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Migrating smoothly from one web host to another

By Sanjay Sharma
Posted Thursday, June 17, 2004

Changing your Web Host can be an expensive, time consuming and difficult practice; being the main reason why many dissatisfied customers prefer to stay and put up with an awful hosting service.

During most website migrations, through lack of knowledge or experience, many website owners end up loosing clients and damaging time-built company images, because their sites are unavailable for days or weeks on end. Another problem is loss of emails, some crucial, making migrations very expensive and even dangerous.

Migration from one web host to another is not difficult; it can be fast and safe when one knows what the experts know. By following the steps below you will stand a better chance of a smooth transfer.

The most important start to website migration is finding another web host, one that will not give you reason to migrate again, or soon. A whole book can be written on how to choose a web host; or by searching on ‘choosing a web host’ in a major search engine, there will be many articles available.

The steps below will give you an idea on how to start and how to avoid a lot of the pitfalls.

· First, make a list of all the features your website uses or requires, and will require in the future, be prepared.
· Make a list of web hosts who offer these features; you can find hosts in web hosting directories, message forums, or by searching on a major search engine.
· Read the information on their websites carefully, specially their terms and conditions.
· Avoid any long-term contracts and full-payments in advance.
· Ask questions about all things you have a doubt about.
· Email their support department at various times (both day and night) and check the response time.
· You will find customer reviews on hosts in web hosting directories. (Unfortunately they may not be the most accurate due to much web host guerilla activity, but greater scrutiny will often help.)
· Talk to people in web hosting related message forums; you may find useful information on hosting companies by their existing or past, customers.

Sign-up an account with your new host. Upload all of your files, databases and test your site using the IP address given to you with your new account. Make adjustments in the coding, necessary for the change in the server environment. Then check each and every page, link and image on your website.

On your new mail server, re-create all email accounts currently in use; and set up auto-responders, forwarders and aliases at the same time. If available, enable the “catch-all” feature; this will help you to retrieve all emails sent to a non-existing email account; which you may have forgotten to create! Remember though, the new email addresses will only work after the transfer of domain is complete. Unfortunately, there is no way to test them on new server before the transfer.

The next step is transferring the domain; to do this you need to start by changing the DNS server details, which is pretty easy to do. Obtain the Primary and Secondary nameserver details from your new web host. Go to your domain registrar’s site (the site from which you registered the domain name) and login into your control panel, offered by most of the domain registrars, to maintain your domain name. In the control panel, look for the ‘DNS’, ‘Nameserver’ or ‘Delegation’ option and change the previous nameserver details, with the new one (you just obtained from your new host).

Some domain registrars confirm these changes by sending an email to the address you nominated while registering that domain. You will need to reply using that email address. Most of the hosts offer a free domain transfer service and will be happy to make the necessary transfer changes for you. The domain transfer can take 24 to 72 hours to be confirmed by the domain registrar; and, so too for the new host, if doing this service for you. If it is not transferred within 72 hours, it is advisable to contact the domain registrar and look into the matter.

Once your domain is transferred you will start receiving emails from your new mail server and see your website from your new account. Leave your old web hosting account open for 3 or 4 more days, just to ensure you receive all emails, including those losing their way in the domain transfer and directed back to your old email account.

After a few days, ask your previous web host to cancel your account. Make sure you follow all of your previous host’s closing procedures, and leave cleanly. You will find that the transfer should go smoothly and all parties will be more helpful.
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