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The Domain Name System (DNS) is a numbered naming system for computers, websites, servers, or anything else connected to the Internet. It translates human-friendly domain names into numerical identifiers in order to find each of these resources online. A common metaphor is that of an internet “phone book” that translates a name like www.example.com into computer readable address 126.96.36.199.
Hosting companies provide DNS information for sites in the form of a primary and secondary name server. These servers store DNS information for all sites hosted by that company and handle DNS queries from computers or servers outside their network.
Most site owners will never have to deal with their DNS settings unless they move their site to a new host. Changing DNS is the last step in moving a site to a new hosting company and there are a few things you should consider before taking that step. Misconfiguring DNS settings can take a site offline for days, so it’s important to get it right. Here are a few tips we’ve put together to make your move go smoothly.
Research the new hosting company
There are many reasons why you might decide to change hosting companies. Perhaps you got a better deal at another host, or your site has outgrown the services provided by your current host.
Whatever your reason for wanting to move your site to a new host, you should make sure to do some preliminary research to be sure that they can support your site’s needs. At a minimum, you need to know that your new host is compatible with your current site setup.
When planning your move, here are a few things you should know:
- Find out which FTP client the host recommends
- Get the DNS information for your host and make sure that you have your domain account information so that you can quickly modify settings
- Get your temporary web address so that you can test your site before changing the DNS settings
- Have a list of all server access information so that you can load any scripts and test them
Back up website data
Backing up your site is probably the most important step in changing hosts. Hopefully, backing up your site data is something that you do regularly. Creating site backups enables you to easily restore a site in the event of server issues or other problems.
Some hosting companies have handy one-click backup tools in their administration panels which allow you to download the entire site including databases, mailing lists, email accounts, logs, etc. as .zip or .tar.gz formats. Occasionally, a site will be too big to download at once and components will have to be backed up separately.
When backing up a site, be sure to do all of the following:
- Download all files in your public_html folder
- Create a database dump
- Backup all email profiles and inboxes
- Export mailing list addresses and campaign data
- Make a checklist of all pages in your site so that you can test each individually during the move
Once you have closed your old hosting account, all website data will be lost, so it’s essential to back everything up before making the move. To be safe, store multiple copies of back ups on hard drives and cloud services.
Notify users of move
It’s good pre-move etiquette to notify users of your site that you will be making some changes. That way they can plan around any brief site outages and will not be caught unaware. Users can also help you spot any problems after the move that you may have missed during testing.
During the move
Plan your site move carefully to coincide with the slowest time for your site. This will help avoid inconveniencing too many people.
Have a checklist prepared with each step of the transfer process to make sure you don’t miss any important steps. Once all files are uploaded, test your site thoroughly using the temporary address and your page checklist.
Once you’ve tested the temporary site and are certain that everything is working perfectly, you can go ahead and change the DNS settings in your domain registrar account to point to your new host. DNS settings used to take up to 48 hours to propagate, but they are much faster now. You should see the nameservers change within a couple of hours.
After the move
Once you’ve set up your site in the new hosting account and changed the DNS settings, make sure you thoroughly test everything.
- Test links in posts, pages, articles, menus, sidebars, etc.
- Test each email account for sending/receiving, and stored data
- Be sure that user accounts and histories are present
- Check site html and css validation
If there are any issues with the new set up, you can still go back to your old hosting account and make any necessary changes. Once you’re confident that your new site is working well at the new host, you can go ahead and cancel your old hosting account. Even if things appear to be going well at first, don’t be in too much of a hurry to cancel the old hosting account.
Planning for contingencies and being organized is the best way to ensure a smooth site transition. If you’ve followed these steps, you’ll hopefully have an easy time of it and avoid site outage issues. Changing DNS settings on an existing site is a critical part of transferring to a new host and it’s important to get it right.