Finally! Stop Forgetting About Your Backups

Posted: May 5th, 2010

Photo by JS.C (Flickr)

Photo by JS.C (Flickr)

Here’s an eternal question for you. How often do you perform a backup of important files on your computer?

Weekly? Whenever you get around to it?

If you’re like me, you would fall into the “oh shit it’s been a while better do one” category. Obviously this is highly fallible since, potentially, I could lose quite a lot of work in case a catastrophe happens. Really though, if you back up even once a week, there could still be a loss of data in case your hard drive decides to retire.

Losing data has happened to me exactly two times. One from hard drive failure and the other due to theft. I can tell you first hand that spending a week trying to recover a small portion of your data trully sucks.

I can also say it’s a safe bet that this will happen to you at some point (I just jinxed you).

At the start of this year, though, I began to use online backup services to handle this chore too easy to remember to do yourself. Online backups offer the advantage of backing up data automatically and on a daily basis. Also, once all your files are initially uploaded, from then on, they only backup new or updated files and don’t hog all the memory on your computer

Now, I only wish I had done this sooner.

So what are online backup services? Here are some of the recommended favorites:

Carbonite

This was my choice and I haven’t been disappointed by it. One great feature is that it saves changed versions of files for up to 90 days so you can easily recover those edits you didn’t intend to make.

The only downside is that it can only be used on a single computer. Therefore, if you have a desktop at home and a laptop for the road, you’ll need two separate accounts. Also, you have to manually backup video and installation files since this isn’t done by default.

Pricing is 55 USD/year for unlimited space.

Mozy

Since Carbonite only backs up a single computer, I utilize Mozy, which offers a free backup up to 2 GB, for my laptop. Otherwise the pricing is 4.95 USD/month (or 55 USD/yearly) for unlimited space. If you don’t have so much data this is the best option.

Similar to Carbonite, Mozy saves changed versions of files but for up to 30 days. It also can only be used on a single computer, a gripe I have with online backups.

SOS Online Backup

A PC Magazine editor’s choice. SOS offers an easy-to-use interface, backup multiple computers, file sharing (not offered with Carbonite/Mozy) and, not to mention, saves changed file versions forever.

A downside to SOS, though, is that it only offers up to 15 GB of storage which means you’d have to skip those mp3s and videos.

Pricing is yearly at 20 USD/2 GB, 30 USD/5 GB and 50 USD/15 GB.

Jungle Disk

If you need the ability to share files, backup multiple computers and want the ability to retrieve an old file version from anytime in the past with unlimited space, this one is it. Its essentially SOS with no limit storage. Had I known about this service sooner, I probably would have opted for this.

Their pricing structure is a bit weird so crunch the numbers at your own risk:

2 USD/month
Plus $.15 per GB of storage used per month
Plus $.10 per GB of data uploaded
Plus $.15 per GB of data downloaded

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Whichever one you decide, or if you even use one not listed here, take my advice and have one installed. One less worry (and one less bigger worry after data loss) makes all the difference.

For more information on Carbonite, Mozy and SOS, view PC Magazine’s detailed review of these backups.

WordPress Tips You Really Should Know, Part II: Speeding Up Your Blog

Posted: February 8th, 2010

Photo by Foreverdigital (Flickr)

Photo by Foreverdigital (Flickr)

This is the second part of the series on WordPress tips you really should know. The first part, backing up your WordPress, is here.

WordPress, as good as a software it is, has one definite drawback: it can be slow to load. Maybe your readers will sit and wait for pages to load on your blog but, if you can save them the extra seconds, wouldn’t they appreciate it more?

Luckily, there are ways you can speed up the page loads. Drastically as a matter of fact.

First, I’ll assume you are familiar with the following:

  • FTP software to access the WordPress files. Note that I’ll refer to FileZilla here (free to download for Mac and PC).
  • phpMyAdmin to access and manage your WordPress database.

So let’s get started!

The Need For Speed… Caching

Caching is a necessity for every WordPress user. What it is it? Well, instead of generating a page through the WordPress (and the wait), cuts to the chase and delivers just the HTML page code that is normally rendered. Therefore, your pages can load ten times faster or even more.

There is an awesome plugin, which handles just that, called W3 Total Cache. On this very blog, I’ve noticed that pages load super fast with it. So it gets a heavy endorsement from me.

To install, you will need to first set the permissions  of the /wp-content directory to 777 (see below).

Setting file permissions using FileZilla (right click, select File Permissions)

Now you can download, unzip and upload the w3-total-cache folder to the /wp-content/plugins directory and activate from the Plugins section in your WordPress admin. The configuration can be accessed under Settings > W3 Total Cache in the WordPress admin although the default settings should suffice.

Don’t forget to set the file permissions of the /wp-content directory to 755 once the plugin is installed.

Post Revisions Can Slow Things Down

WordPress has a great feature, in theory, which saves each and every revision of every post as a means of backup. The problem with it is that, each time you edit a post to add a comma or correct a misspelling, an extra copy of your entire post is saved to your database.

The majority of the WordPress database is composed of blog posts. So, for example, if you average around 4 revisions for every post, your database grows by nearly four times. After a while, it becomes a huge (and slower) database.

If you are like most and can do away with saving post revisions, then you can perform a couple hacks to turn this feature off:

In the /wp-config.php file, add to it this line of code:

define('WP_POST_REVISIONS', false);

Then, using phpMyAdmin to access your database, click on the SQL tab and  run the following command to delete the current post revisions in your database:

DELETE a,b,c
FROM wp_posts a
LEFT JOIN wp_term_relationships b ON (a.ID = b.object_id)
LEFT JOIN wp_postmeta c ON (a.ID = c.post_id)
WHERE a.post_type = 'revision';

Keep in mind that this will only delete post revisions and will not affect live posts nor post drafts.

Optimizing Your Database

Maintaining the WordPress database is, fortunately, not a task you have to be on top of. It helps, though, to give it a little care, kind of like wiping the grime off of your computer screen. It has to be done once in a while.

The best tool for that is the WP-DBManager plugin which enables you to perform optimizations on your database tables. To use,  download, unzip and upload the wp-dbmanager folder to the /wp-content/plugins directory and activate from the Plugins section in your WordPress admin.

You can then access the optimize tool from Database > Optimize DB in the admin and run it with just one click. Then once a month thereafter should do the trick.

Last One…

If you display posts on your home page and notice it loads rather slow, it helps to reduce the number of posts that show on it. You can change this setting by going to Settings > Reading and setting the number to show to a lower number. Normally the default is 10 showing but reducing it to 5 or so will speed up the loading.

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Do you have any other tips to optimize the speed of your WordPress blog? Drop them off in a comment below.

WordPress Tips You Really Should Know, Part I: Backups

Posted: February 4th, 2010

Photo by Eric M Martin (Flickr)

Photo by Eric M Martin (Flickr)

Many of us who have our own blogs also do all the maintenance on it. So while I could go on all day about how those nifty Twitter or image plugins can do this or that, you are better off with some tips that you really need to know if you are a do-it-yourself with WordPress.

This will be the first part of three posts on the topic. So here we go.

First, I will assume you are familiar with FTP software to access the WordPress files on your server. Note that I’ll be referring to FileZilla, which is free to download and can be used on all platforms.

Part I: WordPress Backups

A couple months ago, I ran across a post from Coding Horror that raised my eyebrows. Here, we had a programmer who writes and maintains his own blog but ran into a server catastrophe and scrambled like mad to piece his blog back together again.

Now that I’ve apologized, it’s time to let the healing begin. And by healing, I mean the excruciatingly painful process of reconstructing Coding Horror from internet caches and the few meager offsite backups I do have. My first order of business was to ask on SuperUser what strategies people recommend for recovering a lost website with no backup. Strategies other than berating me for my obvious mistake. Also, comments are currently disabled while the site is being reconstructed from static HTML. Oh, darn!

Remember, this was A PROGRAMMER. If this isn’t a wake up call, I don’t know what is.

Luckily backing up your Worpress isn’t such a complex task and consists of the following which I’ll go over:

  • Frequent backups of the MySQL database.
  • Frequent backups of the /wp-content folder on your server.
  • Having a copy of your entire WordPress blog.

Backing Up Your MySQL Database

There is an excellent plugin called WP-DB-Backup which generates an SQL file of your entire WordPress database that can be downloaded or, best part, emailed to you automatically at regular intervals.

Simply download, unzip and upload the wp-db-backup folder to the /wp-content/plugins directory and activate from the Plugins section in your WordPress admin. You can then configure the backup under Tools > Backup in the admin.

Note that, to get this to work, you will need to set the permissions  of the /wp-content directory to 777 (see below).

Setting file permissions using FileZilla (right click, select File Permissions)

After you download your first backup, be sure to set the file permissions of the /wp-content directory to 755.

Backing Up Your /wp-content Directory

As of this writing, I haven’t found a reliable plugin to backup the images on the posts and pages. It’s probably moot anyway since those images would add up to a large backup file over time; likely too large to have it emailed to you.

In the meantime, its best just to do regular backups of the /wp-content directory which contains your uploaded images, plugins and themes. One great way to remember to do this, at regular intervals, is to configure a schedule in the WP-DB-Backup to receive the database backups by email.

Then, immediately after receiving each of those emails, you have a reminder to download the /wp-content directory onto your computer to keep that backup updated.

Downloading You Entire Blog

It’s very important that you have a copy of your entire WordPress blog. This is especially true before upgrading your WordPress or when those unexpected moments of breakdown happen to occur.

Since WordPress files only change when upgrading this only needs to be done once, to have a current copy, then after each upgrade.

(One thing… be sure use the WP-DB-Backup to immediately download a backup file of your database before performing any upgrade.)

Due to conflicts with some plugins and themes, WordPress is known to break down and give hell after upgrading. So better to be safe than sorry.

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Coming next in this series:  Speeding Up Your Blog.