Create WordPress backups without a plugin for speed and security

An alternative to WordPress backup plugins

Typing on a computer keyboard

A backup of your website of blog is essential and the obvious way to do it is by using a WordPress plugin. However, it is not the only way and a DIY method offers both speed and security.

It is not that manually backing up a WordPress website is any faster or more secure than using a plugin, it isn’t and the speed and security alluded to is a by product of reducing the number of plugins installed. Removing a WordPress plugin reduces the workload on the system, which enables it to run faster and it also eliminates a possible security flaw.

On of the best ways to increase speed and security in WordPress is by running with the minimum number of plugins. Flaws in them are the number one way in which hackers get into websites, so your site will be safer if you can remove a backup plugin and back up yourself using other methods.

Google’s focus on speed these days means that you have to use every trick you can to make your website as fast as possible. It is good for visitors who are said to abandon slow sites that take too long to load and it is good for search ranking because speed is a ranking factor. It is not the only one, but a fast website load speed certainly helps.

(If you want to use a backup plugin, here is a guide I created to backing up with UpdraftPlus.)

Back up WordPress files

Broadly speaking, there are two parts to a WordPress website and there are files and databases. You must back them up separately using different methods.

To back up WordPress files you need some way to access them. Many web hosts provide FTP access, which enables a special program, an FTP client, to connect to your web hosting storage space and access the files it contains. Downloading a copy of those files is the first step to making a backup.

You don’t have to use an FTP program and your web hosting account may provide a method to access files, such as through a file manager in cPanel, but here I will use a free utility called Cyberduck that runs on Windows PC and Apple Mac. I will use Mac screenshots here, but the PC program is almost identical.

Show hidden files in Cyberduck FTP app on the Apple Mac

The first thing to do is to run Cyberduck and open your website. You will find FTP login details in your web hosting account. Everyone has a unique username, password and url, so I can’t tell you what yours is and you will have to find out. Go to the View menu and enable Show Hidden Files. This is because some WordPress files are hidden and they need to be included in the backup.

Synchronize on the File menu in Cyberduck on the Apple Mac
Sync your website with a folder on the computer’s disk

Next, go to the File menu and select Synchronize. Using Cyberduck to back up a website involves synchronising the contents of the site, the files and folders, with a folder on the computer’s drive.

Select a folder to download to using Cyberduck FTP app on the Apple Mac

You are asked to select a local folder to synchronize with. Create a new folder on the disk if necessary, open it and then select Choose. This is where your website will be backed up to, so make sure the drive has enough free space. A website site could use 500 MB of disk space or even more.

Cyberduck FTP app sync options

Syncing does not immediately start and before it begins you have the opportunity to choose the sync type. To back up your website, choose Download.

Upload would be used to restore a site by copying files from your computer to your website to replace missing files or cure a malware problem. Mirror is for advanced users that want to edit WordPress files on their computer and then sync the changes to their live site.

Select Download and click Continue. That’s it. The time taken to download your site depends on several factors, such as the speed of the internet connection and the speed of your site. It could take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour.

The biggest factor affecting the backup time is whether this is your first backup or not. Every single file must be downloaded to your computer the first time the site is backed up, but the next time, the same folder on disk can be selected and only files online that have changed or are new are downloaded. It might only take five minutes if you back up weekly.

One thing you have to watch out for is that files are never deleted on the computer. Only new and changed files are downloaded. If you delete an image in WordPress media gallery, it will not be deleted in the backup on the computer’s disk. If you delete a plugin in WordPress, it is not deleted on the computer.

I would not bother about images, but if a plugin is deleted online, delete it from the backup in /wp-content/plugins.

Back up WordPress databases

Images are stored as files, which have now been backed up to disk, but WordPress stores the text of posts and pages, comments and many other things in databases. These need to be backed up and this is achieved through phpMyAdmin.

phpMyAdmin is accessed through your web hosting account. Some web hosts use cPanel, others use their own custom interface to access setup and configuration. I cannot tell you exactly where to look for phpMyAdmin in your account, but it will be there somewhere, perhaps buried several menus deep, so you may need to hunt for it.

Export WordPress database using phpMyAdmin

When you find phpMyAdmin, open it and there is a series of tabs for accessing various functions. Use the Export tab to download a copy of your WordPress databases. Don’t change any settings, just go for the Quick option with the defaults. Click Go and save the file to disk.

The Import function, which is used to restore the databases in the event of a disaster, is right next to Export.

Use web hosting features

Some web hosting companies automatically back up your site and they can be used instead of a backup plugin in WordPress. Menus and app names vary between web hosts and it could be called anything. Here is Site Backup Pro used by one web host and there is an icon in cPanel.

Part of cPanel in the web hosting interface

It enables you to download your whole hosting account (Home Directory), your WordPress files (Website Files) and databases (MySQL). Clicking the Browse links shows more details and provides a Restore option where you can upload files or databases to restore your website.

Web hosting website backup features

If your web host provides something like this, use it to download your site files and databases. It is important that you have your own copy of the backup files on your computer’s drive. Do not leave the backups with your web host, take responsibility for your own backups.

Maybe I’m paranoid, but I like to use both a plugin to back up and occasionally make my own manual backups. It is probably unnecessary, but I like to be safe. Between the plugin any my own backup, I can probably get my site working again if disaster strikes.

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