It seems just a few days ago I was updating client sites to WordPress 3.6, then 3.6.1 … 3.7, and 3.7.1, now 3.8 … and with the newer versions comes automatic security and bug fix updates that can happen at any time. This is progress, and this is good! However, without reliable backups, any update can prove to be disastrous if there are code conflicts with themes or plugins.
Note: if you are hosting on WP Engine (which I happen to be)—or another hosting company that offers automatic site backups—then you have no need for backup plugins. You have daily backups to fall back on; you need not do anything and the backups are done for you. Restoring to a previous working iteration of your site is a simple, one click operation.
But not all hosting services offer automatic site backups, so knowing which backup plugins to install or recommend is important for a freelance web designer/developer, like myself. For example, I have clients with several hosting services and setups and varying degrees of control over the hosting environment. In some cases, all I can do is make recommendations and deal with what is available, and for many, the only viable backup option is via a plugin.
What to Look For
Ideally, a backup plugin should do (at a minimum) these three things:
- Create a backup of your WP database and site files.
- Store this information where you can easily access it.
- Store the information in a format that allows you to easily restore the site from the backup.
In addition, the plugin should work in the background in a way that does not interfere with your site’s normal operation, and should allow you to customize the backup schedule to your liking. I would venture to say that most of the backup plugins do these three tasks; the three plugins I review here were chosen because of personal experience and familiarity, rather than because these are any “better” than the rest.
BackWPup Free is a robust, popular, and totally workable plugin for backing up your WordPress site. Once installed, you can enter a “Job Name” and set parameters for that particular job. You can back up the database only, all site files or any subset of files; you can optimize or repair the database, and you can store the backup as a .zip, .tar, tar.gz, and other formats. You can set the “job” to run daily, weekly, monthly, or manually. Depending on how much traffic your site generates, and how often the content changes or is updated, you may want to set a daily database only backup and a weekly full site (database and files) backup. Or perhaps a weekly database only and a monthly full site would be adequate.
Once the backup file is created, it is stored for later retrieval if needed. BackWPup can store the file on any number of cloud services (Amazon S3, Rackspace, Dropbox, among others), or it can send it via FTP to a destination you specify. It can also be stored in a directory on the server/site being backed up, and logs or files emailed to someone. There are 2 disadvantages to having the backup stored on the server itself. Primarily, if the server goes down, your backups go down with it and do you no good. Second, you may end up backing up your backups if you don’t specifically exclude the backup directory, and your backup file increases in size over time, unnecessarily.
Restoring a site from a BackWPup backup file takes a bit of skill with PHPMyAdmin and FTP to restore the database and to copy the WordPress files—it is not an automatic, one click process but all the information to restore the site is in the backup files and the WP Codex. The “Pro” version adds a few more cloud backup options, differential backups, premium support, and automatic updates for $50/yr for one site, $63/yr for 5 sites, and $127/yr for 10 sites. For more information on BackWPup, see http://wordpress.org/plugins/backwpup/ or http://marketpress.com/product/backwpup-pro/.
UpdraftPlus is a free plugin that does the basics. You can create a schedule for database backup, and a schedule for file backup (one each), and send the backup to one remote destination. These options are not very customizable out of the box, but can be made more flexible with “add-ons”—at a cost. For instance, you are given options for frequency of backup as every 4 hours, 8 hours, 12 hours, daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, but you cannot choose the time of day the backup occurs. To fix the time at which a backup should take place, you need the use the “Fix Time” add-on, $10. To use more than one storage option, you need the $20 “Multiple Storage” add-on. For simple backup of a single site, the free version is all you need.
Restoring the site from a backup is left up to you, and the Codex. If you have your site files and your database backup, the site can be restored; the plugin does not do the restore automatically. By purchasing UpdraftPlus Premium, you get all the add-ons, including a one-click restore from the WordPress console (if restoring the site from within WordPress), and a migration option to move the site from one server to another. The Premium version comes in 3 flavors: Individual—2 licenses ($60), Business—10 licenses ($85), or the Developer (unlimited licenses) for $125. This includes premium support and all updates to the plugin and add-ons for one year. See http://wordpress.org/plugins/updraftplus/ or http://updraftplus.com/ for more details on this plugin.
Finally, I come to Backup Buddy, an iThemes premium plugin with no “free” version, just an outright purchase, for $80 (Individual, 2 licenses), $100 (Business, up to 10 licenses), and $150 (Developer, unlimited licenses). You can also buy the entire Developer’s suite which includes a slew of premium plugins (Backup Buddy too) for $247. If you watch the site or get on their mailing list, discounts of 30% or more are common. The fee is for one year of support and updates; the plugin(s) will work after the year is up, but will no longer get updates, and you will no longer have access to the support forums.
Backup Buddy does all that the previous two plugins do, and more. You can run scheduled backups, on YOUR schedule, and set any number of “jobs” for a site. You can back up the database only, site files, outside files, or any combination. The backup can be stored on the server, or on any number of cloud services, or even on iTheme’s “Stash”—up to 1 GB storage included free with the plugin. You can verify the backups, and see if they succeeded and transferred successfully, right from the dashboard of your site.
Where Backup Buddy outshines all the others (IMHO) is the Restore function. Using importbuddy.php and a zip file of the site backup (full site), an entire site can be moved, or restored with a few simple steps. No need to install WordPress first! You can use this to move a development site to a live server, or to restore a hacked or compromised site with a clean backup. For more information, see http://ithemes.com/purchase/backupbuddy/.
I work with a variety of clients, and have found these to be my “go to” backups, depending on the client situation, and who will be maintaining and implementing the backup if something goes wrong. I have the Developer Suite from iThemes, and I use Backup Buddy for moving sites from my development server to a client’s server, and for backing up those sites where the client and I have a maintenance agreement. I use BackWPup or UpdraftPlus on sites that are being turned over to clients; the free version is installed, instructions given, and the client then has the option to purchase the premium version/options if they decide they need it.
Please share your favorite backup plugins! I am always on the lookout for more and better tools!
Sue Laren is a freelance website designer/developer living in the SF Bay Area (North Bay), married 33 years, with four grown children and two grandchildren. She taught computer lab (basic computer skills) at a local elementary school for many years, and in 2007 started her own web design business, Laren Net Works. Follow her on Twitter at @LarenNetWorks.