How to backup WordPress using UpraftPlus – Easy and secure

This article shows you how to get the most out of UpdraftPlus for WordPress. How to backup WordPress using Updraft
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How to backup WordPress using UpdraftPlus. That’s the aim of this little article. It’s in the name.

UpdraftPlus is one of the plugins I will install on basically every WordPress website I create. There are other plugins, such as Yoast SEO, that are just are useful. I’ll probably write detailed “how to” articles on those too to help you get the most of it. However, backing up data has been on my mind recently and it’s something that’s often overlooked.

The other plugins I would typically install are more about the day to day tasks you’ll want to achieve on your shiny new website. Because backing up your data isn’t something you think of day to day, it often gets left by the wayside. Until that is, something goes wrong and you realise you have no backups…

I’ll also share some general tips on data backups with you after I’ve run through some steps to help you get the most of this plugin.

Why UpdraftPlus?

That’s as good a question as any.

It’s one of the easiest plugins to use for backing up data for me personally.

They have a premium plan you can purchase that gives you a few extras like email and forum support, no adverts, support for multi-site WordPress installs. Things like that. Here though, I’m just focusing on the free version.

I chose UpdraftPlus (the free version) mainly because it’s simple. I want to be able to set backups periodically, be able to manually run a backup should I feel the need, and ideally send those backups to a separate location (such as Google Drive). It accomplishes those things. I even mention it in my article on my top 5 WordPress plugins.

I’ve read a lot of articles through trying to determine the best plugins to use for my WordPress install. For backup plugins, I came across Design Bomb’s run-down of the 8 best backup plugins as well as many others in my internet travels.

Other users (perhaps you’re included in this) may feel you need more features. If that’s the case, you might find those features in the premium version of UpdraftPlus.

Why do we need to backup our data?

As I’ve mentioned above, most people never think about backing up their data sensibly until the worst has happened. By then it’s usually too late. Getting the most out of your backup software was one of the reasons I decided to write this “How to backup WordPress using UpdraftPlus” article. It’s important you get the most out of it possible.

People with bad intentions

Liquid Web posted this article way back in 2016 that highlighted the effects of a hacker gaining access to their client’s server and deleting their website. Luckily the firm that came under attack had a backup and they were able to restore the website relatively quickly. It really highlights the importance of having a backup.

Hard drives can fail, including the ones in the mystical “cloud”

Your website being hacked is not the only way you can face data loss. Your data (whether it’s stored on your personal computer or in a server called “the cloud”) is always stored on hard drives. Hard drives can fail. Although hard drive failure rates seem quite low (often it seems they’re around 1-2% over the course of a year), if it’s your hard drive’s turn to fail then it’d cause you problems.

If you’re not adverse to a little more in-depth reading on the subject, you can read through Extreme Tech’s article on hard drive failure here. You can also look at BackBlaze’s article (Extreme Tech referenced them) as they published failure rates of their hard drives for 2017.

Here are some of the data from BackBlaze’s article if you want a quick glance.

Backblaze hard drive failure chart for 2017

I hope that’s given you food for thought over whether you should be backing up your website data. Personally, I think it’s a no-brainer.

I appreciate that even if you backup your website data, it’s still being stored on another hard drive somewhere. The saying “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is applicable here though. If you backup your data, and your website server breaks or something gets deleted then it’s unlikely the hard drive (either your own hard drive you back up to, or another cloud service somewhere) you store your backups to is going to be affected as well. That’d be some bad luck.

So, here are my numbered steps to set UpdraftPlus up properly

1. Install the UpdraftPlus WordPress plugin and visit the settings page of UpdraftPlus

You will probably already be aware of how to install and activate a WordPress plugin by this point. If not, there are plenty of tutorials that will guide you through that process available on the world wide web. I may write one myself at some point.

Anyway, once you’ve installed the UpdraftPlus plugin, mouse over the WordPress Settings menu on the left side of your browser and click on UpdraftPlus Backups. You should see the screen below.

UpdraftPlus initial page when accessing settings

2. Current Status – This page lets you manually backup WordPress with UpdraftPlus as well

Before you decide to manually backup, we may as well go through the process of setting UpdraftPlus up properly. That’ll make the manual backup a little easier.

As we’re here though, below is a screenshot of what the options look like for the manual UpdraftPlus backup.

UpdraftPlus Manual Backup on the Current Status page

Click on the ellipsis (the “…” in case you weren’t sure) to view what you can include or exclude in the manual backup. That’ll enable you to see exactly what’s in the screenshot above.

This Current Status page also shows you the last time a backup was performed (automatically or manually). This page should also tell you whether there were any problems backing up.

3. The settings tab

It shouldn’t come as a great surprise, but as we’re setting UpdraftPlus up then we need to click on the settings tabs. Below is what it looks like, so you know you’re in the right place:

UpdraftPlus overview of the settings page

As you will have just installed UpdraftPlus, both the Files and Database backup schedules will be set to manual.

The next few steps, until I direct us to another tab for UpdraftPlus, will be on the Settings tab that you’re on now.

4. Choose a backup schedule for your WordPress backups and how many scheduled backups UpdraftPlus should store

This is one of the most important parts. How often should you backup your data, and how many backups should you keep?

How often should I backup? Weekly? Daily?

The answer to that question will depend largely on what you do on your website and how often you do things like posting a blog post on it.

I don’t run a shop or anything like that (and before I make any major changes to my website I’ll also run a manual backup too – I’m careful like that).

For me, selecting both files and database to backup fortnightly works just fine. As I begin to write more frequently (best laid plans…) I likely will increase the backups to weekly as there would be more additions to my website that I would want to make sure were backed up.

How many backups should I keep? One? A thousand?

I currently have UpdraftPlus set to retain 12 backups. That might be a little overkill for some people (as UpdraftPlus backs up every two weeks, that means I have 24 weeks worth of fortnightly backups stored). But then, I like to make sure my back is covered.

I’d say that if you’re backing up each fortnight, consider keeping 6 week’s worth of backups. That will give you 3 months of backups should anything happen.

Here’s a screenshot of an install of UpdraftPlus I configured recently to show you my settings:

UpdraftPlus sample backup schedule settings

Also important to remember

How many backups you keep might also be dictated by how much space you have on your web server. Bear in mind that UpdraftPlus will backup your database and files to your web server. That folder is called Updraft (original… but effective). That folder is stored inside the /wp-content/ folder.

Should you have a large website with a lot of images etc., and a small amount of space on your web server, then you might need to consider lowering the number of backups. If you do, consider downloading some of the backups so you can keep 3 months worth of the backups yourself.

You might already have guessed, but only backing up your files and database with UpdraftPlus to your web server where your live website is, is not the most secure thing to do. If that web server goes down, then you also lose your backups. That sort of renders moot the idea of backing up. So…

5. Setting UpdraftPlus to backup to a remote location automatically

If you really wanted, you could manually download each UpdraftPlus backup and then upload to your storage location of choice. To me, that feels like two steps forward, one step back. You chose UpdraftPlus because you wanted to automate that process!

Well, UpdraftPlus can be set to automatically upload each backup to the remote location of your choice. Here’s a screenshot of the choices you have below:

UpdraftPlus overview of Remote Storage options on settings page

As you can see, UpdraftPlus allows you to link with some pretty major backups locations.

Personally, I chose my Google Drive account to backup to. That might change in the future as I look at different backup solutions, but that’s what I go with at the moment. So I’ll show you how to set up Google Drive as your backup location.

In the near future I may sit down and go through the set up process for each of the options to give you more information. When I do, I’ll update this article.

If you don’t yet have a Google account but want to backup to Google Drive like me, then you can go ahead and set up a Google account before proceeding. Basically, just sign up for a Gmail account and you’ll get Google Drive with that. Simple.

Setting up Google Drive as your remote backup location

Start by clicking on the Google Drive icon you can see in the last screenshot above. You should be present with two new options just below the grid of remote backup locations:

UpdraftPlus Google Drive new remote storage settings

Here’s what you do with the two new settings you’re presented with:

Google Drive Folder:

Here, you can set the name of a new folder that UpdraftPlus will create for your remote backups. By default it’s set to “UpdraftPlus” and you need to purchase UpdraftPlus Premium to change the name of this folder. I saw no reason to change that myself, but you can feel free to do so if you wish.

Authenticate with Google:

All you are presented here is a link to click. The link says:

After you have saved your settings (by clicking “Save Changes” below), then come back here once and click this link to complete authentication with Google Drive.

That’s fairly self-explanatory. However, what does happen is when you click to save your changes and popup window appears over the Remote Storage locations. That popup looks like this:

UpdraftPlus settings page Google Drive authorisation notice

The popup you should now see on your screen has a link on it.

Click that link and it will take you to a pretty standard Google Authentication page. That page will look a little like this:

updraftplus google drive authorisation page 1

I’ve blurred out my accounts of course (I have a few that appear on my Google accounts pages like this). But, yours should be pretty similar. If you didn’t have a Google account before I advised you to set one up earlier, you may just need to enter your new Google email address and the password instead of simply clicking the account you want to sync with.

You’re most of the way done with authentication!

Ok, now you’ve selected the account you want to sync UpdraftPlus with for remote backups, you should be presented with the below screen:

updraftplus googledrive authorisation page 2

UpdraftPlus needs to be able to View and Manage files on your Google Drive account. So, go ahead and click Allow. You’re almost complete!

You should now be presented with the following screen:

UpdraftPlus google drive post authorisation confirmation page

This page is really just telling you you’re almost done. Go ahead and click the Complete Setup button. That will take you back to the Current Status page.

Go to the Settings tab again for UpdraftPlus

Only one small thing should have changed. Now you’re on the settings page, scroll down to where the two Google Drive settings are, just below the Remote Storage grid of icons. You should now see this:

UpdraftPlus Google Drive settings after authorisation

What you see here is UpdraftPlus giving you links to re-authorise your Google Drive sync with UpdraftPlus (if you encounter any problems with it), and a link to remove the authorisation as well. There’s also a link to the Google account settings page where you can manage access for all services linked to you Google account.

Your UpdraftPlus install is now synced with Google Drive! Simple. Any backups that UpdraftPlus now makes will be automatically sent to Google Drive.

6. Include files in backup – What should you include?

FYI, we’re still on the settings tab of the UpdraftPlus settings.

Scroll just below the Google Drive settings we were just dealing with. You should see this:

UpdraftPlus and what files to include in the backup process

This step is really easy. The default settings for UpdraftPlus should be everything you need, so you shouldn’t need to make any changes.

Basically, you do really want to backup your plugins, themes, uploads, and any other directories found inside wp-content. By default, UpdraftPlus has also excluded any folder to do with backups. That’s a good thing, as otherwise, you’d be making backups of backups. That’s never a good idea as the space your backups would take up on your server and Google Drive would start to grow exponetially.

7. Database encryption phrase

I don’t want to miss anything out. My aim here is to make sure you fully understand how to UpdraftPlus so you can get the most out of it.

The Database Encryption Phrase part of the Settings tab for UpdraftPlus is only for those who purchased UpdraftPlus Premium. Here’s a screenshot of the setting so you know exactly what I’m referring to:

UpdraftPlus Database Encryption Phrase settings

I’m considering purchasing UpdraftPlus Premium as I like the idea of encrypting my database backups.

If you store personal data on your database (perhaps you run an online store and it records some customer information) then you want to either consider purchasing the UpdraftPlus Premium plugin so you can encrypt the data, or find another way of encrypting that data. For example, you could download each backup (and remove it from your web server etc.) and then encrypt the data yourself using any encryption program. You could then upload those encrypted backups to your preferred Remote Storage location manually.

That’s a lot of effort though, so if you need to encrypt I seriously recommend looking at UpdraftPlus Premium.

8. Email setting

FYI, we’re still on the Settings tab for UpdraftPlus.

This setting just allows you to receive a report to your website admin’s email address each time UpdraftPlus runs a backup. Here’s a screenshot:

updraft email settings

I log into my WordPress Dashboard regularly and keep a check on my backups. I do recommend you log in regularly as that enables you to check for any updates to WordPress or any of your plugins.

If you’re someone who doesn’t log in regularly to WordPress but would like to keep tabs on your backups, then check this setting to enable those reports. You don’t want to assume everything is fine, and when you then need to use your backups in that unlike but terrible scenario of data loss, those backups aren’t available.

9. Expert settings – You can skip over these bits if you like, but I’ve included them so you know what they are

You really probably won’t have much cause to look at the expert settings. If you want to, just click on the link that says Show Expert Settings to display them.

Here’s a screenshot of two of what you should see:

UpdraftPlus expert tools screenshot 1

UpdraftPlus expert tools screenshot 2

I’ll just run through these settings quickly:

Debug mode

Only use this if something is going wrong and you want to try and figure out why. It’ll give you debugging information from all your plugins though, so be careful as it might be a lot of information. If you’re not comfortable debugging a problem then I’d suggest contacting a web developer well versed in WordPress.

Split archives

I’ve found no need to change this from the default of 400mb. As the setting suggests, you only change this if your web server has a hard file limit (a limit imposed by the file system it runs on).

Delete local backup

Don’t uncheck this option. It’ll mean the number of backups to be retained that you set earlier won’t apply. It’ll cause your server space to fill up more quickly. It’s checked for a reason.

Backup directory

I’ve seen no reason to change this. This setting is the name of the folder on your web server. I mentioned earlier where that is kept (inside the wp-content folder).

If you find you have a problem with UpdraftPlus, such as it isn’t writing backups to this folder at all, you can check this setting. It confirms whether the folder is writable. Whether it’s writable or not indicates whether the file permissions on your server are correct to allow UpdraftPlus to do its work.

The three SSL options

I’ve never found a reason to check the defaults for these. They should all be unchecked. As the notes on the settings page suggest, you may find you need to check Use the server’s SSL certificates option if you’re having problems. Otherwise, leave those three options be.

10. Advanced tools

Now, we’re done with the Settings tab. Before you move on, I would save your changes. We’ve been at this for a little while now, and it’s just prudent to save things regularly (the subject is backing things up after all!).

Click on the Advanced tools tab. There’s not much on here, and even less that you might actually need. So, I’m going to cover all the Advanced Tools in this step.

First, here’s a screenshot of the Advanced Tools tab:

UpdraftPlus advanced tools overview page

Site Information

This is the first sub-tab you’ll see (you can see it in the screenshot above). There’s not much you’ll actually need to know on here.

Lock Settings

I won’t show you a screenshot here as it’s really simple. This is only for UpdraftPlus Premium users. It would enable you to lock the UpdraftPlus settings with a password for that added security. It’s probably only necessary if several people are allowed access to WordPress admin settings.

Updraft Central

If you run multiple sites and use Updraft for them all, then this would be useful for you. It just enables remote control of Updraft backups etc. from a central UpdraftPlus dashboard.

Search/Replace Database

This, again, is for UpdraftPlus Premium users. It’s useful for when you are migrating your site to a new server or new domain etc. It enables you to search and replace fields in your database. When you’re moving your WordPress site, it’s usually necessary to make some changes to some database fields.

Site Size

You might find a need for this. It’ll count and show you a file size for various areas of your website such as your plugins. That can be useful.

Export/Import Settings

You can use this without purchasing UpdraftPlus Premium. If you need to export all the settings for UpdraftPlus that we’ve just gone through, you can do so here. You can also import settings. It’ll even export/import any password you set for the UpdraftPlus settings if you purchased the Premium add-on. This is useful if you move sites, or set up a new site that you want to use UpdraftPlus on with the same settings. It’d certainly save you time.

Wipe Settings

Fairly self-explanatory. This will wipe all settings if you’re so inclined. It won’t delete your backups from your Remote Storage though, don’t worry.

11. You’re done!

That’s it. That’s everything you’ll need to know about setting UpdraftPlus up to get the most out of it. There’s a Premium/Extensions tab too in the UpdraftPlus settings, but there’s not much I can say about that. Have a look if you want.

I will, however, cover a few extra points below that are good to consider when backing up your data generally.

Here’re some other points to consider when backing up your data in general:

What should your backup schedule be?

I’ve mentioned this when going through the UpdraftPlus settings above. Essentially, consider how frequently you update your website with blog posts, new products for your store etc. You’re basically basing your backup schedule on what sort of problems you’d face if your data was deleted/lost.

Be mindful of what you’re backing up and to where

This is important, especially with the recent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Bear in mind that most of your website data won’t include personal data/information. However, if you run an e-commerce store, e-learning website, or anything where visitors can sign up and have a login etc. then you might be storing personal data.

The GDPR has very strict rules about where personal data can be stored. For EU citizens, their data often shouldn’t be going outside the EU, although I believe there are some exceptions. If you hold personal data on EU citizens then be mindful of where, physically, your Remote Storage is.

They might just seem like backups, but you have a duty to keep them safe and to store them in compliance with the GDPR.

Don’t backup your data to the same server your website is on – I covered this above too, but it’s worth repeating.

It sounds obvious, but if something happens to your web server and that’s why you’re now going to use one of those backups you set up, then having your backups on the same server as your website will mean you might have just lost your backups.

I’ve covered steps above to set up a Remote Storage location. UpdraftPlus gives you quite a few options in this regard. At the very least you should download your backups so you have them stored on a secure hard drive in your office etc. as well as on the web server.

Run a manual backup before you make major changes to your site

You’ve set up your backup schedule, but there’s nothing stopping you from making a manual backup using the same process. You can do that on the Current Status tab of the UpdraftPlus settings.

If you’re about to make a major change to your website it’s worth running a manual backup so you’ve got a backup of your site just before those changes went live. Make one after the changes too if you like. That way, if you need to roll back the changes you made then you don’t have to worry.

Conclusion

I’ve tried to cover everything in as much detail as possible. Backing up data is one of those tasks that is important but sometimes gets overlooked. Hopefully, this article has prepared you enough so that you won’t face any problems. Also, I hope it’s enabled you to get the most out of the UpdraftPlus plugin.

If you’ve got any comments or stories regarding backups or UpdraftPlus, I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.

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