by Laurence Bradford

Last updated January 31st, 2017

Last year I was building a WordPress site for a freelance project. When I was ready to share my progress with the client, I got my staging site up so they could see the progress I had made so far.

As I was distracted, moving things around in my FTP, I accidentally deleted several important theme files. It took me a few minutes to even realize what I had done. But once I did, my heart jumped out of my chest.

Did I seriously just accidentally delete a quarter of the theme files?

Cue the Macaulay Culkin scream.

It took me a few moments to remember that I could somewhat easily restore a version of the site from earlier that day. Sure, not all the changes I had made just before were brought over, but at least it was something.

Just like saving work when you’re writing a paper, or preparing an important report for work, it is important to save copies of your website. As it’s called in the tech world, you always want to have a “backup.”

Having a plan in place to back up your site is absolutely critical for anyone and everyone who has a website – from the least-techie beginners to full-stack lead developers. Trust me, you’ll save yourself from so much heartache if you read and follow along!

In this article I’ll be covering:

  • What it means to back up your whole site
  • Prevention measures, so you can avoid using those backups
  • Why backing up without a plugin is better than with a plugin
  • Different ways you can back up your site: automatic, manual, and other options
  • Why you should never put all your eggs in one basket, or rely on only one backup method


Backing up, plain and simple, is saving a duplicate version of all your work. This includes your website theme and related site files (like plugins) as well as your database (which includes posts, users, comments, etc.).

Backing up is similar to how you might save an important document to your Google Drive or Dropbox and to your desktop. It’s always wise to save important items more than once and in more than one place, or “medium” (like an external hard drive, thumb drive, the “cloud”, on your computer, and so forth.)

Your website is no exception.


Before talking more about backing up, realize that prevention measures can and should be put in place to keep your site safe and secure.

These include:

  • Updating plugins and themes
  • Using strong username and password combinations (i.e. not “admin” and “password”)
  • Creating strong database table prefixes (AKA not using basic the common “wp”)

But even when you’re safe and implement all the right security measures: things can always go wrong.

That’s why having a backup system for your WordPress site(s) is important.

This article discusses the different ways you can do just that—but without a plugin.


For those unfamiliar with all the aspects of WordPress,plugins allow you to add onto the functionality that already exists with WordPress sites.

While you can create your own plugin, there are many plugins that already exist that you can download and use on your site. (At the time of writing, over 37,000 are available to download!) There are lots of backup plugins out there. Some are good, some are better. Some are free, and some cost money.

There is nothing wrong with using a trusted backup plugin like BackupBuddy. However, backing up is best done at the server level—not the site level.

Think about it: a plugin, doing automatic backups of your (perhaps) very large site, is like extra weight on your server. Every time it does a backup (which could be daily), it’s doing “work”—which could slow down your site among other things.

Also, in my professional opinion, the fewer plugins on your WordPress site, the better.

While some may disagree, from my perspective, the more control you have over your site and its innerworkings, the better. It’s smart to rely on yourself rather than a 3rd party—especially when it comes to backing up your treasured site files.


  • Certain plugins can slow down your site (because they take up space…some a lot more than others)
  • Mo’ plugins, mo’ vulnerable (think about it: plugins are 3rd party. While some are very high quality, others may not be updated regularly. As a result, they can make your site more insecure.)

Now, I am not saying you should forgo plugins all together. I love some of mine and use them all the time. But do be aware of some of the downsides to amassing large quantities of plugins. And almost all would agree that it’s best practice to keep 3rd party plugins up to date and delete any you are not using.

2 Different Types of Backups

Before diving into the different ways you can back up your site without a plugin, let’s talk about what you can and should back up: site files and databases.


Your WordPress site is composed of various files. According to the WordPress documentation, your WordPress website consists of these six components, in one way or