Moving from one website hosting company to another can require a bit of thought and planning. This document provides a step-by-step guide to the process and what to expect.
Switching from Network Solutions and iPower to DreamHost
For context, this document describes the process of consolidating hosting services using the example of switching from Network Solutions (domain registration) and iPower (site hosting and email) to DreamHost.
Also considered is a migration from WordPress.com hosting to DreamHost. The steps will be similar in most migration situations. This example is sufficiently complicated so as to address various situations that can arise.
TASK #1 – Prepare New Hosting Account
You will want to have your new hosting account setup and ready prior to performing the rest of these steps. This will give you an opportunity to create a clone of your existing website, and copy your existing emails into the new system prior to fully using it later. This is explained as you move on to the additional steps here.
To setup the new hosting account, I would suggest DreamHost. I make no money referring people to DreamHost unless a person chooses to use my affiliate link [Click Here] in which case I would earn a one-time referral of $100 if you sign-up for the Shared Unlimited Hosting. I’d appreciate that. It helps cover my expenses, but you’re obviously not obligated to use my link, so I have no specific incentive to recommend any particular hosting service.
The best value with DreamHost is to choose Unlimited Shared Hosting. The cost for the first year is about $40 and then about $120 each year after that. Unlike other hosting companies, you won’t pay hundreds of dollars for SSL certificates, email accounts, and great service is readily available by email, chat, or phone.
When you setup your hosting, choose a domain name to have as a test and migration site. Perhaps it is a domain you’ll use for other purposes later on, or just let it expire if you don’t need it later. It’s possible to setup a DreamHost account and hosting without a domain initially. However, having one helps.
TASK #2 – Backup Existing Website
Prior to making the change to another hosting company, you will want to backup your website. There are several ways to backup a Website. You will want to perform all of them.
- FTP – Using FTP software, copy all the files from your current hosting company to your local hard drive. This will get all of your WordPress files as well as any HTML folders external to WordPress. Be aware that WordPress files are not sufficient to display a WordPress site. Your WordPress website is in a MySQL database and that database needs to be saved in addition to just having your WordPress files. Sometimes the database file is very big and won’t download or import correctly. So, this isn’t a 100% reliable method of backing up.
- EXPORT – There is a plugin available to export your entire WordPress website to a file and import it to another WordPress website. This process usually fails when importing to the new site if the media library has many photos and multimedia elements. To get started, from the WordPress Dashboard go to the Tools menu and choose Export.
- CLONE – The most reliable method of backing up your website will be to create a complete clone of the site to a new site that is configured to be ignored by search engines. You can do this using the DreamHost migration plugin. Install the plugin on your old site and follow the instructions from DreamHost to clone your website. With this option you get a live website to review so you can confirm that the clone process is complete. [Learn More]
- VAULTPRESS – You can use VaultPress to backup your site and then restore it later. [Learn More]
The Clone and VaultPress options should copy over all WordPress content, themes, plugins, media, and the site design. If you’ve put a lot of effort into your existing site, it’s reassuring to see the entire site up and running on a clone site prior to making a big change.
TASK #3 – Backup Emails
If you are using the email service provided by your hosting company, you will want to backup your emails prior to migrating to a new hosting company. To do this, setup an email client like Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird, and copy all received and sent emails to email folders on your computer. Email clients usually have the ability to create local folders, and these are what you will use for storing emails locally.
- OUTLOOK. Microsoft Outlook can be purchased for about $140 [View] or you can have Outlook and the entire Microsoft Office suite for about $70 to $100 for an annual subscription. [Learn More] The $100 annual plan includes about $500 in software to be used by six people on five devices per person. So, about $15,000 in software for $17 per person annually.
- THUNDERBIRD. Mozilla Thunderbird is free, feature-rich, and runs on Apple, Windows, and Linux. It provides detailed progress and status on synchronization and other processes better than other email clients.
If you have numerous folders and subfolders in your email account, with thousands of emails scattered in various places, it will be a very time consuming process to save all the folders and emails, then recreate the entire folder system on the new email account. So, be prepared. This is why it’s best to not use folder systems for your online accounts, and only use folders to organize emails that are saved locally on your computer.
When backing up your emails, take notes as you work to record what has been backed up, as of what date and time, so you can go back later and identify any emails received after the backup.
To backup your emails, you will want to use the “select all” option to highlight all your emails and then use the “copy to” option to copy them to a local folder you’ve created in the email client, such as Saved Inbox or Saved Sent. Some people organized their emails in folders by year to avoid having too many emails in any given folder.
Using the copy function rather than move is very important. The move feature would take a very long time and risks having the emails deleted from the source before they are fully imported into the email client. With the copy function, you can confirm that all emails are present locally including their attachments.
Note that email clients will report that emails have been completely copied even when they have not been completely copied. As a result, you may initially see a thousand emails showing up in your local email folders, but when you open an email it might not have the original message, or maybe the original message will show but any images or attachments will be missing. You will want to wait a considerable time to make sure everything gets copied over. Do a spot check of a few dozen emails on different dates to confirm that all images and attachments are present.
For additional assurance you could consider using two different mail clients to have multiple backup copies of your emails.
You may want to consider manual setup of an account in your email client. This will allow you to use the standard universal server settings such as imap.dreamhost.com and smtp.dreamhost.com for each account you setup. The login credentials (email and password) for the accounts will connect you with the specific mailboxes in the DreamHost system. This means you could begin copying your emails to the new DreamHost email system prior to those even being available to inbound emails. Only after the DNS MX records are updated will emails get routed to your new email system on DreamHost.
Keep in mind that the email messages (received and sent) that you have copied (backed up) at this step will only include messages up to this point. Toward the end of this process, in a few days, you’ll want to review any new emails that arrived since the backup and copy those to a permanent local email client folder on your computer. Once you delete the old email connections and establish news ones, your email accounts and email clients will start over fresh. The old messages will remain with the old hosting company, until your hosting and services are cancelled. However, attending to all of these issues during the full migration process is the time to address the saving of emails rather than later.
TASK #4 – Unlock Domain and Obtain Transfer Code
From the hosting company where your site has been residing, you will need to unlock the domain and obtain the transfer code. Some hosting companies will let you unlock your domain online and immediately view the transfer code. Others, like Network Solutions, will let you unlock the domain online, but not obtain the transfer code until a few days later. There’s an option to call a phone number and get the code from a customer service representative, but that’s a bit of extra hassle.
For many years, and continuing as of 20 Sep 2021, the Network Solutions website does not always reflect changes you make. So, when you unlock your domain, the change may not show up and the status may still show as locked. Once you have unlocked the domain you will need to logout and then login again to your Network Solutions account to view the updated setting.
TASK #5 – Initiate Domain Transfer
After several days, once you receive the transfer code by email, you can then initiate the domain transfer on your new host. In this example, you’ll use the DreamHost account you setup in STEP #1 at the top of this document. Here are the tasks you’ll perform:
- In the DreamHost dashboard, go to Domains > Reg. Transfers > review the three easy steps of preparation and then click the blue Start Transfer to DreamHost button.
- Enter the domain name such as YourDomain.org
- Click the blue Request Transfer button.
- Enter the Authorization code along with your name and contact information. This will be the contact information registered in the global directory of domain name owners.
- Click the blue Continue button.
- You will be informed that the transfer process may take 7 to 10 days.
TASK #6 – Setup New Hosting and Email
You need not wait 7 to 10 days before continuing to this step. As soon as conveniently possible, do the following:
- PREPARE. Make sure you’ve completed TASK #1 through TASK#5 as described above. This will be the foundation for the next steps.
- DOMAIN CHECK. The domain will show up in your hosting account even before the inbound domain transfer has completed. This means you can setup hosting and email accounts for the new domain prior to its arrival. If you don’t see the domain yet, contact support. If needed, you could use a temporary domain to perform the WordPress installation and transfer.
- HOSTING. The hosting plan should show up as active. If it doesn’t, enable hosting for the new domain.
- WORDPRESS. Setup WordPress on the new hosting plan assigned to your inbound domain. Temporarily your domain will be www.domainname.com.dream.website assuming you are using DreamHost. In this example, replace domain name with your domain name. Note that the domain will not yet be secured with HTTPS so don’t try logging in yet until the SSL has been activated on the domain after it arrives.
- EMAIL. The email accounts can be setup and assigned to the domain you are transferring, before it is fully transferred. Do that now.
- MIGRATION PLUG-IN. Some websites will have all content entirely contained in the WordPress system. One needs to simply use the DreamHost Migration Plugin on the source website to have the entire WordPress site transferred into the WordPress installation on the new site. You won’t need to install the plugin on your new site, only on the old one. From the DreamHost Dashboard Home you will see a Tab / Menu Option for Free Migration. It should be visible as a clickable menu link below your domain name. When you go to the Free Migration page, you can generate the Migration Key that will be entered in the plug-in installed on your old site. [Learn More]
TASK #7 – SSL FOR HTTPS
In a few days after initiating the domain transfer, you should receive notification that the domain transfer has completed.
Once the domain is officially transferred, you can request the secure site certificate for the domain. In DreamHost, you will find this in the Dashboard under Websites > Secure Certificates. For the domain you’ve transferred, select to have the Let’s Encrypt free SSL service option. This will ensure that your site loads with HTTPS and has the secure lock displayed for site visitors.
Having the site secured will allow you to go to your /wp-login/ page to login without your username and password being sent in the clear.
TASK #8 – Monitor Progress
When the domain transfer described above has completed, and the worldwide DNS servers are individually updated with the new hosting information, your website visitors around the world will arrive at your new site and emails will arrive in their new email inboxes.
In the first 24 hours, some site visitors and emails may end up at the old service provider.
You can start checking your email accounts immediately through the webmail.dreamhost.com portal with the email and password logins you would normally use. This will be a good way to check messages prior to setting up your email client software.
TASK #9 – Email Client Software
If you setup an email client using firstname.lastname@example.org and your password, the email client automated setup may connect to the old service or the new service, depending on how soon the DNS servers have updated.
If instead you use the universal manual settings provided by your service provider, such as imap.dreamhost.com and smtp.dreamhost.com your email client will keep checking emails on the new email service. When emails start trickling in on the new email system you will see them show up in your new inbox.