How do I switch web hosts without any down time?

If going through whatever reasons you have for switching web hosts (usually sub-par support or billing issues) isn’t enough, now that you’ve decided to move you need to go through the uncertainty of getting your site up and running somewhere else. Cheer up because the typical web site move is straightforward and with some clear direction it can be fairly painless.

We’ll cover this step by step and try to cover any pitfalls you might encounter along the way.

Even if you have completed one of these main steps (such as “selecting your new web host”) you should read each completely in case there is something else you might have missed.

1) Preparation

There are a number of things you should do right away (do not skip this step!):

  1. Check to see who has control of domain modifications (specifically name server changes) at your domain registrar. You will need to make name server modifications near the end of this process, if you do not have authority to make these changes you should determine what you need to do to get it. One of the most frustrating things in moving a site is having everything running on the new host and not being able to get the domain name point across properly because the old host or a long gone webmaster has control of the domain.
  2. Get a local copy of your files. If you do not have a current local copy of your website, you should get it now. If you do not have access to your web site, ask the new hosting company if they have any avenues to assist. Hosting companies usually charge a fee for doing the web site move for you. Be sure to include any programs that are not owned by the losing host.
    If you are using an FTP (file transfer protocol) program, be sure that text files are downloaded using “ASCII” and binary files (images, pdf, etc) are downloaded using “Binary”.
  3. Note and review any programs (such as formmail or a shopping cart) that your site currently uses. Programs that are moved will typically need to have some modifications to work with the new hosting server directory structure. If there are programs that you can not move, be sure that your new hosting company will have an acceptable alternative.
  4. Note the IP address and alternative URL supplied by your current hosting company for your site. You should be able to use this if for any reason you need to access the old account after your have moved your domain.
  5. Are you using a database program such as MySql? You will want to be sure your new hosting account includes MySql or any other database program you might be using.
  6. Note the features that are included with your old hosting account such as the number of email pop and alias accounts and how many you actually need. Your old hosting plan may have unlimited email accounts but you only use 5. This allows you to keep from discarding a good prospect because the features might not be exactly the same. Do the same thing with other features such as disk space and monthly data transferred allowed (and actually used).
  7. If you have multiple email users on your account check each of them to see if they are accessing the mail server at your hosting account. Note the mail server they are currently using and gather the pop user names and passwords (many hosts do not have visible passwords so when you set up the new pop account in a later step you will want this information).
  8. If you have your own secure certificate (accessing your site using “HTTPS” such as https://www.yourdomainname.com) get your certificate and key from the server. You may have to ask your current host for these files. If you are accessing your site securely (with HTTPS) using the hosting company’s domain name, note this because you will want to be sure your new host offers the same ability.
  9. Determine the proper account cancellation procedures at the current host. Do not start cancellation procedures but note the correct process since you will need it in the last step.
  10. If your email address on your hosting account is the same as your hosted domain name consider changing it to an alternate e-mail address. If your old hosting company needs to contact you in the future and has not removed your domain from their name servers you might not receive the email. We are aware of cases where customer’s accounts never got canceled properly and the old companies submitted their accounts to collection agencies. This could have been avoided if the account had an alternate billing email address.
Quick Tip:
Good preparation is the key to a smooth web host switch. Gather as much information about your current account as possible, including alternative methods of accessing your account in case you need to retrieve anything after the domain has moved.

Quick Tip:
If you are using a proprietary shopping cart owned by your current host you will most likely need to switch to another cart. Consider using a cart that is not proprietary, such as osCommerce that you can freely move from one provider to another.

Quick Tip:
If you have custom programs you may need to have specific modules installed on your new server before they can be used. Check the documentation and have your prospective host confirm that needed components are available or can be installed.