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How to Backup your website with Filezilla FTP

This post was originally written on my personal site, thinkdave.com. I’ve moved it here to keep it alive. If you’re a WordPress user, skip this post and buy Backupbuddy. This plugin will backup your site and your database automagically. It’s worth every penny.

Have you ever backed up your website before? If not, you need to start doing so, right now. I’ve prepared a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to use the free FTP tool Filezilla to download a backup copy of your website.

Before we start

I’m going to assume you’ve already downloaded your free copy of Filezilla and made a note of your website’s FTP account information, namely:

  1. Your FTP host name
  2. Your FTP user name
  3. Your FTP password

If you haven’t done this yet, you’ll need to do so in order to follow the rest of the tutorial.

For your final preparation step, go to your ‘My Documents’ folder on your PC and right-click, then choose ‘New > Folder’ and give your folder the name of your website (e.g. thinkdave.com).

A quick introduction to the Filezilla interface

Double click the Filezilla icon on your desktop or in your Start menu. This will open the Filezilla application on your PC.

If you can’t find the icon, try looking in C:Program Files > Filezilla FTP Client > Filezilla

Once you’ve opened the program, you should be presented with the window below (my screenshots may look a little different as they were captured from the Mac version of Filezilla)

The Filezilla interface is split into a number of panes. If you’re running the default view (which you should be), you’ll see 6 panes, namely:

  1. The message log: Tells you the status of the connection to your FTP server.
  2. The local directory tree. A list of the files on your computer.
  3. The remote directory tree. A list of the files on the remote computer (your web server).
  4. The local directory list. These are the files that you can actually choose to upload to the web server.
  5. The remote directory list. These are the files that you can choose to download from the web server.
  6. The transfer queue. This details what files are queued for transfer and what their current status is.

Setting up your site with the Filezilla Site Manager

In order for Filezilla to transfer files from your web server to your computer, you need to tell it where the files can be found. This is done by entering your FTP account information into Filezilla’s Site Manager. You can open the Site Manager by clicking File > Site Manager.

In the Site Manager’s site window on the left (I’ve greyed out my client sites in this example) you can list a number of Websites to manage. In this example though, we’re only going to manage one website.

  1. Click on the New Site icon. In the site window, a new listing called ‘New Site’ will appear. Click on the rename icon and change the name to your website name (e.g. thinkdave.com). Hit the Enter key on your keyboard to save the change.
  2. In the ‘Host’ box on the right, enter your website’s host name (e.g. www.thinkdave.com). Leave the ‘Port’ box empty and make sure the ‘Servertype’ is set to FTP – File Transfer Protocol.
  3. In the ‘Logontype’ box, open up the dropdown menu on the right and select ‘Normal’.
  4. In the ‘User’ box, enter your FTP user name.
  5. In the ‘Password’ box, enter your password. Because the password is not shown as alphanumeric characters, it’s a good idea to enter your password again in the ‘Comments’ box (don’t do this if you’re concerned that someone with malicious intentions may get access to your PC).
  6. Click the ‘OK’ icon to save your changes and connect to your Website’s FTP account. It stands to reason that you need to be connected to the Internet for the rest of the FTP connection to work.

Advanced settings

Re-open the Site Manager (File > Site Manager) and click on the ‘Advanced’ tab. One of the options is ‘Defauly Local Directory’. Save yourself some time by clicking on the ‘Browse’ icon and finding your folder that you set up earlier in the My Documents directory of your PC.

Doing this makes sure Filezilla automatically detects the local destination folder of your website every time you establish an FTP connection, which is what we’re going to do right now.

Click on the ‘Connect’ icon in the Site Manager to start your FTP connection.

Establish an FTP connection

If you’ve done everything properly, you should see a list of commands in your Message log, telling you what’s happening. Because the message log throws a lot of jargon at you, Filezilla colour-codes it’s logs. In this case, green means you’re connecting to your FTP server, red means there are problems.

If you see a message ‘Directory listing successful’ and a group of files and folders appear in the remote directory list (right middle pane), you’re connected.

Backup your website to your destination folder

The next step make take a bit of digging. In your web server pane there will either be a list of files/folders relating to your website, or you may need to open a sub-folder to find your files. Common sub-folder names are httpdocs or www, but your files could be anywhere.

A good indication that you’ve found your website’s files is when you come across a folder containing an index file. Normally you’ll see some files that definitely seem related to your site, e.g. about-us, or products.

Once you’ve found this folder, click on any item, then select all the items in that folder (CTRL+A) or just the ones you want to backup.

Finally, make sure that your destination folder in the local directory list is open, then right-click on any of your selected files in the remote directory folder and click ‘Download’.

If you’ve set everything up correctly you should start seeing your files transferring from the right of the screen to the left.

Note: If you’ve done this before and you are making a second backup of the website, you may be asked whether you want to overwrite existing files in the local directory. Usually I would recommend choosing ‘Overwrite if newer’ unless you want to completely overwrite your old files.

Conclusion

Congratulations. Your website is now backed up to a folder in your My Documents folder on your PC. You can now close Filezilla. Your FTP account settings will be saved and waiting for your next backup session.

Please bear in mind that we have only backed up the Website’s files. If you are running a database driven Website you’ll need to backup your database. This is done using a completely different set of tools, which we’ll get to in another tutorial.

Now all you have to do is make a second backup copy of the local folder to a CD or removable drive, just in case your computer decides to blow up. Congratulations, you’re done.

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