Why Do I Need A Backup Strategy?
Sure, you might be able to get by without a backup strategy for your WordPress site, until you can’t. Nobody expects things to go wrong, especially if they haven’t had it happen before.
Things do go wrong, though, and you need to be prepared, unless, of course, you like worrying about your website going down or freaking out while you try to recover priceless data.
A good backup strategy can help you sleep easy. It makes all the difference between getting your site back online in minutes and the possibility of starting over from scratch.
Hardware fails. In fact, hard drives are among the parts most prone to failure. That means that your entire site and all of your data could be gone in an instant.
While it’s true that quality hosting companies rely on storage systems with features that guard against hardware failure, issues can still occur.
If you’re using your own server or a VPS, you’re not necessarily so safe. That’s also partly why it’s important to back up to an external location.
No one, no matter how careful, is immune to mistakes. The Internet is littered with stories of unlucky system admins that make the mistake of typing “rm -rf /” as root. If you’re not familiar, that particular command will delete every file on Linux or Unix system until the system crashes permanently. It’s definitely not something you want to find out that you accidentally did.
Of course, your error doesn’t have to be that grave in order to totally ruin your day. Even setting the wrong permissions on something on something can cause a whole lot of frustration. It great to have the peace of mind that even if you mess up, there’s a working copy of your site ready to be loaded.
Software Problems And Bad Updates
You can’t trust that every WordPress plugin and theme that you install is going to work right. There are plenty of times where an update wasn’t fully tested, or it simply wasn’t tested with your specific configuration.
This is a problem that gets more complicated with plugins. Not every plugin developer, keeps their plugins completely up-to-date or tests them with each release of WordPress as it comes out. It’s really really easy for a plugin to fall out of compatibility with WordPress without you even knowing and creating a whole string of problems.
Hackers and Security Breaches
Security is becomingly an increasingly hot topic as of late, with reports of security breaches and even ransomware in the headlines at least once each week. Websites of any size are a potential target, and you have to be prepared.
No one can guarantee that they’re safe from every security threat. A backup strategy is ultimately your last line of defense. When all else fails, you need to know that you have a clean backup that you can draw from to restore your site and get back to normal.
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Regardless of how you choose to back up your WordPress website, there are certain features that you should always look for. They help ensure that your backups are complete, current, and secure. After all, if your backups aren’t any one of those three things, you’re defeating the purpose of having backups in the first place.
Full Site Backups
Backing up your database is great. It’s also a good idea to back up your code and files. However, neither is enough. You need a backup strategy that provides full site backups that cover both your database and your code and files.
WordPress is a big and often complex piece of machinery. All of the gears need to fit with one another precisely in order to turn freely and allow everything to move. Every data file and plugin configuration needs to be in sync, otherwise you will experience everything from random bug and glitches to a full-blown failure of the site.
It’d be pretty terrible to have to remember to backup your website on a regular basis. What if you forget? The best backup strategies and utilities offer the ability to schedule automatic backups. With automatic backups, your site will always have the latest backups available, and you don’t need to remember a thing.
Your backups aren’t much good if they get compromised too. Having security built-in to your backup strategy can help to protect the integrity of your backups and ensure that they’re readily usable if you need them.
First, encryption is a good thing. Encryption will not only help protect your backups from unwanted access, it’ll prevent your backups from being intentionally or unintentionally modified.
Malware scans and detection are also important. It’s not a great thing to back up malware. Make sure that both your installation and your backups are scanned regularly.
Incremental Or Differential Backups
As their name suggests, incremental or differential backups detect differences from your previous backup and only backup those changes, instead of rewriting everything each time.
Incremental backups obviously save time and resources on your server(s), but they also can provide backup points based on specific changes.
Incremental/Differential backups are faster than performing a full backup each time because there is much less data for the server to write. They also save a massive amount of disk space. In order to properly perform full backups, you need to save them for at least a few days. That means you need several copies of your entire site sitting around at any given time. On the other side of that, differential backups add and subtract from the same copy, saving multiple sites worth of storage space.
If you have an issue with your server, you really don’t want your backups to be on that same server. It’d be terrible to lose your production install and your backups at the same time.
When you have a backup strategy that includes backing up your data to a different location, you don’t have to worry about losing your backups at the same time as your server.
Plugins vs. Server-Side
There are two schools when it comes to backing up WordPress. You can use some of the many great WordPress plugins to get the job done, or you can go deeper, and use the server itself or even your hosting provider to ensure that WordPress is backed up. Each side has its upsides and drawbacks, which you choose has to best fit your situation.
For people familiar with WordPress, plugins might be the first thing that comes to mind to solve any problem. Plugins will definitely work, but they also have some serious downsides.
Plugins are, above all, convenient. They don’t require you to have a whole lot of technical knowledge, and they’re easy to install and configure. Plugins also provide a convenient and familiar interface to work with.
Plugins are familiar. You can install them through WordPress. Updating plugins is a breeze too.
After you get a plugin installed, you’ll be working through WordPress. The interface of the plugins should always be somewhat familiar to a WordPress user or admin. It’s all firmly within your comfort zone.
There’s something to be said for the “batteries included” philosophy. Plugins certainly come with the “batteries included.” There’s no need to chase down multiple parts and pieces. You get everything that you need as soon as you unpack the box.
Plugins may be easy, but they’re far from perfect. Just like installing and working with plugins should be easy to figure out for anyone familiar with WordPress, their drawbacks should be pretty obvious too.
First off, plugins are bloated. Since plugins come with everything included, your WordPress is forced to run all of that too. WordPress is already big and doesn’t have the best reputation for speed. Adding more to that might not be the best idea. As always with WordPress, fewer plugins equals better performance.
There’s also another tricky issue. If you need a backup because there’s a problem with WordPress, but WordPress is responsible for creating and restoring your backups, how can you trust that everything will work? Can you know for certain that your backups are even good? If WordPress has access to them, maybe they got corrupted too. You simply can’t know until it’s too late.
Most WordPress plugins backup everything into you wp-contents directory within your site. That means that your site’s going to be carrying around multiple copies of itself at all times. Every time you clone or relocate your site, you are going to be cloning and relocating a gigantic directory filled with backups.
On top of that, should you change backup plugins, you need to preserve your old backup for the sake of security and completeness. So, you’ll have more than one plugin’s worth of backups dragging your site down, indefinitely.
Depending on how you handle them, server-side backups can almost be the opposite of plugin backups. They can be more complicated but also more stable and secure.
Server-side backups have some serious upsides. They’re faster, lighter on resources, and they don’t require any cooperation from WordPress. There’s also a degree of customization that isn’t possible with plugins.
Because server-side backups are run outside of WordPress by either the server itself or your hosting provider, there is no strain put on WordPress. If the server is running the backup, it will still use some server resources, but not nearly as many. Of course, this also makes the process much faster.
You can run and restore server-side backups even if WordPress is broken or uncooperative. These backups operate on a lower level and access data directly.
Setting up a server-side backup strategy also allows you to customize exactly how you want your site to be backed up. You can add in automation, do everything manually, choose a backup location, encrypt your backups, or nearly anything that you want. You choose the features.
There’s only one major downside to server-side backups, complexity. For most server-side backup strategies, you need to know how to manage servers. Without some knowledge of how to perform many key tasks on Linux, you’re not going to be able to create or manage an effective backup plan.
That said, there doesn’t need to be complexity. There are plenty of ways around it including automation software and, more simply, backup solutions offered by your hosting provider.
Best Plugin Options
UpdraftPlus is one of the most complete backup solutions available for WordPress. It covers both database and file backups. With this plugin, you can easily schedule each type of backup separately or together to ensure that your site is backed up in the most convenient way.
You can tailor your UpdraftPlus installation to fit your needs and your backup strategy. You can choose which files to backup and restore. There are even options to clone your site to another server.
UpdraftPlus supports remote backups through a number of services and protocols like sftp, Google Drive, Dropbox, and OwnCloud.
It is also capable of restoring your backups, and it supports backups from a number of other WordPress backup plugins.
WP DB Backup
WP DB Backup is very simple, but it also isn’t a complete backup solution. It only handles database backups. You can use WP DB Backup to back up the database behind your site.
WP DB Backup does support remote backups in a way. It can send the backed up database to you in a couple of way, including email.
If you choose this plugin, you’ll need to implement something else to backup your files too.
VaultPress is a subscription-based backup solution from Automattic, the developers of WordPress. There are several subscription options available, but even the lowest-tier one is fairly complete, and it’s also relatively inexpensive at $39/year.
Vaultpress automatically backs up your entire site once a day to Automattic’s remote servers. VaultPress keeps 30 days worth of backups at a time.
There are some other nice features of Vaultpress. Vaultpress provides useful data like uptime statistics, logging, and site information. It also gives you simple 1-click site restoration and protection against certain attacks and spam.
BackWPUp covers most bases when it comes to a backup strategy. It can handle backups of both your sites database and its files. It also covers off site backups with support for Dropbox, Google Drive, FTP, Microsoft Azure, and even email.
WPBackup lets you optimize and repair your database in case something goes wrong or it’s just running slow. It also has logging support both on the server and over email.
BackupBuddy is another subscription service that provides a complete array options and features for managing your WordPress backups.
You can schedule your backups with BackupBuddy at different intervals. There’s even an option for hourly backups. BackupBuddy also lets you customize the contents of your backups, choosing specific files, only the database, or some combination.
BackupBuddy has its own remote backup service, or you can back your site up to Dropbox, AWS, Google Drive, SFTP, or your email.
BackupBuddy has some nice security and recovery features too. It offers malware scans and database repair and recovery. There are some great migration and cloning tools included as well.
Best Server-Side Options
Specialized WordPress Panels
We had to put something in here about us, right? It’s more than shameless self-promotion, though. Our service really is that good.
Think about the convenience of backup plugins. Now, imagine you get that level of convenience with no overhead on our site and absolutely no need for maintenance.
As part of every Wetopi plan, you get automatic server-side backups every night to Amazon S3 storage servers, separate from the one running your site. You can use those backups any time to restore or clone your site.
If you want to manually backup your site, you can do that too through your account interface in as little as one click.
Wetopi also automatically scans your site for malware, so you know that both your website and your backups aren’t compromised.
When you’re restoring your backups, it’s a good idea to make sure that they work before you bring them up in production. Wetopi includes a sandbox environment to test out your backups in a safe environment before worry about production.
CPanel/Hosting Panel Interface
CPanel comes installed with a lot of hosting accounts. It’s a robust web interface that allows you to perform a lot of the functions that you’d normally need the Linux command line for. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily simple.
CPanel requires that you have some familiarity with Linux servers and the things going on behind the graphical web interface. Otherwise, you can make a big mess of our server.
If you do have that knowledge, there are plenty of tools that you can use to backup your files and your database. Scheduling can be done, but there isn’t usually a simple way to do it.
Actually, most things done through CPanel would be more hands-on. Unless you’re very experienced with it and fill in the gaps with some scripting, you’re probably going to need to do everything by hand.
Custom Linux Scripts
There’s one solution that you can custom tailor to fit your needs. It’s lightweight, and virtually infinitely customizable. That solution is custom Linux scripts.
By no means is writing custom scripts perfect, though, and it’s very easy to make mistakes. If you’re hosting more than a handful of WordPress installs, it can quickly grow out of hand. In those cases, you might want to look into a different external solution or automation tools like Ansible or Puppet.
Through scripting you can backup both your files and your database. You can scan those backups for malware, encrypt them, and send them off to any number of remote storage solutions. Of course, you can make those backups incrementally too.
You need to be fairly good at shell scripting, and the amount of scripting that you’d need for a complete backup solution amounts to an entire program in its own right. Sure, it might be able to get you a solution that checks off all the boxes, but is it worth the amount of work? That’s up to you.
Must Do/Best Practices
No matter which strategy you ultimately choose, there are certain best practices that you should always adhere to. Do these things if you are serious about getting the most out of your backups and cutting down your WordPress stress.
Backup Before Changes
When you’re planning on changing something on your site, make a backup. It doesn’t matter how insignificant that change seems. Make a backup. Before every update, plugin installation, theme change, WordPress update, anything, backup your site.
You never really know what’s going to trigger a problem, especially with a piece of software as large and complex as WordPress. There are a lot of moving pieces that all need to fit together. It’s always going to be much better to be safe than sorry.
Test Your Backups
Test your backups regularly. It’s not just a good idea to test backups before your restore or clone to a new server. You should be testing your backups every so often to make sure that your backup strategy is working the way you need it to. Spin up a sandbox or test machine to bring up a backup on. You can even download a backup and run it locally on your own computer, if you need to.
Of course, you should always test your backups before restoring them to production.
Restore To A Sandbox
When you do restore your backups, restore them to a place other than your production WordPress install. That place is called a sandbox. This is where it really helps to have a hosting service that provides a sandbox to test in it.
You don’t need one, though, it’s just not as easy. You can test on a second server and promote that into production also. It takes more time, and there are more steps involved than having a sandbox ready to go.
Either way, take the time for this additional step. Make sure that the site that you’re bringing up into production is actually production ready.
Wrapping It Up
All of this information might feel like it’s a lot to take in, but in the end, it’s simple. Plan out a solid backup strategy for your WordPress site now, and you’ll be much happier managing it in the long run.
You’ll be able to relax with the confidence that even if the worst case scenario should rear its head, you’re prepared. It’s all about arming yourself for every possibility.
Evaluate your options. See what works best for you and your WordPress site. Then, choose the one that’s going to make your life easiest.
At wetopi, we want to minimize the friction that every professional face when working and hosting WordPress projects.
In short, we are just techies passionate about WordPress. With wetopi, a specialized WordPress hosting, we want to go further to offer professionals and agencies a platform to work efficiently and effectively.
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