A Backup Hosting Story

In the last few days I’ve been exploring making backup copies of this pwofc Blog using the facilities provided by the hosting company that I employ – 123-Reg. It was an instructive experience.

When I first set up the Blog in 2012 I had deliberately decided to spend a minimal amount of time messing around with the web site and to focus my energies on generating the stuff I was reporting in it. Consequently, most of my interactions with the hosting service had involved paying my annual fees, and I had little familiarity with the control panel functions provided to manage the web site. In 2014, I had made some enquiries about getting a backup, and the support operation had provided a zip file which was placed in my own file area. Since then I had done nothing else – I think I had always sort of assumed that, if something went wrong with the Blog, the company would have copies which could be used to regenerate the site.

However, when I asked the 123-Reg support operation about backups a few days ago, I was told that the basic hosting package I pay for does NOT include the provision of backups – and the company no longer provides zip files on request: instead, facilities are provided to download individual files, to zip up collections of files, and to download and upload files using the file transfer protocol FTP. Of these various options, I would have preferred to just zip up all the files comprising pwofc.com and then to download the zip file. However, the zipping facility didn’t seem to work and, on reporting this to the 123-Reg Support operation, I was told that it was out of action at the moment… So, I decided to take the FTP route.

I duly downloaded the free-to-use FTP client, FileZilla, set it up with the destination host IP Address, Port No, Username and Password, and pressed ‘Connect’. After a few seconds a dialogue box opened advising that the host did not support the secure FTP service and asking if I wanted to continue to transfer the files ‘in clear over the internet’. Naturally I was a little concerned, closed the connection, and asked 123-Reg Support if a secure FTP transfer could be achieved. I was told that it could be and was given a link to a Help module which would explain how. This specified that a secure transfer requires Port 2203 to be used (it had previously been set to 21), so I made the change and pressed ‘Connect’ again. Nothing happened. A search of the net indicated that secure FTP requires a Port No of 22, so I changed 2203 to 22 and, bingo, I was in.

FileZilla displays the local file system in a box on the left of the screen, and the remote file system (the pwofc.com files in this case) in a box on the right. Transferring the pwofc files (which comprise a folder called ‘ofc’, a file called ‘index’, and a file called ‘.htaccess’) was simply a matter of highlighting them and dragging them over to a folder in the box on the left. The transfer itself took about 12 minutes for a total file size of 246 Mb.

Of course, the copied files on my laptop are not sufficient to produce the web pages: they also require the SQL database which manages them to deliver a fully functioning web site. If you double click the ‘Index’ file it just delivers a web page with some welcome text but no links to anything else. Hence, these backup files are only of use to download back to the original hosting web site for the blog to be resurrected if the original files have become corrupted or destroyed. I guess they could also, in principle, be used to set up the site on another hosting service – though I have no experience of doing that.

Of course these experiences only relate to one customer’s limited experience of one specific hosting service and may or may not apply generally. However, they do indicate some general points which Blog owners might find worth bearing in mind:

  • Don’t assume that your hosting service could regenerate your Blog if it became corrupted or was destroyed – find out what backup facilities they do or don’t provide.
  • Don’t assume that all the functions provided by your hosting service work – things may be temporarily out of action or may have been superceded by changes to the service over the years.
  • Remember that a backup of the website may be insufficient to regenerate or move the Blog – be clear about what additional infrastructure (such as a database) will be required.
  • If you want to be able to look at the Blog offline and independently of a hosting service, investigate other options such as creating a hardcopy book, or using a tool such as HTTrack (which is discussed in the following entry).

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