Changing domain servers: easy-peasy, or fraught with hidden danger?
February 23, 2009 6:34 AM   Subscribe

My inamorata works for a company that is, surprise surprise, experiencing economic difficulties. One area where they are hurting is web hosting. Their site is costing them about $600 a month, which is waaay out of line for their site: html with some Flash, nothing special, not even any video. It changes rarely. What I want to do is to take over maintaining this site and save them a bunch of money.

This is a small construction company with half a dozen or so networked employees. I want to set them up on LinkSky, where I do most of my client hosting.

Now, I'm a web designer, not an IT guy, and I am anxious not to screw this up. I've built a lot of sites in my time but I have never moved one before. Am I correct in my assumption that all I need to do is to FTP the extant files (and Outlook's email account info) to a new server and point the domain there? Am I missing any "gotcha's"?

One caveat is that they are currently getting email through the Microsoft Exchange, which they don't like because that too is costing money. So I want to re-configure Outlook (a new email account, obviously) for the new servers. Shouldn't be difficult, right?

However, I've looked at some earlier posts, such as the one below, and they do make me a bit uneasy. So: is this a dumb thing for me to attempt?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I should say that I know I don't FTP the Outlook info... I need to edit it, rather. (Not enough coffee this morning yet.)
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:36 AM on February 23, 2009

this shouldn't be hard at all!

before you do ANYTHING, make sure to download a copy of each and every file that they currently have up on their website. EVERYTHING.

now, go buy some hosting for the site. when you do that, the host will give you their nameserver info.

make sure you have copies of all the files you need for the site.

upload all files to your new hosting area, using an ftp client or however you want to get all the files up there. keep the file structure that's currently in place, because otherwise links and such may get borked and you'll have to plod through figuring that mess out.

login to whatever place they registered their domain name with. enter the new hosting place's nameservers where it says to.

wait while things resolve. this may happen instantaneously (that's always fun!) or it may take up to a day or two. it usually doesn't take that long, but they tell you it might just to cover their asses.

after everything has resolved, to anyone going to, it shouldn't look like anything has changed.

as for the email, your new host's cpanel email hoobity should tell you the exact right settings to use to configure outlook to grab the email from the new host. of course, you'll have to create the email addresses again on your new host (i think). and configuring outlook is super easy.

i think that about covers's been a while since i've done this, so i may have glossed over a step, but i'm sure others will have clarifying comments.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:02 AM on February 23, 2009

Thanks, that is reassuring and jibes with my knowledge. One thing: the site as it now stands was done in PHP, although I'll be dipped if I can see any reason that would be the case. Can I replicate these pages in HTML once I've got the directory structure re-created on my own personal (non-PHP) machine?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:05 AM on February 23, 2009

I think Microsoft Exchange could be a problem, depending on how they use it. It's my understanding Exchange has quite a few features designed to support business users, and it's not the same thing as just replacing it with a POP server. I think it's important that you figure out how they use Exchange and whether or not they really need its features, because you don't want to complete the change discover that they rely on some aspect of Exchange that isn't available with just POP accounts (like shared calendars).
posted by justkevin at 7:06 AM on February 23, 2009

Make friends with a support person at the new hosting company. Everything you're asking about should be a normal set of questions for them.
posted by omnidrew at 7:08 AM on February 23, 2009

Thanks again, all. I commonly use Dreamweaver so I hope t obe able to admin the site casually that way, with a replica of the site on my local machine.

Exchange vs POP: They started using Exchange because it was capable of forwarding messages to their Blackberries. Now they want to go back to regular old email, again to save some bucks.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:13 AM on February 23, 2009

You probably cannot switch from php to html without breaking some functionality. If you don't know any php, it is best not to say "what's the worst that can happen" and rename all your file extensions.

What you should do instead, is get a localhost set up. (Any hosting company you find will have php so the live site itself is not a concern, try to make sure it is the same version (4 versus 5) as your current host). Try MAMP for os x or XAMPP for windows. These are both installers that come with everything you need to get your own local server running so that you can do site upkeep on your own machine, then transfer files to the live host.

(You can also view source of php page, save as text.html, and edit in that, but be aware that some pieces of the page might be in other files, etc., and you might have to remake your pages after editing the html in a piecemeal fashion).

Can't help with the exchange issues, but all the advice about moving hosting above is accurate, and as long as you have backups you'll probably be fine.
posted by shownomercy at 7:23 AM on February 23, 2009

shownomercy, I have used PHP in the past but to no grea textent. As I am concerned about functionality, I like your suggestion -- XAMPP looks good and isn't huge, so I'll give that a shot. I had done viewsource on some of the site's pages and they look straightforward but yeah -- one never knows, and I don't relish the thought of all that link re-coding. Thank you for your input.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:09 AM on February 23, 2009

Don't rename the php files! When you do a "view source", you're not seeing the php code -- you're seeing the html code the php is producing. The php is executed on the server, the html generated, and then served to the client (ie you!) This is what you see when you "view source".

Before you change anything, you need to look at the ORIGINAL source files. The ones you're ftping to your local box to test. (XAMPP is a good idea, I use WAMP on Windows boxes, but it's essentially the same thing.)

That being said, any host worth anything has PHP, and it really isn't a performance hit to leave them as is. I wouldn't bother changing the extensions. It's more trouble than it's worth; you never know what hidden reference is lurking that you missed.
posted by cgg at 8:33 AM on February 23, 2009

For Exchange, look into having their mail hosted by an Exchange provider, such as 1and1 or mail2web or any other of a number of such providers. There are methods, with Outlook, to forklift their data over to the new host without any interruptions. I have to ask, though, how is Exchange costing them money each month? You purchase the licenses and that's it.

You mentioned Blackberry integration. It's possible that BES is what's actually costing them the bucks, and there's no way around that if they want to keep mobile device access to Exchange or, really, any other e-mail since Blackberry Internet Service (for personal) still requires paying Blackberry money.
posted by fireoyster at 8:34 AM on February 23, 2009

The problem with doing 'viewsource' on interpreted pages such as php is that you will see the final output and not the code that created it. I agree with you that it's unlikely a brochureware site is doing anything baroque, but there may well be php includes and other things that will create problems. There might even be some rudimentary SQL-based content management system for all you know. In some circumstances a ".php" file may be pure html with no executable code, and conversely some ".html" files are actually all php, it just depends on how the server is configured and the whims of the original developer. The best way to evaluate what is going on is to FTP all the files locally and inspect them. This will give you a sense of how complex the site is, because downloading the pages over FTP skips the step of parsing and "viewsource" does not.
posted by squid patrol at 8:38 AM on February 23, 2009

Are you really sure you want to do this? If it all goes wrong somehow are they going to blame your inamorata as a consequence and put her first on the list for being dropped? Even if it works, you'll be the person they phone when "email doesn't work" from then onwards, which could be a huge timesink.

Which is not to say that laying out some options for them isn't a good move, but if it was me leave it up to them to decide a) what to do and b) who to employ to do it.

Mixing personal & work lives in this way just seems like a bad idea to me.
posted by pharm at 10:59 AM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would suggest you need someone more skilled and knowledgeable about the back-end/hosting issues to help you with the transition. After that's all locked down, you should be able to maintain it yourself.

Don't forget you could set up temporary hosting, without transferring the domain name, and test everything before you actually move the domain to point to the new server. You can take you time.

Just make sure the temporary version doesn't get into Google and confuse things. I speak from bitter experience.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:38 PM on February 23, 2009

After you put the new files in place, edit your host file to point the domain at your new server. Test the pages before updating the DNS entry. You can also do this on a local machine if you need to troubleshoot.
posted by Pronoiac at 2:10 AM on February 24, 2009

If they're doing BIS and Exchange, you are in for a world of hurt. That is (unfortunately) something that is *not* best handled by amateurs or web designers that want to play IT guy. No offense or nothin' but moving Exchange stuff around can turn into a huge headache, really fast.

Find out what they're really using it for. Who knows, it's likely that they would be just fine with IMAP. There are IMAP clients for BlackBerry devices now too. Their wireless carrier might also have something that would be useful. (My BlackBerry is tied to my domain's IMAP account and it works great)
posted by drstein at 11:46 AM on February 24, 2009

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