Moving Day: Switching Web Hosts

Matt Mickiewicz

It’s going to happen at least once to every webmaster. You either outgrow your web hosting company, they don’t support a new feature that you need, or they just bite. So you set out to find a company to provide a new home for your web site. After days of tedious searching, you find the perfect company to host your site. But, how can you ensure a smooth transition to the new server? Follow these five easy steps to ensure that the transfer goes flawlessly:

1. Set Up the New Account and Upload

When setting up the account at the new hosting company, be sure to tell them that you do not want them to transfer the domain name until you tell them to do so.

Obtain a login name and password for your new account from the webhost company. You’ll be logging into an IP address (something like 209.207.44.3), rather than a domain name like yahoo.com.

Replicate your current directory structure on the new server and upload everything but your CGI/PERL scripts. You’ll have to ask the new hosting company where PERL is located on the server and the directory where your site resides. If it’s different than what you currently have (and I bet it will be) then you’ll have to edit the scripts manually to reflect the changes before uploading them.

Tip: Upload all of your HTML files in ASCII mode. This will prevent the "blank page" syndrome that may occur when uploading in Binary mode. Check the instructions that come with your FTP program to find out how to change the settings.

2. Test a Few Pages

Make sure the upload went well, and that everything is working after the domain name transfer takes place by testing a few key pages. This will require you to manually type in a few URLs. They will look something like this:

http://209.207.44.3/faq.htm
http://209.207.44.3/contact.htm
etc.

Just replace the IP address with what your hosting company assigned you, and the HTML file names with the names of the actual files residing on your server.

If you click on any of the links on your test pages, you will be transferred to your current server rather than the new server, which is where you want to be. The only exception is if you used relative rather than absolute paths for your URL linking.

Relative URL: contact.htm
Absolute URL: http://site.com/contact.htm

This is also a good opportunity to test your scripts, although you’ll have to change any domain name references in the script to the IP address of your site on the new host.

3. Transfer the Domain Name

Once everything is on the new server and working properly, email your hosting company and tell them to transfer your domain name. Usually, you’ll receive an email from Network Solutions within 24 hours asking you to confirm the transfer. Simply reply to that email and wait.

Once the transfer has been completed, you’ll have to wait up to two weeks for the DNS servers around the world to be updated. During that time, maintain two copies of your site. Even after your DNS server has updated, you will want to maintain two copies of the site for a little while for the benefit of those whose ISP’s DNS servers have not been updated.

A good way to know when your own ISP has updated is to upload a slightly different version of a particular page to the new server. When you type in: http://site.com/page.htm and see the different version you’ll know that your ISPs DNS servers have been updated.

Hot Tip: Once the new copy of your site is up and running, contact your current host and ask them to change the MX record so that it points to the IP address of your site on your new web host. This will remove the need for maintaining two sites.

4. Wait A Bit and Then Cancel Your Previous Account

During the waiting period, you’ll have two email accounts to check (if you use the POP accounts your hosting company provides for you). The best way to proceed with checking them is to use the IP addresses of your site on both the old and new server, as the POP server in your e-mail program, rather than using domain names.

After a week or two, cancel the account with the previous hosting company. A good way to determine when it’s time to pull the plug on your old account is when the email stops coming into the account on your old server.

5. Take a Day Off

If all has gone well, give yourself a day off for a job well done!

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