Most of us keep regular backups of all our important data, especially which is on the internet. Websites should also be backed up regularly as a safety measure in case of a disaster and also as a version tracking mechanism. This ensures that in the event of our website being hacked or becoming corrupt, we can quickly restore it to a prior version. Most of us have automatic mechanisms to take a backup. But little do we realise that taking a backup doesnt really end there. We need to ensure that it is a workable backup and not a dummy file which has not value. This article explains how we can prevent backup file failures and how to ensure that our website backup will be of use when we need it.
An important aspect of taking backups is not to forget any of the elements that make up your account. Your web hosting account has several elements which need to be backed up so that you can restore your entire account. This means that you need to backup things like Email, Website Files, Databases, Configuration Files, Web Statistics, Email Forwarders and any other customizations that you may have done with any of these elements. Hosting Control Panels like cPanel or Plesk may allow you to take backups of these elements separately or compile them into a single compressed file. Forgetting even one part of your account backup may render your website useless. Many people forget to take a backup of their database files since the backend is not something that the users interact with. Similarly, the small configuration files and customizations can also boost the speed and efficiency when you attempt to restore the backup.
The in-built backup options of your web hosting control panel will usually save your backup in the home directory of your account. This means that the backup will also consume hosting space within your account. If you are on a limited space plan, you should have atleast 50% free disk space before you backup your account. If you do not have enough space, the backup may not complete fully or may get corrupt. This can be disastrous when you are dependent on it and when you want to restore the account. Ensure that you have enough free space so that your backup is not stuck.
One of the most common failure points when taking a backup is the download to your local machine or onto the media you are ultimately backing up on. Very often, when the backup file is being downloaded on the media or machine, the network connection may drop or the process maybe terminated. This may indicate that the file has been downloaded, but actually the file is only partially downloaded. A client of ours who was switching from shared hosting to a dedicated server was taking a backup of his website on his own. He started downloading the backup file from his hosting account. The size of the backup file was about 600 MB. On his internet connection, it indicated that about 8 minutes were left for the download to complete. In between the download process, his internet connection dropped. He noticed that the file transfer had stopped and file was on his hard disk. However, he did not notice the file size and assumed that the entire 600 MB has been downloaded. The backup file was corrupt and had downloaded only 350 MB. Luckily he noticed the mistake and was able to retrieve the backup file. You may not always be so lucky.
The best way to ensure your backup file’s integrity is using a checksum tool to verify the checksum of the file before and after it is downloaded. Ideally this means that you get a unique hash value of the file from the web server. This unique hash value is tied to the file and is almost impossible to reverse engineer. Then, after you have downloaded the file, retest for the checksum of the downloaded file on your backup media. The checksum of the file should be exactly the same. If the file is corrupt or tampered or has not downloaded properly, the checksum will mismatch and you will get to know easily. This ensures data integrity and provides assurance of a healthy backup file.