When I started hosting this website on DigitalOcean about 9 years ago, the version of Ubuntu that was all the rage was 14.04 LTS. So I started my hosting journey with that. Pretty soon though, 16.04 came along and since I was ever active on my server, I upgraded to that using nothing more than a few
apt update commands. Since then, other than a few forced efforts to secure the OS and install what I needed for experimentation, I didn’t do much to upgrade the underlying software.
So it happened that, when at the beginning of the year I tried to upgrade from PHP 7.3 to 7.4 (a process which failed), I was made aware of the fact that the chasm between where my software stack is and where it ought to be is rather large. I tried running a straightforward upgrade from 16.04 to 20.04. The blocker was mysql. Apparently, no matter what third party repos I tried, the upgrade from what I was running to whatever’s the current just wasn’t possible. Well, it may be possible, but it would not be easy. The recommended path, on multiple websites, forums, and blogs, was to just fire up a new VPS and migrate my websites and services manually. Daunting.
When I learnt of this, I realized that the amount of time and effort it would take was too much for me to give at that moment. Family needs and other projects held precedence. Right now, I wouldn’t say those needs have abated, just that I’ve adjusted to both those asks, and I’ve given myself enough time and another factor for this migration – money. DigitalOcean is a nice provider in that they’ll only charge me for what I use through the number of days that I use it. I know this is sort of the norm everywhere now, but it’s a nice-to-have and a nice-to-mention nevertheless. Instead of doing the entire migration within the span of a few hours, tiring myself, and increasing the odds of a failed migration, I spread the entire project over the last few days. I moved my other WordPress install first, the one whose failure wouldn’t affect me directly and personally. It’s a side project that we’ve gotten side-tracked from. I’d be totally fine if it craps out.
Moving WordPress seemed daunting, until I realized that I have a tool that can make it extremely easy. I’ve been backing up this website to Dropbox using UpdraftPlus for the longest time. It’s fast, easy, and totally a background process which has not needed my input since I set it up. I checked it out and sure enough, it’s got a pretty straightforward restore process too, included in the free version of the plugin. Of course, they offer paid tools for much easier migration. But I reckoned the free one has got to work just as well. UpdraftsPlus creates a bunch of separate zip files for the database, uploads, themes, plugins, and “other”. All you have to do to migrate is to create a fresh install of WordPress, install the plugin and drop the files into the interface and then hit restore.
This blog’s backup comes in at about 750 MB, while the other site is about 160 MB. I did the latter first, and since it stayed up just fine over the last few days, while for the first time in my life I ran two VPS in parallel in DigitalOcean, I ported over this blog as well as the other applications and sites which I wanted to keep. It ended up being a good housekeeping too, since most of the active nginx sites were not doing anywhere and thus were liable to be security issues. Plus, it gave me a chance to really start from scratch.
Over the years, I let the older VPS grow organically and get cluttered as all in-use systems do. When I was attacked by a script kiddie trying to get into this site and wreak havoc (at which they partially succeeded), I installed fail2ban and went aggressive with it, to the point where I got locked out of SSH quite a few times and had to recover via console. I installed multiple versions of node to run shortlived telegram bots or expressJS apps. I installed numpy to create a webUI for an experiment my brother wanted to run. I also created a series of scripts to run via cron – to periodically free up space and memory, to pull in data and recycle logs.
All of this had become a sore point for me anyways. The services running on the VPS often went down. The APIs responded only half the time. The downtime was somewhat acceptable till it wasn’t.
So this new VPS, well, I’ll run it as clean as I can for as long as I can. Of course, I’ll get hit by something or the other and I’ll have to respond with better security measures. But I wasn’t running any firewall before and ubuntu 20.04 seems to be running ufw by default, which is nice. I was also able to update PHP from v7.3 all the way to v8.0, which is nice, but came with it’s own set of challenges. One function in WordPress and another in a homegrown bookmarking tool were failing since they don’t work in PHP 8.0, so I had to spend some time figuring that out. But it’s good to have the latest software and to hope I’ll keep things updated better this time around.
All in all, a good experience. My old VPS is now sitting in shutdown mode. I’ll let it sit for a couple weeks, while I test out the new system and see if I forgot to move some settings or such. I know it’ll cost me almost twice as much for the month to run both machines in parallel, but it’s worth the peace of mind I’m getting.
Plus, this migration got me in touch with some projects I’d forgotten! I regularly use my liveblog, but completely forgot about “SomeDay”, a bookmark/linkblog of articles I didn’t finish reading and hope to, some day. It’s got an RSS feed and all, so maybe you can find something in there that you might want to read, today.
Links to everything currently hosted on my new VPS –
scratch.nikhco.in – a minimal writing tool with local browser storage and ability to start a TogetherJS session to collaborate with others in real time.
someday.nitinkhanna.com – I haven’t read these articles yet. Maybe you should try?