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One of the biggest wastes of time in Web Development?  When people overwrite html or other web files.

Many Web developers mistakenly assume (ego or otherwise) that nobody else could possibly have made changes to a website.  So they use their local copy of the site (on their laptop or desktop computer), make the changes, and then upload them to the website.  And don’t bother to back up any of the files. With database-driven content management systems like WordPress, some of these issues can often be mitigated.  But when working on the template files, source files or a static HTML site, I like to follow the following protocol:


1. When working on a new site, I like to back up the ENTIRE website (not just the page I’m working on).  I like to store a copy on one of our backup servers, so that if the site goes down, it’s easy to recover to this last known point.  Storage space is cheap these days, and with a high speed connection, downloading a site shouldn’t take too long.


2. Before I work on a file, I always assume that the most recent one is the live one on the server.  Even if time stamps are different, this is a critical assumption.  So, I’ll download this file from the server to my local computer.


3. Next, I’ll rename this file.  For example, if it was index.html, I will rename it to index.html-backup-08-27-2010-9-47am.  This way I have a time and date stamp of the file that I just downloaded.


4. Then, I’ll upload this renamed file back up to the server.  Now, I have a backup copy of the file on my local computer, and on the server.  Plus the live file (index.html) that is still living on the web server.


5. Finally, I’ll download the original file from the server, back down to my desktop.  I can now work on this.  When I’m done, I can upload it to the server and overwrite the file… knowing that I have two backups.


6. If you’re a belt-and-suspenders type of a person (wear both, keep your pants up, guaranteed), you can create more backups for minor changes, or even download the whole website each time.  A check-in / check-out system for files can be helpful, too. Sorry about the rant.  But this issue — overwriting Web files — kills a lot of our time. And if you get stuck – sometimes you can use Google’s cache to recover some of the HTML.  But I wouldn’t rely on that as a backup strategy.

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