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How to Back Up Your WordPress Site for Free with UpdraftPlus

How to Back Up Your WordPress Site for Free with UpdraftPlus, featured image

Looking for the best solution for how to back up WordPress for free?

Backups are essential for every single WordPress site, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pull out your credit card and purchase a premium solution.

In this post, I’m going to show you step-by-step how to back up your WordPress site using the free UpdraftPlus plugin. Whether you’re a total WordPress newbie or an advanced user, you’ll be able to follow this tutorial to:

  • Back up your WordPress site
  • Automatically store your backup on safe external cloud storage (e.g. Google Drive)
  • Set up a schedule to back up your site on autopilot going forward

I’ll also show you how you can restore your site from any backup.

WordPress Backup Best Practices

Before we get to the tutorial, let’s quickly run over some WordPress backup best practices so that you can effectively implement your backup strategies.

Here are some important considerations when backing up your site:

  • Remote storage – you should never store your site’s backups on your site’s server, as this still leaves you with a single point of failure. Instead, you should store them on completely separate cloud storage (e.g. Google Drive). You can also download them to your local computer for even more redundancy.
  • Regular backups – if your site changes often (for instance, you frequently publish new blog posts), you’ll want to always have a recent backup so that you won’t lose too much data if you need to restore a backup.
  • Separate backup frequencies – you’ll usually want to back up different parts of your WordPress site at different frequencies. Typically, you’ll want to back up your site’s database more often than your site’s files (especially if you publish lots of blog posts and/or have lots of user comments).

By following the instructions below, you’ll be able to automate all of these best practices.

How to Use UpdraftPlus to Back Up WordPress to Google Drive for Free

Now, let’s get into the step-by-step part of how to back up WordPress for free, using UpdraftPlus.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to fully back up your WordPress site on your preferred schedule to off-site cloud storage on Google Drive.

With that being said, you can easily choose a different storage solution if you don’t use Google Drive, as UpdraftPlus supports tons of different options.

A quick note: while this method works great for the vast majority of WordPress sites, it’s not the best solution for certain types of dynamic WordPress sites, such as a WooCommerce store, social community, etc. For those types of sites, you’ll be better off with a real-time incremental backup tool such as BlogVault or Jetpack Backup.

1. Install UpdraftPlus

To get started, go to Plugins → Add New in your WordPress dashboard and install the free UpdraftPlus plugin from WordPress.org.

Once you activate the plugin, you can access its settings by going to Settings → UpdraftPlus Backups.

2. Configure Your Storage Location (Optional)

This step is technically optional, but I highly recommend it. As I mentioned earlier, you should never back up your WordPress site to the same server/hosting account that your site exists on. Again, this still leaves you with a single point of failure. If something goes wrong with your host, you could lose both your WordPress site and all your backups — not good!

The best solution here is to choose an off-site cloud storage provider. UpdraftPlus will seamlessly send your backups straight to that provider, which now gives you two points of failure. Even if your server blows up, you can still grab the backup copy from Google Drive to restore your site.

UpdraftPlus supports a ton of different remote storage locations, but we’re going to focus on Google Drive in this tutorial for a few reasons:

  1. Most people already have a Google account.
  2. You get lots of free storage — more than enough to manage the backups for most WordPress sites.
  3. The setup process is pretty simple — you really just need to click a few buttons.

To set up your external backup location, go to the Settings tab in the UpdraftPlus plugin area (Settings → UpdraftPlus Backups).

Here, click on the remote storage service that you want to use. Again, that’s Google Drive for our example:

Choose off-site storage

Once you’ve selected Google Drive (it should be highlighted after you click on it), scroll to the bottom and click Save Changes.

This will display a popup prompt telling you to authorize your WordPress site with Google Drive. Click the link in the prompt:

Authorize Google Drive

This will show you the normal Google authorization process. Click the Allow button to let UpdraftPlus access your Google Drive account:

Access Google Account

Then, you should see a screen from UpdraftPlus. Click the Complete setup button to finalize the process:

Finish Google Drive setup

Now, you’re ready to start backing up your site’s content.

Note that the authorization process is different for each remote storage source. So if you choose something other than Google Drive, you’ll have to complete different steps — UpdraftPlus’ official documentation is a good resource here.

3. Take Your First Backup

Now that you’ve set up your store, you’re ready to back up your site.

To take your site’s first backup, go to the Backup / Restore tab and click the big Backup Now button:

Take your first backup

This will open a popup prompt. Leave all the settings as the defaults and click the Backup Now button:

Confirm backup settings

Now, you’ll have a short wait while UpdraftPlus does its work. It will take longer for larger sites. Then, you should see a success message, and your backup will show up in the Existing backups list:

Backup success message

If you go to Google Drive, you should also see your backup files in the UpdraftPlus folder. For a full site backup, you’ll have five separate files (more on that later):

4. Set Up an Automatic Backup Schedule

Being able to manually take backups is useful. But to really secure your site’s data, you’ll want to set up an automatic backup schedule. That way, you can guarantee that you always have a recent backup without lifting a finger.

To set up your own custom schedule, go to the Settings tab. There, you’ll see two different scheduling options — one for your site’s files (images, plugin files, and more) and one for your site’s database (that stores your actual content, comments, settings choices, user profiles, and more).

Having two options is useful because you’ll normally want to back up your site’s database more often than its files for two reasons:

  1. Your site’s database usually changes more often than your site’s files, so you want to have more recent backups of it.
  2. Your site’s database is normally a lot smaller than your site’s files, so it takes less space/resources to back it up.

The exact frequency that you should choose depends on your site and how often its content changes. However, a good starting point for most sites is the following:

  • Back up your files once per week and store multiple copies. Personally, I store 2-3 copies of my sites’ files.
  • Back up your database every day and store more copies (I personally do 7+ copies). If your database is very large, you might want to store fewer copies. But most sites have a database that’s only a few MB, so it’s trivial to store extra copies. For example, the database on my portfolio site is only 1.6 MB.

Here’s what it might look like:

How to set a backup schedule

Tip: Especially for a large site, running a backup can consume a lot of server resources, which can affect your site’s performance during the time that the backup process is running.

For that reason, you want to run your backups during periods of low traffic (for example, overnight). With the premium version of UpdraftPlus, you can choose the exact time to run your backup, but the free version doesn’t let you do that.

However, UpdraftPlus does base its scheduling on when you first save your schedule choices, which gives you some control. For example, if you save your daily schedule at 9 PM, UpdraftPlus will run it every day at 9 PM. For that reason, I recommend waiting until an off-peak time to make your changes, unless you’re willing to pay for UpdraftPlus Premium.

Another more advanced option to get scheduling control for free is to run your backups using a server cron job or WP-CLI. If you’re a casual user, this might feel overwhelming, so feel free to ignore this advice. But for advanced users, check out these help articles to learn how you can set this up:

Personally, I use the cron approach, which gives me perfect control over my backup schedules for free.

How to Restore Your WordPress Site from a Backup

Having a backup of your WordPress site is only useful if you know how to restore your site from that backup. So before I finish out this post, I think it’s important to show you how you can restore your site from one of the backups that you took in the previous section.

As I mentioned earlier, a full backup of your site from UpdraftPlus actually consists of five separate files, each of which contains different types of information:

  • Database – stores all of your site’s content, user information, comments, settings, choices, etc.
  • Plugins – stores the files for all of your site’s plugins (however, settings and choices that you’ve made for your plugins are in your site’s database)
  • Themes – stores the files for all of your site’s themes (however, settings such as your Customizer choices are saved in the database)
  • Uploads – stores the files that you’ve uploaded to your site, such as images
  • Others – everything else

Depending on how large your site is, you might have multiple files for one of those five categories.

By default, UpdraftPlus splits files every 400 MB (you can change this by expanding the Expert settings at the bottom of the Settings tab). For example, if you’ve uploaded 600 MB of images, you’ll have two separate upload files in your backup.

For a full restore, you would need to upload all of the files. However, you can also perform partial restores, like only restoring your site’s database but not the files.

There are two ways to restore files:

  • By clicking the button in the UpdraftPlus interface.
  • By manually uploading the files. If you can’t access your existing site anymore, you could create a new WordPress install and use this method.

Let’s go through how each one works.

Method 1: Click the Button in the Interface

As I showed you earlier, UpdraftPlus will list all of your site’s current backups in the Existing backups section.

To restore from one of these backups, all you do is click the Restore button:

How to restore a backup

This will launch a restore wizard. On the first page, you can choose which components to restore. To restore a full site backup, you’ll want to choose all five components:

Choose what to restore

UpdraftPlus will then download those files from your cloud storage location, which might take a little time depending on the size of your site. Once the download finishes, all you do is click the Restore button to restore your site.

Advanced users can also expand the options to only restore certain database tables:

Finalize restore

UpdraftPlus will then do its work and you should see a success message:

Restore success message

That’s it! You just successfully restored your WordPress site’s backup.

Once you verify that your restore works, click the prompt to Delete Old Directories inside the UpdraftPlus settings:

Delete old directories

Method 2: Upload Your Backup Files

If you can’t access your existing site’s WordPress dashboard, you won’t be able to restore your site via the UpdraftPlus interface. Or, maybe you just don’t see the backup that you want to restore for some reason.

To fix both of these issues, UpdraftPlus also lets you manually upload the backup files:

  • If you can still access your WordPress dashboard, you can go to the UpdraftPlus settings to upload the files.
  • If you can’t access your site’s dashboard, you could create a fresh WordPress install, install the UpdraftPlus plugin, and then go to its settings.

Either way, you’ll be able to click the Upload backup files option under Existing backups. Then, you can upload the exact files that you want to restore:

Manually upload backup files

Once you upload the files, they’ll show up as an entry in the Existing backups section. For example, here you can see that I’ve manually uploaded a backup of my site’s database:

Restore from backup files

From there, you can click the Restore button and follow the same steps as in Method 1 above.

Conclusion – Back Up Your WordPress Site Today

No matter what your WordPress site is about, you need a strong backup policy to keep your site’s data safe. A lot of things can go wrong — you can make a mistake, a malicious actor might hurt your site, your host might have issues, and more.

In this tutorial, I showed you how to back up WordPress for free using UpdraftPlus, so there’s no excuse not to set up your own automatic backup policy to secure your site’s data. Get started today so that you always have a recent backup to pull from.

Still have any questions about how to back your WordPress site with UpdraftPlus? Ask us in the comments!

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