This is a continuation of a series of posts about reworking my website into one that is entirely WordPress based. The series starts here.
As I mentioned here, I’ve been testing WordPress backup solutions. The ones I’ve been looking at are: BackupBuddy Pro, BackupWordPress, UpdraftPlus, VaultPress, and WP Migrate DB Pro. The testing has not been exhaustive, but I’ve spent a few days on it. Here’s what I’ve found out.
Fifth place: VaultPress
VaultPress is in concept a bit like the early Macs; it is very easy to use, and if it works and you like what it does, then it’s a reasonable solution, but it is opaque and hard to configure. The original Mac had a one-button mouse, because Steve Jobs thought that any more would make it too complicated. I’m writing this on a computer whose mouse has eight buttons and a scroll wheel. To make changes to the way that early Windows systems programs worked, you edited .ini or .sys files with any old text editor you had lying around. To make similar changes on a Mac, you fired up a program called resedit, and crossed your fingers, because you could do real damage if you weren’t careful. Vaultpress appears to be like the Mac, but with no resedit equivalent; what you see is all there is.
The pricing structure doesn’t make it economical to do a lot of test restores/migrations, which, as I’ve pointed out before, is essential to gaining confidence that your backups are working right. As far as I can tell, there is no discount at all for multiple sites, and you need a license for every site. As is usual with the paid WordPress backup solutions these days, cloud backup storage is included. Unusually, it appears to be unlimited in size, and with the top-tier version, backups are apparently stored forever. But, also unusually, it doesn’t support local server-side backup storage, nor can you use storage hosting resources like Dropbox, S3, Glacier, and the like. There is no way (that I can figure out) to control what files and directories are backed up. Backups are performed daily at a time of VaultPress’s choosing, unless you opt for the premium product, in which case you get real time backups – whatever that means (A long time ago, I worked at Hewlett-Packard’s Dymec division (later Palo Alto Division, still later Automatic Measurement Division), which made an operating system called RTE. That stood for Real Time Executive. There was continuing discussion with our customers as to exactly what response latency constituted real time.).
I’ve been using VaultPress for more than a year. I started out using it because there were attractively-priced bundles with Akismet, a WordPress spam filter that I liked a lot. I had other, albeit more labor-intensive, backup solutions, so I never did a test restore/migration. Used as a write-only memory, VaultPress was easy to live with. However, as I’ve reported here, when I recently tried to use VaultPress for a migration, it didn’t work. Not only that I was unable to quickly get the matter resolved through email support. I dealt with several people, none of whom seemed to be communicating with the others, so that I had to answer the same questions repeatedly.
In my initial request, I asked how to access the logs so that I could see where to start troubleshooting. I never did see any logs. As a exemplar of what detailed logs should look like and how easy it should be to see them, take a gander at how BackupBuddy and UpdraftPlus do it.
After I completed the migration using ftp and WP Migrate DB Pro, I lost interest in finding out why the VaultPress port didn’t work.
I had another problem with VaultPress’s licensing procedures in another WordPress instance. That instance had the premium service, and thus the premium support. I noticed no difference between the premium and the regular support. Emails were answered in a few minutes occasionally, but the turnaround time was generally half a day. The support folk were uniformly pleasant to deal with, and acted like they sincerely wanted to help, but neither problem got solved before I ran out of patience. I had other solutions to my problems, and therefore I was quicker to abandon VaultPress than would have been the case if my web site was down and they were my only hope.
Fourth place: BackupWordPress
Like UpdraftPlus, this is a free plugin if you don’t want the extensions. If you only want a few, it’s still pretty cheap. Heck, like all the programs here except VaultPress, you’re not gonna break the bank buying the whole package if you’re dealing with a few tens of sites. I don’t have much to say about this program. It offers reasonable configurability, but not up to the standards of BackupBuddy Pro. I seems to have a reasonable function list. I stopped testing it because I couldn’t get it to work consistently on all three of my sites.
Third place (but very close to a tie for second): BackupBuddy Pro
This is the Swiss Army knife of backup programs. It is highly configurable, right down to which database tables are backed up. You can have lots of different procedures separately stored and individually editable. However, in my hands it had trouble transferring 500MB and 800MB files to Dropbox. It also demanded 256MB of php memory, and ran out sometimes with even that much. I probably could have gotten the Dropbox transfers to work correctly by messing with the chunk size (the default is 80 MB), but by that time I’d decided that, even if the program worked flawlessly, I preferred UpdraftPlus.
The log files are easy to find and view, and detailed enough to be very useful in troubleshooting. In my dealings with the BackupBuddy tech support people over the Dropbox cross-load failures, I found them the most technically sophisticated of any in this test.
In my book, the restore procedure is a mark against BackupBuddy Pro; you run a php script before you install WordPress. I prefer to first install WordPress, make sure that it’s running fine with the default theme and content, then do the restore.
Second place: WP Migrate DB Pro/GoodSync
WP Migrate DB Pro is a migration tool for WordPress databases only that can also back up and restore those databases. I like to use it in peer-to-peer mode, in which you run a copy of the plugin on both the migration source and destination WordPress instances, and either push directly to the destination, or pull directly from the source. Used that way, it is an elegant, fast, and powerful tool. It handles URL conversion, and tells you if you need to change the WordPress configuration file, and how to change it if that’s necessary.
To use WP Migrate DB Pro as a backup tool, you just tell it to write a database file, and set the source and destination URLs to be the same. To restore to another URL, you tell it to load the database from your backup.
However, there is no backup automation; you’ll have to invoke the backups manually each and every time you want one.
The WordPress database should be backed up every time you change your content. But many, if not most content changes involve no added or changed files. Having a separate file backup tool with its own scheduling features is definitely a viable way to make up for the lack of file backup in WP Migrate DB Pro. In fact, if you’re going to go that route, I recommend not using any server-side file backup software, but rather a client-side file synching application like GoodSync. The advantages are that you can have incremental backups, version control and backup, and other sophisticated things that WordPress backup plugins don’t usually handle. You can either back your files up to a local machine running GoodSync, or use the program as a middleman between your WordPress site and Dropbox, S3, or some other cloud file service.
First place: UpdraftPlus
The free version of this program is immensely popular. The paid edition is, too. There’s a reason for that. While not as granular or flexible in configuration as BackupBuddy Pro, it has pretty much what you really need. I find the huge number of addons (all of which you get when you buy the premium package) to be a bit confusing when installing (you need to install them afterwards, and during the installation, you are directed to a web site that invites you to buy the addons all over again), but well integrated once in place, and the log files are easy to find and easy to understand. This program stores the backups in five (and sometimes more) files: the database in a zipped tar (gz) file, and plugins, themes, uploads, and everything else in just plain zipped files. You can easily see what’s in each of the zipped files with a zip-aware file browser like Microsoft’s File Explorer:
There’s no special software required to restore them; you can just unzip them and use ftp, or move then to the new site and unzip them in place. Of course, the UpdraftPlus plugin will do that for you if you choose, but it’s nice to know that your data is not shackled by proprietary file formats.
Of the plugins that can back up both files and databases, UpdraftPlus was the only one in my test to be able to backup all three of my WordPress sites both locally and to Dropbox. That in itself earns it the top ranking, but it probably would have gotten it even if BackupBuddy hadn’t had trouble with the Dropbox transfers.
I don’t know anything about UpdraftPlus tech support because I never had cause to contact them.