And what a ride it’s been! At one point during it, it looked as though My Trike might disappear for ever but then there was a break-through and the web site came back from the dead. And finally it looks as though the day has been saved after all, but not without a great deal of time and effort. And quite a bit of bloody-minded persistence from me, too, as I’ll go on to explain.
So what’s been going on? Well, it’s all been to do with how My Trike is ‘hosted’. It needs special hardware and software for a web site to actually appear on the Internet and these are provided by what are called hosting companies who provide all kinds of hosting packages of different sizes and with different functions. While I was running an Internet-based e-commerce business, I needed a commercial package that was quite powerful and naturally cost a bit more. I was able to include My Trike in it at no additional cost, so in some ways my business subsidised the My Trike web site.
When I sold off my business and retired, I was still left with the hosting package and it was problematic terminating it because of the difficulties involved in moving My Trike, even within the same hosting company. However, it eventually became more pressing because at the end of the day, there was no way that I could justify the monthly expenditure involved just for My Trike. And so I set wheels in motion a couple of days ago to make the necessary changes, never knowing what would transpire.
Whenever you make any significant changes to any software that’s installed on any computer hardware, or even to the hardware itself, the golden rule is that you make back ups of anything that’s important that you don’t want to get lost or damaged. My Trike consists of a whole bunch of ‘fixed data’, such as images and video files, other ‘mobile data’ in the form of blog postings and comments going back over many years, and the software necessary to bring it all together, WordPress. In order to bring it all together, WordPress creates and employs what is referred to as a MySQL database, and it’s this which is absolutely key to making the whole shebang operate in a user-friendly and seamless way. The fixed data can always be recreated if lost so long as you have kept copies of it, which I have, on my own PC, but if the database is lost or corrupted, the web site is gone forever.
Luckily my hosting company, Heart Internet based in the UK, provide two back up tools, one for a ‘total web site’ backup and the other for backing up your database, so using those was the first stage in the transfer process. Both take an inordinate amount of time to operate down here in France because Internet speed here is dire and both involve creating back up files that are then downloaded onto your PC. Now, it seems that the only way that you can move a web site from one package to another is to create the second package on the necessarily new server, delete the web site from the original package on the old server and then recreate it again using your backed up files on the second. Critically, once you have deleted it from the original package, you are then wholly reliant on your backed up files, and if they are corrupt, damaged or don’t work for any reason, then you are right up the creek. You can probably see where this is leading…
So having arrived at the stage in the game where the second package had been created and the original one deleted, the moment came to apply the ‘total web site’ backup that I’d made earlier. In theory, this should have put all of the folders and files of the web site back into place on the new server, except that it didn’t. So then I did what I should have done originally and checked what the back up contained – easy enough because it was in the form of a Zip file – only to find that a huge amount of stuff wasn’t present.
But although this was a bit of a setback, it wasn’t in any way terminal. So long as I still had my database, I could recreate the whole of the rest of the web site over time by installing WordPress on the new server, uploading all of the other missing stuff again (a huge amount of data that would take hours and hours due to the speed of the Internet) and then recovering my database that would tell WordPress how to configure itself and put in place all of the hundreds of postings and comments that My Trike contains. So that’s what I began to do two days ago and continued with, through into the early hours of yesterday. First I had to set up a new copy of WordPress, then I had to change its ‘theme’ to the one that I’d used for My Trike and finally I had to re-install the WordPress ‘plug-ins’ that I’d used to perform the special functions like showing images and videos, running slide-shows and so on. I got to the point several times where I’d done all of that and all that was needed was to recover the database from the back up file that I’d kept safely stored on my PC, only to find that when I did that, WordPress immediately fell over and refused to run due to an ‘internal server error’. This usually means that something, somewhere isn’t configured correctly, and as it occurred as soon as the database back up was applied, it pointed a finger towards that as being the culprit.
So time to contact Heart Internet’s customer services. Now, I’ve been a Heart customer for many years during which time they have grown from being quite small to quite large, and in all that time I’ve enjoyed a very positive and cordial relationship with them. In the early days, you always got the same people in customer services who you got to know by name, because it was only small, but now the list of names seems almost endless. My gripe was that I’d used the Heart Internet back up tools that I’d trusted to do the job they were intended to do, but which apparently had let me down and placed me in a very difficult position. I know from my IT past that companies like Heart take regular server back ups of their own in case of a system breakdown, and I suggested that one way I could get out of trouble would be if under the circumstances, after I’d gone to the lengths of recreating my ‘total web site’ myself by hand, they could provide me with a copy of my database from their server back up. They said that they could – but at a cost.
I ‘stepped back in amazement’! How could they do that, when I was only in the position I was because I had used the tools that they had provided in good faith, and they hadn’t worked! I pointed out that I had already paid for those tools within the total cost of my package, indeed, over many years, and as I’d used them in the manner intended, I didn’t then expect to pay again to obtain the same results that the tools should have produced for me, but in a different way. I suggested that it was Heart’s responsibility to provide the data that I needed from their server back up as I’d only lost it because of the failure of their back up tools.
But they were adamant that they would charge for a copy of my database back up which they said would solve the problems I was experiencing. Without being over-dramatic, I saw this as being a form of blackmail. I also thought that my own database back up file appeared to be clean, complete and usable from what I could see by opening it in an editor, which would mean that if it were, their server copy wouldn’t actually be necessary. We were evidently in an impasse, so I decided that I’d leave things in abeyance for the time being and concentrate on rebuilding the rest of the web site. Then I would apply pressure onto Heart to insist on their demonstrating what I needed to do to apply my own database file, and if it didn’t work because their tool with which it had been created hadn’t performed properly, see what they were prepared to do about it. See what I mean by bloody-minded persistence!
It was at this stage when I’d added a single post talking about the situation to the then otherwise empty new copy of My Trike, that my old mate Bruce in Australia dropped by. He saw the post and added a comment saying that he agreed with me entirely and although I don’t know whether the post or Bruce’s comment had any effect, last thing yesterday evening things changed. A new guy came on duty in customer services who clearly had some sympathy with my position. He dropped a copy of the server database back up into the root file of My Trike at no charge and then set out to look for the reason why I was experiencing such problems. His name was Nick Lingard and I owe him a personal debt of gratitude. Nick suggested that I might like to make a copy of my own database back up available to them so they could take a look at it, which I did, and after a couple of messages between us, I left My Trike with its ‘internal server error’ and went to bed.
He and his colleague Nicholas Brown decided that overnight they’d find out the real reasons for my difficulties instead of treating them in a merely superficial way and trying to sell more Heart services on the back of them – ie the server database backup that was in fact unnecessary and wouldn’t actually have solved the problem anyway. This is all their colleagues with whom I’d been in contact during the day had apparently wanted to do but thankfully for me, the two Nicks approached things in a thoroughly much more professional way. When I got up this morning, My Trike still wasn’t working but Nicholas Brown confirmed that I’d been applying my database back up correctly in a way that should have worked but that subsequently Worpress was throwing up a configuration error that was not directly related to the database back up itself. Instead, it pointed towards a missing file in one of the plug-ins that I’d reinstalled. So I had to upload a new copy of the plug-in, back out of the database back up that I’d applied so I could get into the WordPress dashboard and re-activate the plug-in and then re-apply the database back up. Voila! To my relief, this time My Trike came up on the screen in front of me when I opened it in my browser!
So that’s how the day was saved. At the time of writing, I’m still uploading a large number of replacement image and video files that will take several more hours, but it will be successful. I have passed on my thanks to Nick Lingard and Nicholas Brown at Heart who in my book, did an excellent job. I can’t say the same about some of their colleagues, though. Compared to them, the two Nicks showed a proper understanding of how to support customers instead of just trying to fob them off or wring a bit more money out of them. And it’s thanks to them that my relationship with Heart Internet, although shaken by events, is still intact.