Your website is not just a bunch of files

20 March 11 , ,

Recently, a client whose site I built a few years ago moved from one hosting plan to another. They moved all their files from the old host to their new one, but when their old hosting account closed, were dismayed to see this cryptic message:

Database Unavailable

and no evidence of their former website.

I received a puzzled and slightly panicky email from them. It was clear to me that the files that run their site were not successfully connecting to the database containing their site’s data. Through correspondence with them, I soon realized why: they had not moved the database to the new host!

Most websites aren’t just a bunch of files

I wrote a blog post a while back about what a website is made of. While it accurately describes the “front-end” of a database (in other words everything that actually shows up in your browser window), it doesn’t tell the whole story. The majority of modern websites run on some kind of content management system, or CMS. There are an enormous number of content management systems of varying complexity, but one thing most have in common is they use both static files and a database to store information for your website. In most cases, the database contains all the content for your site, such as text and images.

A content management system makes many things possible that wouldn’t be with just a bunch of static HTML files. Two of the most important are:

  1. It allows clients to add to and update their site content with no knowledge of HTML or any of the underlying technologies of their site.
  2. It allows for the use of templates, which means information (like blog posts) can be presented in a consistent way, and structural changes to pages can be made fairly easily in one place

Don’t forget your database

The moral of the story is, whether you’re creating a backup of your site or moving it to a new host — don’t forget your database!

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