By Gary Nugent

When I first started building WordPress blogs a few years ago, some of them were hacked. In most cases, my web host was able to restore the blogs from backups. But not in every case.

Blogs are a combination of two things:

  1. The database that contains all your blog’s pages, posts and settings.
  2. The files that comprise WordPress itself, your themes and all the plugins you use.

You need both to be working correctly for your blog to work.

What happened with a couple of my blogs was that recent copies of the databases were restored from my webhost’s backups, but the WordPress install was taken from an older backup. I’d spent well over a day changing the theme on one of these blogs, updating plugins, adding and deleting other plugins as the blog was undergoing a revamp.

All that work was lost because the WordPress backup for the site was from a date prior to the changes I had made.

On another site, it was even worse. Both the database and WordPress install backups were from a date prior to the hack. Again, more work lost but, more importantly, posts were lost, along with the comments on them.

All in all, I had to expend a fair amount of time trying to re-create the blogs as they were just before the hacks.

So the moral of the story is: don’t rely on your webhost to be able restore your blogs to the way they were. Your webhost can only do so much.

The more professional webhosts will do regular backups of your sites and be able to move sites to another server if your sites go down for any reason. Smaller webhosting companies may offer cheaper hosting but at the expense of not doing regular backups (as I found to my cost).

Backing Up Is Essential

So it makes sense for you to take action and back up your own blogs on a regular basis. The core of any blog is its database, so that’s what you should be most concerned about. The WordPress install can always be rebuilt if it comes to it, though it could take a fair amount of time. If the database is lost or corrupted, you’ve lost all the content on your site.

Luckily, you can automate database backups using a plugin.

GD Press Tools can do a lot of things but it has a Database module that allows you to manually back up your database. This is fine for those who only want to do backups irregularly. This plugin works in shared webhosting environments. UPDATE: Unfortunately, the free version of this plugin is no longer available.

WP-DBManager is a dedicated database manager plugin. It allows you to schedule your database backups to run automatically. You can schedule a backup to run daily, weekly or monthly, set it to only keep the last “x” number backups (so your disk space isn’t eaten up). You can also schedule database optimizations and repairs.

This plugin won’t work in all shared webhosting environments. It’s known not to work on Bravenet for instance. It will work fine on Reseller and VPS hosting accounts though.

BackupBuddy is a commercial plugin but it goes one step further in allowing you to schedule database backups and/or full site backups. You can set how many backups to keep, again to save disk space. This is the best way of ensuring you have an up to date copy of your site should anything happen to your live site. The plugin also makes migrating a blog from one web host to another much, much easier.

BackupBuddy comes in three versions:

  1. a 2-site license ($75)
  2. a 10-site license ($100)
  3. an unlimited site license ($150). Bear in mind, however, that these are annual fees rather than one-time payments.

But the plugin does give you the security of knowing that your sites can always be restored or easily moved if needs be.

BackupBuddy generally won’t run on shared webhosting environments. This is because doing a full site backup could take a couple to a few minutes, depending on the size of the site, and most shared webhosting packages will kill scripts that run for more than 30 seconds, so your backups will never run to completion.

WPTwin – an alternative to BackupBuddy, this plugin is cheaper and requires only a one-time payment rather than an annual subscription. This too comes in three versions:

  1. a “Light” version ($97) you can use on 10 domains
  2. a “Standard” version ($147) that can be used on 25 domains
  3. an “Unlimited” version ($297) that can be used on an unlimited number of domains.

Where BackupBuddy has always-available support, WPTwin offers support for 3, 6 and 12 months only, depending on the version of the plugin you buy. I should note that at time of renewal a 40% discount is offered for the BackupBuddy unlimited site license option so it only costs $90 per year.

Needing to do your own backups exposes a weakness in running WordPress blogs in a shared hosting environment: you won’t be able to do full site backups yourself and you may not even be able to schedule automatic database backups and instead rely on doing manual database backups, when you remember to do them.

Server Crashes

Another problem I encountered was a server crash on one of the smaller webhosting providers I was using. Sites went up and down (down for long periods) over a 20-day period. Needless to say, while my sites were down, none of them were making any money. Having a site down really hits you in the pocket.

I had a reseller account with this webhost and while BackupBuddy initially ran fine on the server, they made some server configuration changes that stopped BackupBuddy from working and while I was trying to identify what the issue was and get them to fix it, their hardware failure kicked in.

To be fair, the server was in a data center they were sub-contracting to and that data center had no contingency plans for a major hardware failure. One thing led to another and I don’t know if it was a lack of expertise or a perfect storm, but that all led to the significant downtime I mentioned above.

The upshot was that because BackupBuddy wasn’t working on their server, I hadn’t been able to to any recent backups. And, like most people, I didn’t read the small print in the user agreement. In there was a rather important statement – customers were responsible for doing their own regular backups. So I had no recent backups I could restore from – ones I could have used to move the blogs to a different webhost and server.

Restore Your Hacked/Broken Blogs QuicklyAnd the webhost didn’t have any backup servers that it could restore backups to either so there wasn’t even the option of at least having working sites, even if they were a little out of date.

Had I the ability to make my own site backups (these are full-site backups, not just database backups), I could have mitigated the disaster by using those backups to install the blogs elsewhere.

A lesson learned there!

So to protect yourself and your blogs from various bad scenarios, choose a good webhost and a good site backup strategy.

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