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Transferring Your Existing Website to a New Hosting Provider


You've already got a website, but your current hosting provider can no longer meet your needs, provide adequate service, costs too much, or is going out of business. You need to move your website to a new host. How do you do this? This situation arises all the time, but many people don't know where to begin. This guide is designed to help you understand what is involved in a hosting transfer so that you can transition from one host to another as smoothly as possible.

Step 1: Determine What You Have

Before you move anything, you need to know what you've got to transfer so that you can determine your requirements of the new hosting provider. Ask yourself these questions and find out the answers. You may need to ask your website designer or your current hosting provider for some of this information.

  • Do you have all of the information you need to manage your domain names? If you don't know what this is, read our guide to Understanding Your Domain Name.
  • Can you get a complete backup copy of your website?
  • What kind of server are you currently hosting on? Windows, Linux/Unix, something else?
  • Is your site running any kind of dynamic code, scripts, or software, such as ASP, PHP, CGI, Java, etc.? What kind? Most shopping carts and data processing applications fall under this description.
  • Does your site have a database? What kind? MySQL, SQL, PostgreSQL, Access, Oracle, something else?
  • How many e-mail addresses do you have? Do you have a list of usernames and passwords? Are there any e-mail aliases or forwarded addresses set up?
  • Are any parts of your site password protected or secured? How is this set up?
  • Are there any elements of your site, such as the shopping cart, that are not under your domain name and cannot be taken with you? Some hosting providers offer a shopping cart which can only be used by their customers.
  • How much storage space does your website take up?
  • How much bandwidth does your website use up every month?
  • Do you have any special requirements, such as the ability to receive delivery receipts for your e-mail?

If you can gather all of this information then you are in good shape. As with anything, preparation and good record keeping is the key to success.

Step 2: Find a Host That Can Meet Your Needs

Now that you know what you have, it's time to look for somebody who can handle it. Check out different hosting companies, look at their packages to see what they offer, and contact them and ask what they can do to assist you in moving your website. A good host should not just be able to support your website on their servers, they should be able to help you move it as well.

If the new host you are looking at runs a different setup or a different type of server than your old host, find out how that will affect you. Some of your settings such as e-mail servers may change, you might have a different type of website control panel, you might gain some new options that you didn't have before and you might lose some that you did.

Step 3: Set Up the New Camp Before You Break the Old One

Before you cancel your services with your old host, you need to make sure that everything is set up and running to your satisfaction on the new host. This is necessary to avoid having a broken website and interruption of your e-mail service once the hosting is transferred. The ideal is to leave your old host active up until the activation of the new host's DNS, and to have a fully configured and operational website waiting for it when the domain is repointed. This will provide the smoothest possible transition from one host to another.

Most hosts provide a way for you to access your site prior to changing the DNS on your domain name. You should be able to access your control panel, upload your files, and perform all the operations necessary to recreate your website and e-mail accounts on the new host's server. Tutorials should be provided on how to use all of the tools and features that the host provides you to perform these tasks, so be sure and read them. If you are still unsure how to proceed with anything, request assistance from the host's support department.

Step 4: Notify Your Customers

If you have customers who regularly visit your site for purchases or information, you need to notify them that you are making administrative changes to the site and that it may be temporarily unavailable. While downtime may be what you're trying to avoid, it's better to be safe than sorry, and it shows your customers that you care. You may notify customers by email or by posting a notice on your website where it will be seen by those who need to know. Be sure to include a target date for your move in the notice.

Step 5: Move Your Domain Names

At this point you should have all of your files transferred, your e-mail accounts set up, shopping cart installed, etc. on the new host's server. However, officially you are still being hosted by your old provider. Now it's time to use that domain management information you found in Step 1. First you need to find out the names of your new host's DNS. There should be a minimum of two, and they should look something like this:

NS1.YOURHOST.COM
NS2.YOURHOST.COM

You will need to enter this information in the DNS section of your domain manager for each domain that you wish to repoint to the new host. If you are parking multiple domains on the same site, make sure that the new host's DNS is programmed to handle all of the parked domains and not just the one you are setting up the primary hosting account with.

The process of changing DNS does not occur instantaneously. Most DNS servers update their records at 12 or 24 hour intervals, although sometimes it may take as long as 48 hours. When you change your domain's DNS, a notice is also issued to routers all across the internet that your domain is now using different DNS so that they can update their DNS tables accordingly to point your domain in the right direction when a request is issued for it in their sphere of influence. This notice does not spread evenly or instantaneously, which means that while Houston might recognize the move almost as soon as it happens, Berlin might not be able to see your new IP address for another 24 hours. This process generally completes itself within 48-72 hours.

Step 6: Test Your Site and Cancel Your Old Provider's Services

Once you have repointed your domains and given the DNS system a couple of days to propagate the changes, you should be checking out all of the functions of your website once it is live on the new server to make sure that everything is operating as expected. Once you are satisfied that you no longer need to retrieve any information from the old host, then it is safe to cancel your services with them.

Copyright 2005 by Stacy Clifford
Stacy Clifford is the founder of ChiliPepperWeb.net and has spent four years assisting customers in understanding how their web services work.


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