Backup From Online Manual

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It is essential to back up your forum. If your database gets corrupted you will lose everything. Having a backup means that you have a previous version of your database to fall back on should your forum be hacked, or should you make changes to it which you subsequently wish to revert.

SMF's Admin section has a built-in database backup function. Do not use it! It does work in some cases, but not in others, so it should not be used, unless you have no other way to acquire the backup of the database.

Backing up your Database

When you bought your domain, your host will have given you details on how to access your site's cPanel®, or something similar. You can access this to back up your database. Alternatively, you can also back up your database using phpMyAdmin.

Backing up your Database with cPanel®

  1. Look for the section labelled "Files" and click on "Backups".
  2. On the new page that opens, you will see "Download a MySQL Database Backup".
  3. Under that, click on the name of your database and a requester will open, which will allow you to choose where that backup will be downloaded to.

Backing up your Database with phpMyAdmin

Again, you will need to access your site's cPanel.

  1. Look for the section labelled "Databases".
  2. Under that heading, you will find "phpMyAdmin".
  3. Click on this, and then follow the steps below. Warning: Do not click on any options other than those outlined below, unless you really know what you are doing!
  4. Look at the left-hand pane and you will see the name(s) of your databases.
  5. Click on one of them and you will see some tabs along the top.
  6. Click Export.
  7. On the next page, find "View dump (schema) of database", and you will see "Export".
  8. Just below that, click "Select all".
  9. At the bottom of the page, ensure that "Save as file" is checked.
  10. Finally, click "Go".

General Notes

Once you have your backup, you should verify whether it works. The best way is to restore it to a second empty database. This is an important step. If for any reason the backup fails you can repeat the procedure immediately to ensure that have a working database in case you need it. If after repeating the procedure you still are not able to obtain a working backup, please contact your host in order to identify and solve the problem causing the backup to fail.

If you cannot restore the database, you should verify that the .sql file you have obtained has proper SQL syntax and commands inside it (to CREATE your tables and INSERT data into them, it may also DROP old tables before creating new ones). Make sure it it looks complete (CREATE and INSERT for all your SMF tables), before assuming that it is a good backup. Spot check a few tables to see if all their data is in the backup (note that the order of records may differ between the database "browse" display and what is in the backup file).


Save a copy of the backup some place safe. Your web host server is not a safe place.

You do not have to go over your backup with a fine-toothed comb every time, but you should do so the first time, whenever you make a change to your backup method, and just once in a while.

Restoring your database

Restoring your Database with phpMyAdmin

To restore your backed-up database, you do exactly the same as to back up, except that instead of clicking "Export", you click "Import". You then navigate to your backup file by clicking "Choose" under "Location of the text file".

Please be aware that if you have large databases, it may be not possible to back up using phpMyAdmin, as phpMyAdmin has some file size limits.

General Notes

SMF does not include any utility for reloading (restoring) the database.

Learn how to do a database restore ahead of time, and practice it at least once with a scratch copy of the database.

Know how to browse through the original and restored databases in phpMyAdmin to check that everything is there (all records in all tables). Note that there is no guarantee that records will appear in the same order in the original database, the backup, and the new database.

Some hosts have process time limits that may prevent you from running your restore via phpMyAdmin to completion. Your host may be able to tell you how to suspend or increase the process time limit. There are utilities out there to split up the restore task into smaller pieces, so that you will not exceed time limits.

Depending on your host's configuration, MySQL default collation may differ from the one you need. Be sure to change the newly-created database to the appropriate collation, for example, UTF-8, before starting an import (restore).

phpMyAdmin needs to be told the type of encoding the .sql file(s) uses when you do the import. If your backup is, for example, UTF-8, you need to tell phpMyAdmin that, or it will assume the file is Latin-1 and will translate all the text from Latin-1 to whatever encoding your new database is in. This will make an horrendous mess of your database.

If you need to rerun part of an import, be careful not to import the same data twice. If you are lucky, the process will die with a duplicate key error. This is why it is generally a good idea to drop and create the tables so that they are guaranteed to be empty at the start.

Backing up your forum files

There are two common ways of doing this:

You can open your FTP client and use it to download everything to your hard disk, or you can use your site's cPanel (or whatever your host uses).

  1. Go to cPanel, look for the section labelled "Files" and click "Backups".
  2. In the new page that opens, you will see "Download a Home Directory Backup".
  3. Just below that, click the "Home Directory" button.
  4. You will get a requester which allows you to choose where the backup is saved.

This will save your whole site, so this can be a long process, especially if you have a lot of files on your site.

General Notes

Your control panel may have an option to pack and compress all of your files into one file (.tar.gz; .tgz; .zip,). Consider using this, as it can greatly reduce file transfer time and leave you with only one large file to worry about.

The larger the file, the greater the risk corrupted data, such as transmission errors, will be present. If your site contains a lot of attachments this, therefore, may not be the best choice. If you are only going to keep the file for backup, rather than to work with its individual files on your PC, this can be a good choice. If you plan to look at or edit files on your PC, however, you may want to transfer them as individual files.

Most FTP clients can transfer an arbitrary collection of files and directories in one operation, such as the entire site at once. There is no need to transfer one file at a time. Some control panel file managers can do this too.

For very large databases compression (.zip) may be wise, clearing all logs prior to backing-up, as well as splitting up the tables you are saving to file. When you are opting tables within phpmyadmin it is possible to highlight specific ones for each file. For example, the messages table is usually the largest, therefore, you can create two compressed database files where one contains the messages table and the other contains all remaining tables. When restoring these tables simply import the multiple files one at a time to the same database.

If you do not know how to use an FTP client, please see FTP_-_How_do_I_use_FTP for further information.

As with the database backup, do a test restore the first time you back up, and once in a while after that.

Store a copy of your backup somewhere other than your hosting server. This is because even backups offered by your host may prove unreliable.

Restoring your forum files

This can be done by using FTP to transfer the backed-up files from your hard disk to your site or by going to the same place in your site's cPanel (or whatever your host uses) that you use to back up.

  1. Go to cPanel, look for the section labelled "Files" and click "Backups".
  2. In the new page that opens, you will see "Restore a Home Directory Backup".
  3. Click "Choose" to navigate to your backup, then "Upload" to start the restoration.

General Notes

As with database backup, practice in advance how to do a file restore to a scratch copy of the site on your server.

Be careful if using FileZilla to transfer with automatic mode selection. It will corrupt all attachment and avatar images unless you specify binary mode, read this note for more details.

Spot check your restored files, especially attachments and avatars, to ensure that they have survived, especially if you use FileZilla.