Today’s Backup Reminder is aimed at the slightly less geeky and those who don’t edit their own sites. Next week I hope to be able to provide some specifics on backing up database-driven websites and those created with content management software like Mambo. (My Mambo expert colleague is looking into the details of this.) For now we’ll concentrate on how to back up your site even if you leave all the confusing stuff about hosts, servers, and control panels to someone else.
The key to backing up your website (or indeed someone else’s) if you can’t log in an download it through FTP or a website editor like Dreamweaver is getting an offline browser utility. Offline browsers date back to the days before widespread broadband access. These days it’s possible to be online almost anywhere. You can find free wireless in most major cities of the US. (In fact, a new café with free wireless access opened just down the street from me, and El Cerrito is not a major city.)
Ten years ago it was a different story. Browsing websites was a slow and often expensive proposition, with either the ISP or the telephone company charging by the minute for access to the Web. (Yes, Europeans have to pay by the minute for all phone calls, as I discovered when living in England in the mid-Nineties.) So there was a good reason to develop tools like this.
Fortunately for those who need to make copies of websites and don’t want to sit there saving each individual page from their browsers (which doesn’t really make an accurate copy of the site anyway), offline browsing utilities still exist. I use WinHTTrack, which I discovered a few years ago. (The name comes from the http protocol used by web browsers.) The most recent version dates from September of 2006, so it’s keeping up with the times. Just give it a URL and it will copy the entire site to your hard drive, preserving the folder structure. It’s free, and you can download it from http://www.httrack.com.
For the Mac user, there’s the colorfully and aptly named SiteSucker, available at http://www.sitesucker.us. Not having a Mac, I can’t test it out, but it appears to work the same way as HTTrack: feed it a URL and it sucks the web pages down to your hard drive. It promises to work on both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs, but you need OS X Tiger or newer. (If you have an older Mac, dig around a bit on the shareware sites and you’ll probably find something that works.)
These two free programs mean there’s no excuse not to make a backup of your website. Of course, if the website changes, you have to update your copy.
This isn’t an ideal backup method, but it’s a lot better than nothing. If you’re not sure what your web designer is doing about backing up your site, it’s a good idea to give yourself some insurance.
Don’t forget to back up before you plunge into the holidays!