Website Hosting - Why Backups Are Essential
Matt Williams - 20th April, 2010
One thing most web site owners have little time for is... anything! Anything other than focusing on their site
content and the business or service it supports and the information it provides, that is. That means that
administration often suffers, as it frequently must. There's only so much time in the day.
But the one thing that you should never let slide are backups. They are like insurance. You rarely need it (you
hope), but when you do you need it very badly.
Performing regular backups - and testing them - doesn't have to be a nightmare. A little bit of forethought and
effort and they can be automated to a high degree. And, they should be tested from time to time. Even when a backup
appears to have gone without a hitch, the only way to know whether it's of any value is to attempt to restore the
information. If it can't be restored, the backup is worthless.
Even when the web hosting company provides the service, there is still some planning involved for the site owner.
Hosting companies often rely on one or both of two methods. They backup everything (called a full backup), then
backup anything which has changed since the last full backup (called an incremental backup).
Of special interest are any configuration files that have been tailored. If you've modified the default
installation of a software package, you want to be able to recapture or reproduce those changes without starting
from scratch. Network configuration files, modifications to basic HTML files, CSS style sheets and others fall into
the same category.
If you have XML files, databases, spreadsheets or other files that carry product or subscriber information - about
items purchased, for example, or people who signed up for a newsletter - those should get special attention, too.
That's the lifeblood of your business or service. Lose them and you must start over. That can break your site
It should go without saying that all HTML and related web site files that comprise visible pages should be backed
up regularly. It isn't necessary to record every trivial change, but you can tailor backup software to exclude
files or folders. Usually they're so small it isn't worth the trouble. But in some cases those small changes can
add up in scenarios where there are many thousands of them.
Here again, the backups are worthless if they can't be used. Even if the hosting company charges for doing so, it's
worthwhile to test once or twice a year at least to ensure the data can be restored. That's especially true of
database backups, which often involve special software and routines. Database files have a special structure and
the information is related in certain ways that require backups be done differently.
Developing a backup strategy can be straightforward. Start simply and review your plan from time to time, modifying
it as your site changes and grows. But don't neglect the subject entirely. The day will come when a hard drive
fails, or you get hacked or attacked by a virus, or you accidentally delete something important. When that day
comes, the few minutes or hours you spent developing and executing a backup plan will have saved you days or weeks
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