We often talk about hosting options in terms of real estate.
Your first shared host is much like that apartment you moved into when you were 19 and shared with a few roommates. When one of them, or perhaps a neighbor, decided to blast music or stumble in drunk at 2 a.m., it affected you.
Once you moved into your own townhouse after graduation, you had more room and more responsibilities to maintain the space, just as a VPS user does.
To keep the analogy going, a dedicated server customer is akin to a homeowner. They’ve got the most expenses, the most space with which to work, and the most responsibility should anything go wrong with their property.
College dorms, apartments, rental properties — they’re all steps on the road to home ownership. You’re not ready for a mortgage right out of the gates of undergrad, but each upgrade in living situation takes preparation, and there’s an art to the moving process.
Hosting transfers are no different. Here, we’ll talk about how to make the move from a shared hosting plan to a VPS.
4 tell-tale signs you’re ready to consider a VPS migration:
- Your site is loading super slowly.
- You’ve received the 509 Bandwidth Limit Exceeded error too many times.
- You need to run certain software, and your hosting plan can’t accommodate it.
- You’re growing (your traffic, business, profit etc.), and you want more security and support.
If you’re seeing two or more of these signs coming from your website, it’s safe to say you’re ready for an upgrade. Let’s talk migration steps.
Note: Hosts With a Comprehensive List of Services Will Probably Do This for You
It’s worth noting many of the best web hosts offer various migration services. For example, if you’re already a HostGator customer, you can upgrade at any time by ordering a VPS and requesting a migration transfer. However, this can’t apply if your current web host doesn’t offer VPS plans.
This brings up a word of caution I give folks at the beginning of their hosting journey: Consider the long-term goals for your site before signing up for a host.
If you aim to surpass the 100,000 visitors/month threshold one day, go ahead and scope out a potential provider’s VPS and dedicated plans early. Even if you only sign up for a shared account at first, choose website hosting services that will help you grow. You want a hosting company with rave reviews for shared, virtual, and dedicated servers because a full-spectrum hosting provider offers more long-term value. This is why hosts like HostGator give customers greater flexibility as they’re building online brands.
Step 1a (Optional): Transfer Your Domain to a Domain Registrar
As someone who’s experienced serious frustrations with domain name transfers, I feel compelled to suggest transferring your domain name to a domain registrar. This step is completely optional, but it may save you a few headaches down the road, should you ever need to switch hosting providers. There’s an obligatory 60-day wait period after initial registration or any subsequent transfer, but then you’re free to reach out to the registrar to which you’d like to migrate your domain. The new registrar should send over an Initial Authorization for Registrar Transfer form and maybe a Confirmation of Registrar Transfer Request form. If you don’t know who your registrar is, you can do a Whois search to find out.
Step 1b: Export Your Site Database and Download Site Files
Now for the formal first steps. Whether you’re running WordPress, Joomla, some other CMS, or none of the above, you’ll need to export your site database and download your site files.
If your site uses cPanel, Plesk, or any control panel, you can simply run a backup using their various wizards or backup and restore interfaces:
In the case of cPanel, you can back up your entire website, download the backup file, and later upload the file to your new virtual server. Tools like cPanel’s Backup Wizard are ideal for shared hosting customers or those who are nervous about messing with site files directly.
Now let’s cover exporting databases manually. Since you’re migrating from shared hosting, you’re probably still using a control panel, so log in and navigate to phpMyAdmin within the dashboard.
- cPanel → Databases section → phpMyAdmin
- Plesk → Websites & Domains tab → click “Databases” under “Functions” → WebAdmin
Select the database that contains your website. If you’re not sure what yours is called, you can check your configuration file (e.g., wp-config.php for WordPress sites, configuration.php for Joomla sites, etc.). Click “Export” at the top of the screen. You should walk away with an .SQL file containing all your site data.
To manually download all your site files, including themes, plugins, and media uploads, you’ll use an (S)FTP client like Filezilla, which you can download for free here.
Once it’s downloaded and opened, toggle to the File menu and click “Site Manager,” then “New Site.” You’ll need to fill in the following fields:
- New Site: Enter your site’s name
- Host: Enter your domain name
- Port: 22 is the default port for SFTP; leave blank for FTP
Protocol: Select one of the options below
- SFTP → SSH File Transfer Protocol
- FTP → File Transfer Protocol (select “only use plain FTP” in the Encryption box)
- Logon Type: Select “Normal”
User: Enter your cPanel username
Password: Enter your cPanel password
Click “Connect” and you’re ready to transfer files. There will be a Local Site pane and a Remote Site pane. You’ll want to grab any site files in the Remote Site pane and drag them to the Local Site pane, meaning they’ll be found on your local computer. You can also simply double-click files in the Remote Site pane, and they’ll be downloaded automatically.
Step 2: Upload Your Files and Import Your Database to Your New VPS
Now it’s time to move your files and database to your new VPS.
Log into your control panel in your VPS hosting account and open phpMyAdmin again. Click “New Database,” then “Import.” Find the .SQL file you exported earlier and click “Go.” You can also do this via the command line.
To upload the site files located on your local computer, you’ll open up Filezilla again and this time double-click the files in the Local Site pane to upload them.
Step 3: Point Your IP Address to Your New Server
You’re almost done! Now it’s time to go to your DNS provider and change the value assigned to the A record (IP address) so that it’s pointing to your new server. This can usually be done with an email to your domain name registrar.
And voila! The knick-knacks have been packed and unpacked, boxes loaded and unloaded, and you’re ready to experience the joys of nesting in a new space. I wish you luck as you settle into your new hosting home!
Is it time to scale to support your growing business? Choose from multiple VPS hosting plans to find the right fit for your website.
Alexandra Leslie manages HostingAdvice.com as the Tech Vertical Manager of Digital Brands, Inc. Boasting 50+ years combined experience in various tech fields, the HostingAdvice team is the web’s leading source for information on all things web hosting.