Copying a LAMP web application



One of the most common things a web professional does is copying a website from one web server to another. Whatever the reason – deploying, debugging, upgrading – it doesn’t matter. A few years ago when I started working with the web – I was using FTP. The more I was digging into the Linux Command Line the less I was using things like FTP until the point I completely stopped using it. You will see how quicker it is doing a copying via SSH compared to downloading all files via FTP and then uploading them again. The 5 main steps you need to take when copying a website are described below:

1. Prepare the new server

If you are using a control panel such as CPanel, Plesk, Kloxo, etc – it is most likely that your environment is automatically prepared when you create the website from the control panel interface because it uses pre-defined templates to create all websites so you don’t need to do any of the preparation here.

Before you can copy a website from server A to server B – you need to ensure that server B is ready. That means that the virtual host is configured properly in Apache, you have a document root folder for the website and Apache is serving it correctly. An easy way to test this is to edit the hosts file on your system and make it point to the IP address of server B. Search google on how to do that. To ensure that Apache is serving the right document root – you could create a test.html file and then try to request it from your browser

Also make sure that server B is matching the system requirements of the web application. Popular CMSes such as WordPress, Joomla, etc have their system requirements on their websites.

Some web systems might require specific Apache options to be set in a specific way and/or specific modules to be enabled – for example if the system uses mod_rewrite – you will need to enable it and if the system also uses .htaccess to specify the rewriting rules – you will need to set the vhost config to have the directory’s AllowOverride to either ‘options’ or ‘all’ (but not ‘none’).

On the PHP side of things – you need to make sure that all the required PHP extensions are installed (that should be specified in the system requirements document).

2. Copy files

Once you are happy that the environment on server B is ready for the website to be copied you can continue.

2.1 The first step before you start copying the website is to suspend it. So if the CMS or the Shopping Cart has an option to close the site – you need to do it now. The reason for that is because you don’t want orders placed (or users registered) on your website between the times DNS has switched to the new server to be lost.
2.2. First you need to change the current directory the directory of your website:

cd /var/www/vhosts/

2.3.Then you need to use the tar utility to create the archive:

tar cfz mywebsite.tar.gz .

When you type the command – it might take some time to create the archive – so be patient.
Once the command has finished – you should see the root@serverA… place to type again.
Make sure that no errors are displayed.
2.4. Open a new SSH window to server B.
2.6. cd to the directory of where the new website will be hosted:

cd /var/www/vhosts/

If you have any files which are not needed by the website in there (like a test.html file) – delete them(using “rm ” command).
2.7. Download the archive from Server A:


You should see a file download.
Again – wait for it to finish and make sure no errors are displayed.
2.8. Once the download is complete – extract the files:

tar xf mywebsite.tar.gz

2.9. Once the extract is complete – delete the archive(do this on both servers A and B):

rm mywebsite.tar.gz

Congrats – you have copied all the files from your old server to the new one.

3. Copy database
3.1 The database information is stored into a configuration php file. In most cases it is something like config.php, configuration.php(in Joomla), wp-config.php (in wordpress), etc.
3.2. FTP into your new server and find the config file in there (or use “ls” to view the files).
3.3. After that open the configuration file and look for Database Name, Database User and Database Password variables (constants in WordPress).
3.4 On server A – login to your database manager (phpmyadmin) via the control panel or via the PMA url if you have installed it yourself (using the username/password from above step).
3.5 On the top left click on “Databases”, then click the database name.
3.6. Click “Export” on the top
3.7. Leave it as “quick” and click the “export” button
3.8. A .sql file should download – save the file to your computer
3.9. Logout of phpMyAdmin on Server A and login to phpMyAdmin on server B (preferably using a root account)
3.10. Again, click on “databases” on the top left
3.11. In the “Create new database” section enter the name of the database exactly as the way you had it in 3.3.
3.12. After your database has been created – click on it’s name
3.13. Click import
3.14. Click “browse” and find the .sql file you just downloaded from the other server
3.15. Click the “Import” button and wait for the file to import. Your browser might look like frozen but wait for it (it might take hours depending on your network speed and size of the .sql file).
After it completes – you should see a list of all the tables in the database on the left.
Again – make sure no errors are displayed.
3.16. After the import is complete – create a new user for this database
3.17. Click “users” (or “Privileges” in the old phpMyAdmin) on the top of the screen
3.18. Click add new
3.19. Now you could either specify the old user/password you have from step 3.3. or enter a completely different user/password combination. Make sure that host is set as “localhost” and you have not assigned any global server rights to the user. I would recommend using a new user/pass combination┬ábecause it is always good to change credentials.
3.20. If you created a new user/password – update the config file with them, save it and then upload it to the server B. If you used the old user/pass – skip this step.
3.21 Go into the “users” section of the database again and go into the “edit user” screen for the user you just created.
3.22 From the drop down with database names find the one you just created and submit the form
3.23. Assign only the privileges needed for the web system to work (if you are no sure – you could have a look at Server A to see what privileges the user has to the database there).

4. Test

At this stage your old website should be working on your new server.

Make sure the hosts file is pointing to the new server and load the website. If you closed the web system – open it again. Do not open the website on Server A – only the one on server B.

Test everything – if you see any errors – search Google.

5. Change DNS
Once you are happy that your website works on the new server as intended – change the DNS of the domain name. Look for A records. Where you see the IP address of Server A, change it to the IP of Server B (note this might effect services different than web such as Email, so make sure those are set up on the new server properly too).

After DNS switches your visitors should be served by the new server. If you are intending to close your old server’s hosting account make sure you cancel it properly (using the system of the host provider) because some hosts do auto-renew and charge your card without any notice (bad practice in my opinion).