How to backup your Website using Filezilla FTP

If you’re a WordPress user, skip this post and buy Backupbuddy. This 1 plugin will save your life (and your website) by providing automated backups of your files and your database whenever you want them. I can’t recommend it enough.

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. If you missed my introduction to FTP, please read it first.

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.

If you use WordPress, save time (and headache), and BUY BACKUPBUDDY

  • http://www.soulambition.co.uk Tracy

    Thanks very much for the article! Quick q – what have I done wrong when I see ‘create directory’ as only unghosted option, when I right click to download the files?

  • Dave

    Hi Tracy. Thanks for the question. I’ve responded by email. Hope it helps.

  • http://www.soulambition.co.uk Tracy

    Hi Dave,
    Posting reply here in case it helps anyone with similar issue – I think it was ghosted ‘cos I was right-clicking and doing select all on a sub folder within the folder I was trying to backup. When I right-clicked on the file below and chose select all, the download action was available.

    Thanks all the same!
    Tracy

  • Dave

    Great. Glad you figured it out and thanks for coming back to us.
    By the way, soulambition.co.uk is a great looking site. Good luck with it.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh2S90hJl0U&feature=related Kim Woodbridge

    Hi Dave -

    Great tutorial. I know a number of people who need instructions in getting started with FTP and in backing up their websites and this is definitely a resource to which I will direct them.

    Do you know of an automated solution for doing this? Can it only be done via a cron job? I suppose I would still need to download it because the file would be too big to then be emailed to me.

    Also, are you aware of the WP Database backup plugin? http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-db-backup/ This can be set to back up the database on a set schedule. I have mine emailed to me daily and since I use gmail filtered to the trash. Since the trash is stored for 30 days before gmail deletes it, I then have a month’s worth of db backups. I wrote about this recently at http://www.kimwoodbridge.com/2008/08/15/dont-rely-on-your-host-and-lose-your-blog-backup-wordpress/

    Thanks!

  • Dave

    Thanks Kim, great idea on the Gmail solution. I never thought of that. Other than the WordPress db-backup solution for my clients’ WordPress sites, I don’t use any automated services.

    I’ve made a habit of setting aside a few hours each month to perform backups manually and I think that manual backups are actually a good thing. Because I get bored watching Filezilla download, I generally spend time browsing the site I’m backing up, and I make notes of things to add/remove/edit in the following month. For retainer based clients, this is an important part of my service.

    If more website owners actually visited and read the content on their own site each month, they’d definitely make more updates, and I’d bet good money that they’d increase their site traffic as a result.

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  • http://www.parasolsboutique.com ap

    I am having trouble connecting to my sites FTP server, it seems to connect to the site and accepts the login username but is failing when trying to authenticate the pw. My site is built on zen cart and hosted on godaddy…which login and pw am i supposed to use? I would of assumed zen cart and have tried both and also created a new login and pw on godaddy -as a ftp user…but no luck with that either…
    thanks for you help!

  • Jame

    great explanations.
    Just too embarassed to give you my Website name. I used WordPress and created some pages and posts with it. As you probably know, WordPress just created a new version. I want to start an other blog instead, so connecting to the cpanel, I think I need to update WordPress. That would affect the site I already started.

    Because I never used Filezilla when doing the website, I have no file saved in it. So now I am trying to learn how to back-up the files I already created using WordPress, to back them up into Filezilla.

    I was hoping to backup using filezilla so I would be safe to update WordPress to the newest version.

    Would really appreciate an answerif you get a chance.
    Thanks

    J.

  • Jame

    You immediately sent me a very useful blog as answer. I wonder how you did that.
    And I’d like to subscribe to both your blog and the anti social-lists you sent to me. Dave, I wonder if you have some explanations how to subscribe to rrs feeds?

    Thanks

    Jame

  • Dave

    @ap When you try the username and password, Filezilla should spit out an error message in red. If you’re getting a 550 error, it means that your username and password are wrong. I don’t think your zen cart settings are going to work. The FTP info you got from GoDaddy will be what’s needed. If you still have problems email me a screenshot, or your FTP info and I’ll have a try for you.

  • Dave

    @Jame when you log into your cPanel account you should be able to find your FTP hostname, user name and password. Once you’ve got these, follow the tutorial and you should be able to backup the site. I think cPanel user websites are stored in the public_html directory (you should see this as an option when you log in using FTP)

    As for your questions about RSS feeds, there is a very good explanation of what RSS is over at Problogger. This article will also explain how to subscribe to an RSS feed. Here’s the link: http://www.problogger.net/what-is-rss/

    I hope this helps. If you need any more assistance, please let me know.

  • http://my-bella-vita.com Cherrye at My Bella Vita

    If you don’t already, you should write tutorials for hosting companies. This is *really* helpful. Mind you, I still don’t know if I did it all correctly or if I did what I “need” to do, but I got better information here than I did through Siteground’s or Hostgator’s tutorials.

    Filezilla was even all in Italian and I could follow your steps.

    Thank you.

  • lnchung

    Hi, I have a question.
    Can we export all the files ,folder and subfolder to a .xls file ?

  • Dave

    @cherrye thanks for the compliment. If there are any hosting companies out there looking for a technical writer, I’m available. hehe.

    @Inchung Not sure what you mean, but I don’t think you’re talking about FTP. You may want to back up to a hard drive, CD/DVD or Flash drive, but there’s no way you can export files to a .csv.

  • http://www.aventura-diving.com Richard

    Hi Dave,

    EXCELLENT WORK!!

    I am a brit and just bought a dive centre in Madagascar, makes it the first British dive centre in the country…hahahah

    Problem was that the last owner was german, and so had the site hosted in Germany…..

    …As i dont speak German, i was having huge problems with the domain hosts customer service, who blatantly refused to communicate in English… mmmmmmmm

    I decided to transfer the domain to a UK host, however before doing so, needed to copy the site….. downloaded filezilla and following your page was a great help in allowing me to copy the site…… took a lot of stress away!!

    Now I can dump the Germans and transfer the site to the UK!!!

    (although i have to figure out how to upload it to the the uk server once it is ready…..mmmmm)

    Anyway, keep up the good work,

    Thank you,

    Richard

  • http://www.aventura-diving.com Richard

    Hi Dave,

    Actually… one quick question….

    …. do you have any similar tutorials on how to upload my backed up website files to a new domain server after my domain gets transfered over????

    Cheers again, and if you dive, you will be more than welcome to come visit! :-)

    Richard

  • Dave

    @Richard, No I haven’t done a backend tutorial yet. I’ve sent you an email asking for some more details though.

    I’ll see if I can find the time to knock together a decent tutorial in the next week.

    Thanks for the feedback.

  • http://www.domainnamewire.com Andrew

    Thanks for the tutorial. My host used to offer a site backup tool that automatically backed it up and let me download a zip file. They no longer have it, and I’ve been concerned about losing my data (despite the backup plan they have in place…it’s always nice to have a local copy).

  • http://www.pixelcellar.com Tim Marshall

    If you have a need to take regular backups; and in my opinion if you have a website of any kind you have that need; then automated is really the only way forward.

    If you don’t set backups to be done on a regular basis and automate the process you’ll soon end up not having them as up to date as they should be.
    The manual side of the process of backups is down to you remembering to actually do them; you forget and they are not sorted and if you need them then…. Well you can imagine the consequences.

    It’s worth noting that whilst you’re host (if they are half way decent) will have backups of your site but it’s best to check how often they are made; the majority of hosts I have dealt with in the last 5 years or so only really do backups once a week, sometimes once a month. Obviously for some sites this is probably adequate if you don’t change files too often but for an ever changing site it may well not be regular enough.

    Anyway back to the backups and really the automated ones. There are a lot of backup applications out there and I’ve tried most of them, things like Handy Backup, Second Copy etc etc but the one i really recommend is Syncback. It allows you to do everything you’ll ever need to do backup wise; backup FTP sites to your machine, backup your machine to FTP sites, backup your machine to USB/Network drives and also with a little effort you can backup to Amazon S3. Off site backups are quite pricey generally and S3 brings the cost of this right down even for storing 100′s of GB’s of files.

    Right ramble over; got to get back to work. Like the articles on the site by the way; it’s got the sort of articles on it I’d like to write if i could ever find the time!!

  • Dave

    Thanks Tim. You win the award for longest ever comment on thinkdave.com.

    Thanks for your point about Syncback. I’ve used it in the past as a MS Server backup tool (it was brilliant) but never as a Website backup tool. I’ll give it a bash.

  • http://www.essentialarabic.eu robert

    Thanks mate you just saved me £20.00 on backup software. Excellent walk through.

  • Dave

    @robert no problem. Of course, you could simply send me the £20 as a token of your appreciation. I wouldn’t take offense…

  • http://www.nikkisblogspot.com Nikki

    Thankyou!!! This helped me out so much :)

  • http://tdot-blog.com sherif

    I didn’t know about site manager option in filezilla. That makes managing sites a lot easier. I use open source (Fullsync) to backup sites, however will consider filezilla.
    Thanks again.

    sherif’s last blog post..Tips on How to Choose a Good Domain Name

  • http://www.societymatters.org Alan Mairson

    Dave -
    Thanks a million. Great tutorial. Just what I needed just when I needed it.
    best,
    Alan

  • http://www.globalpostcardsales.com Jim

    Good morning … I knew nothing about website structure (and really still don’t) but the designer set me up with DotNetNuke and then disappeared. Now, it’s too late to change to a simpler structure; and I have discovered there aren’t so many website hosting companies that can handle this DNN structure well. The present host company has been great up until now, but recently sent a message saying they will no longer do any backups at all. I’ve used FileZilla before with no problem, but apparently (based on experience with the current host when the site crashed once before) my website falls in the category you describe in the yellow box of your terrific tutorial: it is database driven. So I understand I’m not really backing up the whole thing. Have you finished your other tutorial on backing up databases? My choices seem to be either figuring out how to do that, or finding another host who will do it like the current one used to.

    This might already be covered in your readers’ comments above, but anything at all you can suggest ….. thanks in advance.

  • peter simons

    dave… thanks so much. This article was fantastic and so clear. Just learnt how to back up 3 sites. Legend. Thanks.

  • http://thediscussionsite.com/blog Cornelius

    Thank you. This was very helpful.

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  • Jonny

    Hi Dave, this has been very useful thanks.

    I’m a complete novice at this, but I’m enjoying the ins and outs of building my website.

    thanks

  • http://paulamontes.com/blog Paula

    Dave:

    Thank you very much for such a good tutorial.

  • http://brucebriggs.com Bruce

    THANKS, DAVE!

    I was always kind of intimidated by ftp, and thought it would take a while to learn, so I never backed up my website. I found your site on Google after a friend of mine asked me to update her wordpress design. I didn’t want to risk her site as I have done mine.

    You have made this process quick, easy, and painless! I am now excited to keep regularly incremented backups of both mine and my friend’s blog.

    Best tutorial I have EVER read. Keep up the good work!!!

    –Bruce

  • http://outtheredesigns.com Jennifer

    Thanks for the tutorial… my backup is currently in progress. But I’m a little concerned… when I went into my site via Filezilla, there were files under both the public_html folder and also the www folder. I have had some crashing issues and did have to do a re-install. Now I’m wondering if I have backed up the correct set of files, and how would I know? I probably need to remove one of those sets of files, but I’m afraid to mess anything up! (As you can tell, I am VERY new at this and every single step of the process is done with the help of tutorials like yours!)

  • http://www.marketsamurai.bzblgs.com Isha

    If you have cPanel with your host, then you can back up all the sites in your account all at once using cPanel. I like the host Hostgator, which has “Backups” in their cPanel under “Files”. Hostgator also has a tutorial showing you how to do it.

    If you’re looking to getting a new host, then I recommend asking them if they use cPanel (it’s a particular kind of Control Panel).

    Thank you Dave and Tim. I’d not come across Syncback before; it’s worth backing up everything both locally one’s own computer and also to a safe place offline, so I’ll be looking at getting them backed up using Syncback as well.

    Isha

  • Joel

    Thanks for the tips dude!

    Made this process super easy for me!

    Thanks

  • http://www.thiagoonweb.com Thiago Faria

    Thank you very much. I´ve done a backup two weeks ago selecting each one of the files. To much work. So simple. You helped me a lot. Congratulations on your post.

  • http://www.youtube.com/discoverysound Stephen

    You are the man!!!! Thanks for writing this post for the laymen.

  • mukesh mahla

    Very Nice,
    It is really a good effort. Please accept my best wishes.
    This is like a technical and emotional effort.
    Thank you very much.

  • http://www.wundercliffe.com suze

    Thank you. Am struggling with setting up a site to raise money for education materials about teenagers with cancer and was ready to tear my hair out. you have made navigating this weird online world a little easier. thanks. Suze

  • http://www.wundercliffe.com suze

    this will really show how confused i am… i have dowloaded a copy of the files from my site (thanks) but i still have a mess of dreamweaver versions of my site. can i dump all the previous versions and how do i set up to make changes to my site now – can i somehow move the newly downloaded files into Dreamweaver?

  • Dave

    Hi Suze, here’s what I recommend IF the version of your website that is live on the Internet is current and up to date. Please follow these instructions carefully because mixing up the steps below could mean deleting your website.

    1. Gather up all the files/Dreamweaver versions of your website that are filed on YOUR COMPUTER and stick them into a single folder. Save this folder as ‘website-archive’ on your Desktop.

    2. The directory you set up on YOUR COMPUTER that had all your files in it before you archived them (in step 1) should now be empty.

    3. Re-download all your website files FROM YOUR WEBSITE onto your computer.

    You should now have a current version of your website on your computer.

  • http://rapidtechreview.com/ anandy

    wow thanks dave nice article

  • http://www.PamperedBeast.com James

    Thanks. I’m new at this and your directions were perfect! No issues.

  • http://pattymackz.com/wordpress/ Gérald Lechault

    Hi Dave,

    As a total beginner in website management, I must state that this is the first time that I encounter someone who can explain so simply how things work.
    Knowing only the basics and barely the name of operations, without knowing precisely what they mean, I still have been able to set up my FTP client and make a local backup of the remote site which I maintain for my wife.
    Hats off to you !!!

    G

  • Linda

    Hi Dave,
    I’m very new to this. I followed your tutorial and I get green messages. After a little bit I get the following red message:
    Error: Connection timed out
    Error: Failed to retrieve directory listing

  • Linda

    well, I wasn’t able to get it to work with filezilla, but was able to with Core FTP. Now my question is before I upload these files to my new website, do I have to edit the index file and if so, what do I change?

    • Dave

      Hi Linda, sorry I missed your comment last night. I’m not sure what you’re trying to achieve so it’s hard for me to say what you should do to your index file. Just bear in mind that the index file is the home page of your website and anything you change may be lost, so you should backup before you change anything. On the other hand, if you’re simply moving the website to another server you can simply upload it in the same state as you downloaded it. Hopefully that makes sense.

  • http://www.directshop.co/ Paul

    Great tut, going to hep me loads. Thanks for you time and effort in writing this.

  • http://www.newsgates.com ambreen

    well i tried to back up my site and every thing went fine. but im not sure if it is done correct or nt bcz all i can see in the back up files is the images of my blog. where are the posts. Infact can you tell me exact location where the posts are in ftp.

  • http://localhost/thinkdave Dave Wilkinson

    @ambreen, the posts and all site content of a blog are stored in the database of your site, not in the files. You need to backup your database for this.

  • http://www.newsgates.com ambreen

    and how can i do tht

  • http://localhost/thinkdave Dave Wilkinson

    @ambreen, if you’re using WordPress, I’d recommend using the Backupbuddy plugin. This is a premium plugin, but it is worth the money. You can get a copy from http://pluginbuddy.com/purchase/backupbuddy/

    Alternatively, there is a plugin called wp-db-backup which is free. http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-db-backup/

    If you aren’t using a self-hosted WordPress site, I have no idea how to backup your database.

  • Keith

    Thanks for the tut!

    Got to every step except for the last one- when I do CTR-A, everything lights up, but the download is grayed out?

    why do you think that is?

    Thanks
    Keith

    • Dave

      Hi Keith, not sure exactly, but are you selecting ALL the files in the remote site (right hand side)? If you are, try selecting a couple of files at a time. It may be that you’ve grabbed something you’re not allowed to download (I’m guessing, but you never know).

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  • intel

    how to take synchronized backup to local folder from the server using filezilla or any other backup tool.. thanks in advance…

  • http://www.designerfurniture.com.au Trevor Ryan

    “Backup your website to your destination folder”
    You say “In your web server pane” but there is no pane called that. I presume you mean the remote directory list pane?
    Thank you.

  • http://www.natp2.org Ryan

    Hi, Can I backup my posts & pages using filezilla?

  • Mayura

    thankz for the tutorial …..

  • http://www.developingmelodies.com Meryl

    Please Help:
    The only items on my ftp are my website. Do I still have to dig through files, or can I just highlight it all and transfer over to my computer? I am very new at this. I want to switch hosting companies, but I must backup my site first.

    Yes, it is a WordPress Site. I have the BackupWordpress plugin installed on my site, will this take care of it and then I can transfer it to the new hosting using filezilla later?

    Thanks.

    This tutorial was helpful until the digging part and then I got super confused :( Sorry.

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  • http://www.thinkdave.co.uk thinkdave

    Hi Alan. Glad it helped.