How to Back Up WordPress

WordPress Database Backup

Log into cPanel.

On the cPanel main page, find the section named “Databases”.

Tip: By default the Databases section is located close to the bottom of the page. You can rearrange the individual sections and move this one to the top (just drag and drop). Personally, I use the Databases section most often, so I have it at the top.

The Databases section shows four links. Click on “phpMyAdmin”.

cPanel phpMyAdmin link

Find the website’s database in the left sidebar menu (there may be multiple databases listed).

Click on the database name. A list of tables should appear on the right side.

Important: Do not select any particular table. You want to back up the entire database, not just one table.

In the top horizontal menu, click on “Export” (it is approximately in the middle).

The next page lets you select an export method. Select “Custom – display all possible options”.

Select “SQL” as format (unless you want to get the data in a different format – SQL format is easiest to restore if you ever need to do that).

Click the “Go” button.

More options will appear on the page.

You can again specify which tables to include in the backup – usually you want them all, so make sure all are selected.

The next section is “Output”.

Keep “Save output to a file” selected.

On the next row you can customize the file name. It is good to include the date in the file name, so you always know which file to use when you have multiple backup files. If you update and back up your website more often, you may also want to include the time in the file name.

I use only date and for that you need to change the row labeled “File name template:” which says “@DATABASE@” to “@DATABASE@-%y%m%d”. The file name will be your-database-name_yymmdd.sql, for example mysite_151003.sql if your database name is “mysite” and the date of backup is 3 October 2015.

Keep the next option (“Character set of the file”) set to “utf8”, unless you know what you are doing.

You may choose compression to make the file smaller. But if your website is not very big (less than 200-300 posts), this is not needed. Use this later when you find your backup file size becomes too big.

The next section is “Format”, which you have already seen. Keep “SQL” unless you want something else.

The next section is “Format-specific options”. Unless you know what you are doing, keep everything as it is by default. One part which you should pay attention to is the three options in the end of this section: “structure”, “data” and “structure and data”. Make sure “structure and data” is selected.

  • Selecting only “structure” would only include the initial empty tables, without your posts and other data, so it is quite useless.
  • Selecting only “data” would only include your content, but you would only be able to use it with existing WordPress database.
  • Selecting “structure and data” will enable you to restore the full working WordPress database without needing anything else.

You can keep the remaining options as they are (unless you know what you are doing).

Click the “Go” button in the bottom. The download of the backup file should start.

If the above sounds complicated and long, don’t worry. Once you have done it a few times, it will start to feel very simple. Basically you only add the “-%y%m%d” to the file name and you’re done (and even that is not really needed).

Files Backup

You don’t need to back up the core WordPress files, because they are always available from the page and there are frequent WordPress updates, which will change some of these files anyway.

The things you need to back up are your theme files (if you are using your own theme or if you have made own modifications to a publicly available theme) and any uploads and non-WordPress content which you may have on your server.

The theme files can be found in wp-content/themes/[your-theme-folder-name]/. You only need to back up these when you make any changes to your theme. Adding or editing posts, categories or tags does not affect your theme.

By default, the files uploaded via the wp-admin post editing interface are stored in wp-content/uploads/ and sometimes organized in year and month subfolders (you can turn this on or off in wp-admin/Settings/Media). However, your pictures, video and other files can be stored in another location if you have changed the default uploads directory in wp-config.php.

Files which you have uploaded manually (not via wp-admin) may also be stored on other locations – make sure you keep this consistent and remember the location when adding files.

WordPress Settings

Some settings are stored in the database (in the “options”, “wp_options” or “[yourprefix]_options” table. These are generally settings which you change in the wp-admin “Settings” area. You will have a backup of these when you do the database backup (make sure you select the entire database when doing the backup; not just one table).

Other important settings are stored in some files, particularly wp-config.php and .htaccess. It is always wise to have copies of these files. You won’t change them often, so it’s not a problem.