Note: this post is about standalone versions of WordPress called wordpress.org, rather than wordpress.com, which is hosted by WordPress themselves.
If there was a list of ten laws for running a website I’m convinced one of them would be “thou shalt regularly back up thy entire website.”
No one realises quite how vital it is to maintain automatic full website backups until something goes wrong. Having a regular backup has saved me a good deal of sweat and bother, and the good news is it doesn’t have to be one of those tasks so daunting you put off until you wish you hadn’t.
Automatic backups can be set at various levels so we’re going to start at the smallest, easiest level and work our way upwards.
- Page and post revisions – use this if you only need to roll back the contents of one page or post
- Whole website backup via a plugin – everyone should be doing this
- Hosting backup – your final port of call
1. Page and post revisions
These are saved automatically by WordPress every time you save changes to a page or post, plus up to one additional autosave per post for good measure. Unless you clear out revisions manually, they will be saved in your site’s database forever, available for you to roll back to at any point.
You can find the list of revisions under the post editing interface. Here’s what the list looks like:
If you can’t see that list click the white ‘screen options’ tag in the bottom right of the window and make sure ‘revisions’ is ticked.
When you click a revision you’ll be taken to a handy page like this where you can compare revisions and select one to restore
Note that these backups only cover the content of your pages and posts, not your website media, settings, plugins and themes. These backups are also onsite, meaning they’re stored on the server your website sits on, so if you ever have any problems with your host or someone hacks your website, your whole site could be in danger.
This brings us to…
2. Whole website backup within WordPress
We’d definitely recommend installing a plugin to back up your entire website, including your database, media, plugins, themes and settings. Our best recommendation for this is UpdraftPlus, which provides a range of decent free offsite backup options.
UpdraftPlus can back up to the following services:
- Their own UpdraftPlus Vault (1GB free, pay for extra)
- FTP to another server of your choice
- Microsoft Azure
- OpenStack (Swift)
- Amazon S3
- Rackspace Cloud Files
- Google Cloud
- Google Drive
- Microsoft OneDrive
Backups can be run manually (e.g before making a major change), or automatically anything between every 2 hours and monthly.
You can also set UpdraftPlus to retain a limited number of backups. A good rule of thumb is to save daily file backups retained for 7 days, and daily database backups retained for 30 days. It really depends how rapidly your site is updated and how quickly you reckon you’d find out if something goes wrong.
Note that while UpdraftPlus will back up your WordPress database, plugins, themes, uploads and other directories inside the wp-content folder it won’t back up anything else in your hosting account. However it should cover all standard WP installations just fine.
3. Your web host
Web hosts will typically keep backups of customer’s data in case anything goes wrong. Ultimately this is down to the particular arrangement between you and your web host.
If you have access to your hosting interface (cPanel or similar) you should find hosting backup options there. These typically allow you to restore the whole account, individual databases, email accounts or files from their saved backups.
If these hosting backups are stored offsite you typically can’t change how often these are kept, but if they’re stored onsite (i.e on the same server as your website through app installers like Softaculous or Installatron) you may be able to. Just watch out to make sure your saved backups don’t take you over your account’s storage limits if you’re storing them onsite.
While web host backups are great for peace of mind ultimately it’s best to consider them a last port of call, especially if you’re using a CMS like WordPress that’s so easy to automatically back up offsite yourself. If you do find you need help from your hosting provider to restore a website, they can sometimes take a little time to respond to support queries, so if something’s gone wrong you may find yourself waiting a little longer than ideal for it to get fixed.