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WordPress Tip: Backing Up Your Database

May 24, 2010 • wordpress

I sent out this tip in my last WordPress newsletter. You can subscribe to my WordPress newsletter here.

With WordPress 3.0 just around the corner, scheduled to be released before the end of the month, what should you do to prepare?

When the update is available, you'll see a notification message at the top of your WordPress administrative interface. It will prompt you to back up your database and files before upgrading to 3.0.

Many users have no idea how to back up their databases and files. Because of this, many people are still working with older versions of WordPress that are no longer secure. With this week's WordPress tip, I'll teach you how to back up your WordPress database and files.

Backing Up Your WordPress Database

The easiest way to back up your WordPress database is by implementing the WP Database Manager plugin. In your WordPress admin interface, go to Plugins > Add New and search for wp-dbmanager. Install and activate the plugin.

After you install the plugin, you will see a new Database tab at the bottom of your admin sidebar. Through the Backup DB and Manage Backup DB options, you can back up your database. You can also set an automatic backup schedule from the DB Options menu.

As a security measure, this backup plugin asks you to change the location of an htaccess file to another folder. This htaccess file makes the archived databases more secure by restricting outside access. The paths for the file are shown in the notification message at the top. You can move the location of this file through FTP with a client such as Filezilla. After you move the htacess.txt file, rename it to .htaccess.

Sometimes wp-dbmanager doesn't work (depending on your host configuration). In that case, I recommend the WordPress Database Backup tool from il filosofo. This plugin installs a backup option under the Tools menu. It's not as robust of a backup plugin, but it gets the job done and seems to work with every version of WordPress and on every host.

Running the Upgrade

After you back up your database, you can upgrade your version of WordPress by going to Tools > Upgrade.  Click Upgrade automatically. If you don't see this option, you might be using an older version of WordPress. In that case, you'll have to upgrade your site manually.

Also Back Up Your Plugins

When you back up your site, also upgrade your plugins. The latest version of WordPress provides you with an ability to upgrade your plugins in bulk from the same Tools > Upgrade page. If you don't see options to upgrade your plugins, upgrade WordPress to the latest version, and then revisit the Tools > Upgrade page. You'll then see the options to upgrade your plugins.

If You Run into PHP Memory Errors ...

Sometimes when you try to upgrade your site, you see a PHP memory limit error that prevents you from upgrading. The easiest way to get around this PHP error is by deactivating all of your plugins before upgrading. You can deactivate and reactivate all of your plugins in bulk from the Plugins > Installed screen. After you deactivate all your plugins, try upgrading again. After the upgrade, reactivate your plugins.

If You See Errors on Your Site After the Upgrade ...

What happens if you upgrade your site and you see errors? Most likely the errors appear because you deactivated a plugin that needs to be reactivated, and you just haven't reactivated it yet.

But there's also the possibility that one of the plugins on your site isn't compatible with the latest version of WordPress. If that's the case, you need to deactivate your plugins one by one until you find the problematic plugin. Alternatively, deactivate all your plugins and then reactivate them one by one until you find the problem.

Do You Need to Back Up Your Files Too?

What about backing up your theme files, not just your database? It's a good idea to back up your theme files, but honestly, I wouldn't worry about backing up the theme files and almost never do before upgrading.

If you do want to back up your theme files, FTP into your web host and drill into the wp-content/themes folder. Then download your theme folder.

Getting Help

If you need help backing up your database and upgrading WordPress, let me know. I am available for hire to help you. Many of the hacks and other problems people have with WordPress happen because people are using older versions of WordPress or have outdated plugins.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.