Offered to update a non-profit website and in over my head
February 2, 2014 2:33 PM   Subscribe

I have set up a number of wordpress sites, both for myself and other businesses, so I offered to update the website for a non-profit. However, dealing with the hosting is more complicated than anything I've encountered thus far. So, I'm hoping someone with more knowledge can tell me if I'm going about this the right way.

Right now, the domain is registered through a Google Apps account that is farming out the registration to GoDaddy. The actual hosting is done through Wild Apricot, which is a membership management tool that also offers a website builder. Wild Apricot does not require any changes to the nameservers, but they require changes to the CNAME, A-Record, and SPF TXT record. I also don't have any way to log in to the Wild Apricot via FTP.

I'm ultimately setting up a new WordPress site on DreamHost. So, I need to go into GoDaddy and change the nameservers to DreamHost. I'm hoping that if I change the CNAME, A-Record and SPF TXT on the DreamHost account, that there shouldn't be any downtime while the transfer takes place. Does that seem right?

After I do that, I'm going to install Wordpress in a folder, and then when I'm all done, move it to the root. At that point, I'll change the CNAME, A-record, and SPF TXT so they no longer point to Wild Apricot. Do I need to bother with the folder if all those settings are going to Wild Apricot?

Overall, does this seem like a good workflow to get the new website up with minimal downtime? This is a bit beyond my skill level and I just want to make sure I'm on the right track.
posted by ohisee to Technology (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's not a problem to have DNS, a website, and email hosted all on different providers. But I can understand the urge to consolidate (and I don't trust GoDaddy at all). You should look at this as a multiple stage process:

1. Moving DNS registration. Don't change any of the records right now, just get DNS up and working on the preferred provider as is. If you're copying settings from one to the other there shouldn't be any downtime, but it might take days for everyone to update. DNS servers rely heavily on caching at all levels, and some ISPs cache more aggressively than others. I'd give it a minimum of 48 hours before I started editing records on the new providers.

2. Fix DNS records for the old site. Make sure you understand what it is you're changing, why they're broken, and why what you're doing is fixing it. Maybe you could give us some more details on this step so we can help you with a plan.

3. Install/testing the new WP site. Frankly I'd setup the production site how it's actually supposed to be and not as a subfolder. WP likes to save paths everywhere and is not always easy to move (although if you have little content that makes things simpler). You can edit your local hosts file to point to the new WP site before making it live for everyone else.

4. Make the new WP site live by changing DNS. Give it another 48 hours at least before you start fooling with the old one.

5. Make the old site inaccessible somehow without modifying the content. If this were straight up apache I'd start adding "Allow from none" directives. Maybe move all the content into a subfolder so people get a 404 error. Point is, if people are still reaching the old site and they start complaining, you can restore the content quickly while you figure out what went wrong.

6. Decommission the old site. Make sure you have backups, then start canceling service. Probably 1wk after being on the new site.
posted by sbutler at 3:02 PM on February 2, 2014

Of course, it should go without saying, test after every step. Use "dig" or something equivalent to make sure the DNS is migrated to a new provider. Again, dig to make sure the record fix got applied. Change the hosts file on a couple computers to validate the new site is up for everyone. Revert the local hosts changed and dig again when the new site goes live. Change the hosts file to point to the old server to make sure it's inaccessible.
posted by sbutler at 3:06 PM on February 2, 2014

Thanks so much for the response. This is still a bit over my head.

1.) When you say to get the DNS up and working on the preferred provider, I'm not entirely sure what that means. Should I copy the records from the GoDaddy registration into the DreamHost account? I just want to be super clear because I've never messed around with this stuff when there was a current live site before.

2.) The fact that this is set up through Wild Apricot is really throwing me for a loop here. In order to have our own URL that is hosted through them, we just tell them what the URL is and then change the CNAME, A-record and SPF TXT. Then, we can add pages and files through a really crappy user interface on the Wild Apricot admin page. If I can get away with not touching these settings, I would be happy with that.

3.) I'm having problems installing WP on DreamHost because the DNS records are not pointing to an active registration. So, if the DNS is set up for it to go through GoDaddy, that should solve this problem, right? And then I can modify the local hosts file on my computer so I can play around without it being public (those instructions look simple enough)?

4.) This is the step where I would change the DNS on GoDaddy to point to the DreamHost site? At this point, I could just take out all the Wild Apricot stuff, too?

5-6.) Not sure how I'll do this since it's a weird web service, but I'll get in touch with Wild Apricot and tell them what's up.

Is this right?
posted by ohisee at 3:53 PM on February 2, 2014

Ok. I went for a run and cleared my head of the Wild Apricot confusion and this is all making sense now. I'm also testing things with dig and it's helping a ton. Thank you!
posted by ohisee at 6:05 PM on February 2, 2014

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