FTP programs simply give you two screens – one for looking at the files on your computer, the other for looking at files on a remote computer, like your web host.

You might need to ask you webmaster to help you set up your FTP program (we might come back to that next week). In essence, you need an FTP address for your site, something like, a username and password (sometimes the username and password are the same as your cPanel details). The login type to use usually is ‘normal’.

When you have loaded those details and fired up the program, navigate in the left screen to somewhere on your computer where you stored your database backup, and in the right screen click through to your www or public_html folder and look for the .zip file you created through File Manager.

When you see the file, click on it, hold your mouse down, and drag it to the left window. It should then start transferring a copy of itself from your web host to your computer.

Provided you have good back up systems in place for your computer, you now have a solid snapshop of your website that will allow you to start again quickly, should terror strike.

It pays to do this regularly, perhaps once a month. It all depends on how much content you are adding to your site and how vital its preservation is to your business and sanity.

Let me know if you get lost because we could make a video of this manoeuvre next week, if there is demand.



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