Our Backup and Export Approach
One of the most critical features for safeguarding any valuable digital asset is the ability to back up that asset. For a research website the data may often be more valuable than the website itself. In those cases it is important to give precedence to the backup of the data. For most cases, however, it is also important to have backup procedures for the website itself.
From only had time to test a few backup approaches, but from our limited experience, we decided on using the WP Remote and Duplicator plugins. Together, these plugins provided a robust backup approach for our needs.
WP Remote for Backups
The features that we most values from the WP Remote plugin were backup, restore, malware deletion, and the ability to manage numerous websites from one dashboard. WP Remote also has features for migration and creation of staging websites, but we found these to be limiting. For example, migration is set up to use FTP for transferring the website. For virtual machines, FTP usually needs to be set up separately and can be a security concern. For these and other reasons we have decided to use the Duplicator Pro plugin as well.
We found the malware detection and deletion feature to be helpful upon initial testing. We had one WordPress website that had not been updated in a month or two. When we added this website to the WP Remote dashboard then within an hour the WP Remote scanner had isolated and removed a malware executable. We were able to contact their support team also, which got back to us within another hour or so to verify the safety of the cleaned website.
There are several other plugins with malware detectors, such as the professional version of the All-in-One Security module that we use for our security. This initial testing of WP Remote, though, strengthened our confidence in its malware detection and deletion capabilities.
Duplicator Pro for Cloning
Nearly all Content Management Systems are notoriously challenging to migrate in a robust way. This is true for the a simple WordPress installation as well since WordPress stores site information in the database. As a result, many plugins have been created to make it easier to clone a site for a different web server and/or domain. After trying out several different cloning plugins, we chose to use the Duplicator Pro plugin because it made the process relatively straightforward in our experience. Duplicator Pro outputs a zip file with all of the content and code along with a database installation script and an installer PHP file. This output can serve as a backup or for migration of the site. For migration, running the installer PHP file on a website with a new database, new URL, and new domain provides a clone of the original website. This ability also makes it straightforward to create additional clones of the original research web site for development or staging.
In our particular case, we did have some minor issues when cloning the Directories Pro content. We lost the icons that were used for the categories, so we had to manually reset them from the Categories menu item under the My Soil Samples directory that we created.
The Uniqueness of Backup and Cloning Tools for WordPress
This ability to backup and clone a website and its data is one of the most unique features for a WordPress based research website. Although with open source ELNs, it should be possible to back up and clone a website, from what we have seen the maturity and ubiquity of WordPress have helped to make the tools for backup and cloning of websites or ELNs much easier and safer to use than other open source ELNs.
We tried some other approaches which are worth mentioning. We almost took the approach of using the Bedrock project. The Bedrock project uses composer for dependency management and provides a strong foundation for those wanting to incorporate a DevOps approach to maintenance of their research website. We finally decided against this approach because we decided we would have minimal need for custom development of WordPress plugins.
We also considered other possibilities for providing a staging site. A staging site can be useful for testing new plugins or updates to existing plugins. However, the WP Remote plugin has a feature that will create a staging site (although in our experience this sometimes does not work with certain plugins). The Duplicator Pro plugin for cloning, however, seems to provide this capability in a very robust way and so fulfilled that need.