ExpressionEngine Docs

Back Up Your Site

Files and data can become lost or corrupt for a number of reasons, but you can be prepared for the worst by following some simple strategies for backing up your site. The goal of your strategy should be to have backups that are readily available and easy to restore. In this article, we’ll go over what to back up and options for doing so.

What to Back Up

When dealing with an ExpressionEngine installation, you’ll need to backup the following components of your site:

The combination of these items should ensure you have what you need to restore any part, or the entirety, of your site.

Evaluate Host Options

Many web hosts offer backup solutions. If you consider using them, it’s important to evaluate them to learn what exactly is backed up, how often it’s backed up, and what the restoration process is like.

For example, these are some questions that should be asked when evaluating a host-provided backup service:

If it turns out your host offers a backup solution that allows for easy, selective, fast restores, you may not need to go any further. If, however, you find you need more fine-grained control over your backups, read on for recommendations.

Backing Up Files

Our goals for backing up files are:

A good mantra for backing up files is, “a file doesn’t exist unless it exists in two places.” Or three, if you can manage!

Let’s take a look at several solutions for backing up files.

Source Control

If you have your site in source control (you do, don’t you?), that’s a great way to back up your site’s files as it combines all of our backup goals into one tool. However, it’s likely going to leave out some things that can change on the live server, such as image upload directories, or template files if people are changing those on the fly after site launch without going through source control.

But if your entire site is in source control and there are good practices in place to ensure no file edits make it to production without being committed, source control may be all you need to back up the file portion of your backups.


Rsync is a great utility that is available for Unix-based systems. Its purpose is to sync two directories exactly, and the directories can even be remote!

A typical rsync command looks like this:

rsync -ahvz --delete user@production_server:~/public/ ~/backup/

This command is being run from the backup machine. It’s saying, “synchronize ~/public on my server to my local folder ~/backups/public/“. If you’d rather run this on the server, just swap the source and destination like so:

rsync -ahvz --delete ~/public/ user@backup_server:~/backup/

Before going any further, let’s understand the flags we’re passing to rsync:

This is also a great method for syncing with another public-facing server, such as a load-balanced or failover server.


But the main problem with this method is we only ever have the latest backup, what if we want to store multiple snapshots? We need only to change the name of the destination directory, like so:

rsync -ahvz --delete user@production_server:~/public/ ~/backups/$(date +%F)/

This performs a sync as before, but puts the files in a folder named with the current date. You could then run this command via a cron job every day (recommended) or any interval you choose.

If you would rather store your backups as compressed archives, it’s as easy as tacking on the command:

rsync -ahvz --delete user@production_server:~/public/ ~/backups/backup_latest/ &&
tar pcvzfC ~/backups/$(date +%F).tgz --same-owner ~/backups/backup_latest .


Obviously, if you run this backup command every day, you’re going to end up with a lot of backups. It would be great if we could automatically purge older backups we shouldn’t need.

One method is to compress your backups after rsync completes, and then configure logrotate to purge the files for you. This is a great option because you can easily set up the rotation to only keep, for example, 7 daily backups, 4 weekly backups, and 6 monthly backups.

Another method is a little easier to implement but doesn’t give you as much flexibility easily, and that’s to simply tack on a command to keep the last X number of backup folders/files in the directory. For example, to keep the 10 most recent backup folders (test in a safe place!):

ls -1t ~/backups/ | sed -e '1,10d' | xargs rm -rf

Cloud Storage

If you’d rather not maintain a remote backup destination, an easy place to send your files is a cloud storage option like Amazon S3. There are tools like S3sync that behave like RSync, except S3 can be used as a source or destination. You can use the same snapshotting methods as above, but since you cannot run logrotate or do any other sort of shell commands on S3, you’ll need to perform the archival and rotation locally and then sync, or take advantage of S3’s object expiration to automatically delete old archives.


Dropbox is another nice option that combines all of our goals into one tool. Dropbox has a Linux client, so it’s possible to install the client on your web server and get the same instant syncing functionality you get on your personal computer. There are several ways to go about using Dropbox as a backup solution on your server:

You have an option of choosing not to sync site backups with your personal computer, but if you do and you’re backing up your computer with Time Machine or Backblaze, that’s another welcome layer of redundancy.

Backing Up the Database

Our goals for backing up the database are:

Creating the Dump

There are a couple common ways of creating MySQL dumps. One is to use mysqldump:

mysqldump -u username db_name > output.sql

The above takes a database named db_name and outputs it to a file called output.sql. Knowing this and what we’ve covered earlier, you could modify the command to output a file with a name of today’s date. Combine that with tar to compress the file because text compresses very well.

Many hosts have phpMyAdmin installed which also lets you export databases in this format.


Manually creating the dump and handling the files as outlined above can be quite involved. Luckily, there is a very handy and popular script for creating backups of your databases and automatically rotating them so you only keep the backups you need.

It’s called AutoMySQLBackup and will backup all databases on your server as you add them, can send you email notifications of successful or failed backups, will automatically compress the backups, and many more configurable options.

With AutoMySQLBackup, you just take a few minutes to set it up, and then simply incorporate the resulting files into your established file backup routine.

ExpressionEngine SQL Manager Backups

ExpressionEngine also comes with a simple database backup utility that can be used if you don’t have access to create your own backups from your web host.

Third-Party Add-Ons

If it’s too technically challenging or you’re just unwilling to get your hands dirty in this regard, you may be able to find an add-on that takes care of the entire backup process for you.

When evaluating these add-ons, it’s important to ask many of the same questions you would when evaluating a host’s backup plan: