April 3, 2018 | Sarah Danks
Where Are My Site Files Stored?
You’ve just hired a web design agency to build you a new website. Everything’s going smoothly — the site launched, and it looks great, but you’re left wondering…
…where IS the website, actually? Or, more accurately, where are the site files saved?
Hosting services, server capacity, htaccess files — most clients just leave all that gobble-dee-gook to the web experts, but some of you wonder what it all means, and where on earth your website actually resides in the big wide world of the Internet of things.
It’s all well and good that you can type in the domain or even search for it with keywords on Google and find your website, but what if there’s an issue? What if — horror of horrors — you head over to a web page of yours and get a dreaded 404 page, or a DNS error?
It’s imperative — even if someone else builds your website — to know where all the files for your website are stored.
There are basically a few places where one could potentially store web files:
- Offsite server
- Onsite server
- In the “cloud”
- External hard drive
- Computer hard drive
- Flash drive
This list isn’t to say I condone storing website files on one over the other (or only in one place, especially a flash drive), but these are just options that exist.
For example, my own personal website files are stored on my old PC laptop hard drive. Smart? Probably not — but it’s a hobby website, so maybe I feel it’s okay to still do it that way. Eventually I’ll move into the current year’s technology and get the files stored somewhere safer!
Safe Storage + Synching for All Files
Our own website and all client site files are all safely stored on Dropbox. Dropbox has paid for itself time and time again when something’s happened on a website or an external hard drive and we’ve had to back up from our synchronized files.
It’s a great tool to have in our online marketing arsenal.
Since all website information is vital to businesses — ours and our clients’ — having a safe, secure place to store and back up all our files gives us one less thing to worry about.
Dropbox isn’t the only reliable method of storage and backup these days. Check out PCMag’s list of best cloud storage and file-sharing software.
Hosting Isn’t Storage…
…but your website actually lives in the hosting environment, too. Hosting, in essence, is where your site’s files live on the server.
Now, many clients confuse the difference between website storage and website hosting. Where your site is hosted isn’t where the files are stored, per se, but it sort of is. Confusing, right?
Web hosting is important, but it shouldn’t be the only place your site files live.
We’ve used Pair in the past but now use GoDaddy’s WordPress Managed Hosting since we build client sites exclusively in WordPress. Can ANY hosting company work for WordPress websites?
Probably. But the issue can be if/when you use a lot of plugins.
Using multiple plugins on your WordPress site CAN lead to security breaches, IF you don’t stay on top of updating them when needed. Since one reason we build in WordPress is ease of use for our clients once the site is launched, we figure it’s safer to host our websites in a WordPress-friendly environment.
To that end, we prefer hosting all websites with GoDaddy.
Also, the type of website you have determines how you go about saving the files and updating it.
Static Websites/Landing Pages:
There are essentially two types of ways to “develop” sites: statically and dynamically.
With static websites, there are two copies of the site files you’re dealing with: the local files, and those on the server. The two copies should be identical in every way, shape and form so you’ve got a consistent website.
Updating a static website takes more steps than a non-static site. First, you have to access where the site files are locally stored (i.e., Dropbox) and update them with your changes. Second, via FTP upload you “push” the files to the hosting service, which is where the public files of your website reside.
At that point, your website is updated with whatever changes you made to the local files.
Content Management System (CMS)
Dynamic sites are typically built in a content management system. The updating process is similar with a CMS — i.e. WordPress — but it’s easier and quicker than a static site. In fact, it’s almost a push-button process: want to create a new WordPress website? You push a button and **poof** you have a website.
Okay, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but still.
To update your website, you simply log into your CMS, change whatever it is that you want to change, and then you hit “update,” and the changes are live immediately.
No more worrying about local files, pushing to the server — or forgetting that second part and wondering why your website hasn’t been updated with your changes.
To begin with — when you’re first building a new website — in a WordPress environment, you do deal with “local” files. You upload them into the install environment, then you get the design squared away.
Once the website is published, if you want to update it, you’re updating live; you don’t touch the “local” files. It’s less of a hassle, and makes it easy for clients to update their own websites, without having to learn how to upload via FTP.
…And Your Website Should Never Have to “Come Down” to Make Changes
Years ago I can across an instance wherein I found a business online, but couldn’t access their website — it was temporarily down and I found out the reason why: the web developers were updating it. I told the business owner, “that shouldn’t ever happen!”
Said business owner asked for a call from us to discuss; after we explained in detail how the updating process should work, she ended up becoming a client of ours. She said she knew deep down that pulling the website down entirely while the developers were working on it didn’t feel right, but she was trusting their judgment.
Your website is your 24/7 sales tool, your method to capture leads while you’re asleep or on vacation…
…it should never be offline because changes are being made to design, content, etc. Anyone who tells you differently is lying — or doesn’t know what they’re doing.
The point of all that is, whether you have a static website or it’s built in a CMS, technically the site files do live on the server, but that shouldn’t be the only place they exist — it’s not a back-up system. And, if a web company ever pulls your website down to make changes, run the other way!
Know Where Your Website Files “Live”
The long and short of it is, your website files should be backed up somewhere safe, with a software such as Dropbox. While the files do technically live on the server on which they’re hosted, they should also be stored somewhere safe for back-up purposes.
Where your web design company chooses to store the site files, and which hosting company they choose for your website is a whole different topic, but at least they should be open with you about all that information.
We believe transparency with our clients is paramount to our success — they can ask us to see anything, and have access to any data pertaining to their online marketing endeavors.
So, if you’ve got a business website and your web design company won’t tell you where the files live — or where it’s hosted and why — it’s time to get nervous.