There are any number of situations that can lead you to switch hosts for your website. One of the main concerns for those who make the switch is the amount of downtime they are facing.
After all, if you are running a business, or your business depends on your website, then there isn’t any amount of downtime that is acceptable. Here is how you can switch your web host with no (or very little) downtime.
1. Do Not Cancel With Your Current Host Immediately
If you do not want any downtime, then do not cancel your current service prematurely. The key here is that you keep your current service while you search for, acquire, and set up your new service.
This can be something of a pain if your current service is due for renewal, but if downtime will cost you money, then it may be worth it to spend a little to keep everything operating smoothly.
But no matter what, do not pull the plug on your site without having somewhere for it to go. In fact, you should not cancel your current service until after the move is complete.
If you do cancel prematurely, or inform the host you plan to cancel, there is a chance the host will completely close out your account. You will lose all of your files, content, and site functionality.
2. Backup Everything and Then Do It Again
Before anything else, you should make a local backup of your site. You can do this through FTP. You can also see if your current host has an app or cPanel app that can make a backup for you as well.
If you want to show extra care, make multiple backups. Use different utilities, and keep one on a computer and one in any cloud. Backups should include all files as well as all databases.
Remember backups fail as well, and you do not want to take the chance of losing any aspect of your site. Transfers can fail as well, and a backup will come in handy to shore up any missing items after you transfer to the new host.
3. Choose a New Host – See If They Have a Transfer Service
Choose the host that fits your needs. You should ask the new web host if they offer a transfer service or advice on the transfer. Web hosts understand people’s desire for no downtime, and many of them have things setup up to help facilitate that desire.
You should speak with a rep and let them know what you plan to do. Even if they do not have a dedicated transfer service in place, they can still explain to you how best to go about the transfer.
4. Upload Everything to the New Host – Do Not Transfer Your Name Yet
At this point, you should transfer all files and databases to the new host. Make sure the file structure is correct. You should be able to do this without transferring your domain name. The new host will give you an IP and FTP access, so you can upload everything.
The host should also have options for uploading compressed backup files and databases. You can use this to upload those databases you backed up earlier. You can use the supplied IP to make sure the site and its features work properly.
5. Update Your Name Servers / Domain Name Records
Your new host should have provided you with their name server information. That information should look something like ns1.domain.com. If the new host did not send that information, contact support and ask for it.
How you handle this step depends on whether you purchased your domain name through a dedicated registrar, or if you got it through your current host.
If you used a registrar – If you use a registrar, all you need to do is log into your account and update the DNS records for your domain name. Most registrars make this a simple process. If you are unsure of how to go about it, check the registrar’s help pages, or otherwise ask a rep.
If you used the host – If you registered your domain name through your current host, then you should log into your control panel there and change the DNS entry to point to your new host’s servers.
A note on emails
Transferring your email accounts can become difficult if you are not careful. If your email address is hosted by your previous web host, you should recreate the address and settings with your new host. If your email host is a third party, then make sure you update the DNS records for email with your new host.
Now you wait
After you update the DNS records, it can take upwards to two days before your site is being served from your new host. During this propagation period, people who visit your site may experience some small issues as your domain is in transition. However, this is not downtime.
After a couple of days, it is usually safe to assume visitors to your site are seeing the one hosted on your new host. Then, and only then is it safe to cancel your old web host account. Keep in mind you are canceling your hosting account, not your domain registration.
If you want to remove your domain name from that host completely, you will have to initiate a domain transfer with your new host or a registrar.
Show Care When You Make the Switch
So yes, switching web hosts does not have to occur with any downtime at all. If you go about the process the right way, you can certainly make it happen without too much hassle.
Remember that switching web hosts can still create unforeseen problems. It is best if you check and double-check each action you take. And do not hesitate to ask your new host for help.