Doing Major Changes to your Website without Falling to an unrecoverable Abyss (GoDaddy + WordPress)

Hi there amazing folks,

Last week I wanted to do some major if-not-done-properly-you-are-screwed changes to my website. Knowing that I’m walking risky grounds, I was extra cautious but failed miserably while doing so. Fortunately I took backups before taking things apart so I was able to recover from the ramifications of my stupidity. However it wasn’t all a candy-land when I tried recovering and ended-up many things to recover back to the way I wanted.

In retrospect, I failed because of the following reasons,

  • Overly-trusting a commercial-entity like a hosting service provider (Yes, I’m looking at you GoDaddy)
  • Turning off my brain and blindly trying out every so-called fix found in community forums hoping for the best

Before we start out here are few details about this post. This post is about managing Websites on GoDaddy and I’m using WordPress as my CMS (Content Management System). So if you’re situation does not concern the above two entities, my post won’t really help you.

So let me tell you the little fiasco that kept me awake for few days up late. I had one primary and one secondary website and wanted to swap the two websites to make the secondary one the primary. So knowing that the floor-is-lava, I took a full site backup thinking that, I just downloaded the holy-grail and would fix everything if anything goes wrong. So I swapped the websites. And then I uninstalled WordPress of my-previous primary website and installed a fresh copy.

Now thinking I can magically send things to been normal by uploading my backup, I went to the cPanel -> Backup Wizard. There is no option to recover from the full site backup, but the home directory and SQL databases separately. And from few links I saw, it seemed that you can use your full site backup only if you feed more money to the hosting service by purchasing something called the “Website Builder” and is $9 per month. (I’m not sure if there are free ways to use this full site backup, but I personally didn’t find any).

Then I tried a bunch of fixes I found in the GoDaddy community forum which actually harmed more than helping. At this stage, I couldn’t go to my website. When I typed in, it said, server DNS address could not be found. So I tried typing in the IP address of the website, and all it showed was, “Future home of Something Cool” (image below). Now I knew I screwed up! No more easy fixes.

So I set on a course seeking redemption from my mistakes. And let me share few tips that I think might help you when your website is going through a major change. My tips are mostly about checking things first and then taking actions.

Before the Changes: Doesn’t Matter Minor or Major, don’t skip this step

1. Backup your public_html directory manually

Go to cPanel -> File Manager -> Manually create a zip folder of your public_html folder

2. Backup your SQL Database manually

Go to cPanel -> phpMyAdmin -> Select the WordPress database (something with a name like <username >_wp<x>) -> Click Export
If there are multiple, download ALL of such SQL databases you think are important. We can choose the right one later.

After the Changes: Yellow Zone

3. Do not panic and try-out every possible fix you find on the internet.

The might have worked out for some people, but you aren’t some people. This can leave you in a even worse state (been there, done that).

4. Check if you have the proper DNS Nameservers for your website

  1. Login to your cPanel and scroll-down to Domains section and click on DNS Manager
  2. Select your website and choose Manage DNS and scroll to the NameServers section
  3. See if your website has two NameServers assigned like below

4. Check if you have the proper DNS Records for your website

  • Continuing from the previous tip, scroll up to the point where you can see the DNS records
  • Check if there is an “A Record” for your website. if not ADD one. “A Record” says, if someone types it should be directed to x.x.x.x IP address.
  • Check if there is a CNAME record for your website, if not ADD one. This acts as an alias for your site, different variations of the same url (e.g., both should be redirected to the same IP address.

  • The “@” sign means that it is using the name of the domain the DNS record belongs to.
  • 5. Check if there is a file called default_home.html in your public_html folder.

    If this file is there, it might the one conjuring up the “Future home of something cool” web page. But to be safe, check if this file actually added automatically, not something used by your site. If it checks out garbage, delete the file.
    You should be able to get-away clean with this above checks if your change did not cause the website to uninstall WordPress or change the public_html folder to a different one (i.e. custom public_html folders can be used by addon websites)

    After the Change: Red Zone

    Sorry it has to be this way, but you probably have to do few things from the scratch. But the good news is that, it’s not that hard.

    6. Re-Install WordPress

    Go to cPanel -> Select Installatron Application from Your Building Tools section -> Install a Fresh copy of WordPress
    You might have to uninstall the existing one to install a new copy

    7. Restoring Databases

    Go to cPanel -> phpMyAdmin -> import the correct database
    Wordpress uses only one database, so you don’t have much of a choice there
    Go to the File Manager of the cPanel and then locate the wp_config.php file residing in the public_html folder. Check if the newly imported database name matches with the database name in the file (entry like define('DB_NAME', 'xxxxxx');). If not change it.

    8. Restoring Themes

    All your installed themes should be in the public_html/wp-content/themes. You should be able to directly copy the desired theme folders to the corresponding folder of your website.

    9. Restoring Media Content (images/audio>

    It’s inevitable that your site has media content (images/audio/…). These are located at public_html/wp-content/uploads. So copy this folder from the backup you made to your new websites public_html folder.

    This should be all you need to do, even if things go very badly.

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