If you are using WordPress as the platform for your website or blog, you’ve probably already seen that handy little notice every once in awhile at the top of your dashboard:
“WordPress #.## is available. Please update now.” (Love it when someone just tells me what to do.)
These update notices are important and shouldn’t be ignored. Having your site or blog running on the latest version of WordPress not only keeps it up to speed and functioning at its best, but it also helps close security vulnerabilities.
The nice thing about WordPress is that these updates can be delivered automatically with one click of a button and take only a matter of seconds. But hold on there – take heed of the warning that comes next:
Important: before updating, please back up your database and files.
Now if we’re all honest with ourselves, there are going to be times where much eye-rolling ensues, followed by your rationalizing brain chiming in with “Ugh, I don’t have time for this! I’m just gonna pretend I didn’t see that and click that oh so easy Update button – nothing bad will happen” 9 times out of 10 you’ll be correct – the update will unpack, copy its files and install without a hitch.
But what about that 10th time? Lightening CAN strike my friends, and you don’t want to be the one with the zigzag down your back. Whether it be by the laws of Murphy or statistics, that one click could be the catalyst for an epic update fail, where all your hard work is lost and your day, if not your year is ruined.
Why do I have to backup the database AND the files? What’s the difference?
WordPress files make up the platform of your site – containing all of the instructions on how it should work and what makes it pretty. The database contains all of the information you have then put onto the site – your posts, pages, categories, tags, theme settings, user accounts and so on. Think of it as owning a brick and mortar store – the site files are your store’s building and the database is your inventory – you want to make sure both are insured right?
So take a few extra minutes and do what the good folks at WordPress say – back it up! Here’s how:
Backing up the Database
Most web hosts that support WordPress have a tool on your hosting account control panel that allows you to access your database like phpMyAdmin. If it’s not obvious which tool to use, double check with your web host.
To access the database, you’ll need the user name and password that was created when WordPress was installed. This login should NOT be the same as your WordPress login.
Once logged in, you should see the WordPress database on the left side menu.
Click on the database name and if you see tables names appear of the left that begin with wp_ then you’re in the right place. Click on the Export button on the top menu. Under Export Method choose “Quick” and then make sure the Format is set to “SQL” from the pull-down menu. Click Go.
You should now see an SQL file starting to download to your computer, which can take from a few seconds to a few minutes depending on how large your database is. Locate the downloaded SQL file on your computer and copy or move it to a folder you’ve designated for these backups so that you can easily find it later if needed.
Next…Backing Up WordPress Files
Making a backup of your WordPress files is most easily accomplished via FTP (File Transfer Protocol) with a software like FileZilla (it’s free!)
If you’ve never used FileZilla you will need to install it first.
Go to https://filezilla-project.org/ and click on Download FileZilla client for all platforms. Choose the version for your type of computer and begin the download. When it’s finished, open the file and follow the steps to install it (just takes a minute or so)
Once you have Filezilla installed, you’ll need to connect to your site. Open FileZilla and click on File > Site Manager. Click on the New Site button and give it a name. On the right side, you will see the General tab where you will enter your site’s FTP information:
Click the Connect button
Once connected you will see two window panes open – the one on the left is YOUR computer, the one on the right is the server where all of your website files sit. It should looks like this:
On the left hand side, navigate to a folder where you want to save your files. I would recommend saving them in the same folder where you put your database backup so it’s all on once place.
On the right hand side are your live website files. You need to take extra special care not to accidentally move or delete anything on this side!! Locate the file called wp-config.php. Click it once and carefully drag it over to the left side. This will make a copy of this file onto your computer. Next locate the wp-content folder. Again click it once to highlight the folder and then also drag it over to the left side. This is a larger file, so it will take a little longer to complete the copy. It is not necessary to back up the other files or folders.
Your WordPress site is now fully backed up and you are free to go forth and click that Update button. Hurray!