Ask Penny: How do I back up without crashing?

Posted By on Jul 28, 2014 in CraftHack


“Ask Penny” is the place to come with all of your tech-related questions. Want to know how to tweak your web site without hiring professional help, or when is the right time to get that type of help? Bring your questions right here to the comments! Once a month Penny will be back to answer a few more.

Ask Penny

Penny Shima Glanz is a computer scientist with a passion for information management and how we interact with technology. She started PennyWise Consulting, LLC to help solo and small businesses figure out how to make the most of their technology needs and budgets. When not wrangling technology she can be found knitting, snuggling with her cats and reading, or out on a muddy trail run at sunrise.          

Today’s Question: How do I make changes without crashing everything?

Penny’s Answer:

Backup! Backup! Backup!

Then verify your backup. How? At the very least, make sure that the file was successfully created and is accessible to you. If you are comfortable with what you think should be in the backup (such as a database backup), open the file and confirm the general content. If the backup is of files: look in the directories, make sure the files exist and that you can open a few of them.

When you are ready to make changes to your website or computer, only make them one small step at a time. Review what you changed to see if it worked. Make a new backup and remember to keep the previous backup. Repeat until all your changes are completed.

Does your computer say you have 42 updates to do? Instead of running them all at once, step through them one at a time.
Do you have lots of WordPress updates? Don’t select-all and update; again, step through them one at a time.

By incrementally stepping through each intended change, while there are still lots of moving parts and it might not be easy to see what exact change is causing something to crash, knowing that things went haywire after you upgraded plugin X will give you a starting point to fixing it.

Let’s look at a specific example, making changes to part of your website, such as to a WordPress widget. What can you do to make sure that little piece of code doesn’t cause a train wreck? While WordPress creates versions of posts, it doesn’t currently do so for widgets.

For times like this I make a quick temporary backup copy. If it’s for a large text area that has HTML code too, such as for a text widget on a WordPress site, I open up a plain text editor such as TextEdit on Mac or Notepad on Windows and copy and paste. If you have another application you prefer (I am partial to TextWrangler on Mac and Notepad++ for Windows) feel free to use them; the key is to copy and paste in plain text because there’s some code that needs to be maintained.

Then I make my changes step by step. If it’s completely messed up, it’s easy to revert back to the original by opening the text file that was saved earlier and copying and pasting it into the widget form. Are there other ways to do this? Yes! However, this is a simple quick way to make some small changes without completely messing up.

If it’s a more complicated form, for example, such as a widget that has various configuration options and multiple fields, then I’ll take a screenshot of the settings before I make changes. The image isn’t as easy to revert back to, but it does give me a quick record of what the settings were before I started making changes.

Please see this post for a few more tips about backing up a (self-hosted) WordPress.

Thanks so much to Penny for popping in here at Patterned to share her wisdom with our readers! Are there ways that the technology you have (or the technology you’re scared to start using) is holding you back in your business? Is there something you would like to be able to do, but you’re not sure how to make it happen with technology? Ask Penny! Leave a comment below, and she’ll be back to answer YOUR questions next time!

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