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How to Clone a WordPress Site and When You Should

Creating a duplicate of the WordPress site has a wide range of uses. From backups to moves, cloning can easily help a developer be productive. The trick is making sure the entire website has been copied. Otherwise, there may be important files you need that are no longer available.

Although using FTP programs like FileZilla have other uses outside of copying websites, what if I told you there was a much easier method? What if I showed you how you can duplicate WordPress without accessing the root folder or using logins and passwords?

Today, I’m going to show you how to completely clone a WordPress site. From image files to databases, all the data related to your content is easily duplicated as long as you’re using the right tools.

When should you clone a WordPress site?

When the website is cloned, in theory you should have an exact copy of the material. Images, content, plugins and more are all duplicated perfectly. This means the site will operate exactly as the original with the exception of the domain name. You may be asking yourself, “what use is this?”

Creating a Staging Area

Perhaps you want to develop plugins, themes or make modifications to the site in a testing environment. Instead of subjecting your primary site to the dangers of experimenting, the clone can be used as a staging ground. Some developers will do this as a subdomain on their hosting platforms.

Working as a WordPress Developer

Some WordPress developers will create clones for clients. Once the website is completed, it’s easy to clone it to the client’s hosting service. This gives a safe environment to make any adjustments without fear of breaking something such as a plugin or theme.

Creating a Live Backup

Creating a live backup of your site can be useful. For one thing, it’s easy to recover in the event of a disaster such as hacking or malware attack. The only down side to this is that you would need to make regular clones to keep your files current.

Moving the Website to a New Host

Moving a website from one host to another is fairly easy. Cloning the site gives you the opportunity to make the transition without impacting visitors. From the front end, no one will even know the move happened in the first place.

Here are three steps to clone your website.

Step 1: Install and Activate WP Clone by WP Academy

Although there are plenty of paid services to clone a WordPress site, I’m focusing on what you can do for free. WP Clone by WP Academy is a very easy tool that can create a duplicate of your site without worrying about fixing database connections in wp-config.php. I need to note, though, that even the developer admits this tool doesn’t work all the time. However, it worked flawlessly in my testing environment.

One of the reasons I prefer this plugin is because you don’t need access to FTP logins or database credentials to use it. This means virtually anyone can use the tool to create a clone of his or her site.

To use WP Clone:

Log into the website you wish to copy.

login website to copy

Go to the plugins area of your WordPress admin panel.

go to plugins area

Click the “Add New” button on the top of the page.

click add new button

Search for, “WP Clone.”

search for wp clone

Install and activate the plugin for WP Clone by WP Academy.

activate wp clone

Look for the new function for WP Clone in the left admin panel of WordPress. Click the tool to open its settings.

click wp clone tool to open settings

By default, this plugin will have the option to “Create Backup” already selected. Click the big blue button to create this file. Essentially, everything related to the website will be put into a ZIP file that you’ll need later on. This could take several minutes to create a backup depending on how many files you have as well as the size of the database.

click backup button

Once the backup is created, it will show the URL of the file. On the right, you’ll see a link to “copy.” Clicking this will automatically add the link to your computer’s clipboard as if you simply copied the text.

will show the url of the file

Step 2: Set Up the Clone Site

In this next step, you’ll need a copy of WordPress installed on the new server. This could be in a new WordPress hosting plan or set up as a subdomain.

To set up the clone site:

Log into the new hosting account if you have one or create the subdomain for the new site.

login hosting account cpanel

Install WordPress for the clone. Don’t worry about making any custom changes. After the cloning process, information for this new site will be deleted anyway.

install wordpress for the clone

Install and activate the WP Clone by WP Academy plugin as you did in Step 1.

install and activate wp clone

Click on the WP Clone tool in the admin panel.

click on wp clone tool

Now, this time you want to change the backup plan to “Restore from URL.” Click the radio button to highlight this field.

restore from url

Paste the link you copied above from the backup zip file in Step 1.

paste link

Click the, “I Agree” checkbox under the URL you just pasted.

click agree check box

NOTE: This is simply telling you that not all copies work 100 percent of the time and problems could occur rendering the clone site to be inoperable. This is why you shouldn’t worry about making any adjustments in WordPress other than adding the WP Clone plugin.

Click the button to “Restore from URL.”

restore from url button

Once the cloning is complete, a link will provide access to the new site. Click it to make sure your website has been completely copied over.

link to new site

NOTE: The admin login screen will now be the same as your original site. The new password generated for the clone install will not work.

Step 3: Deleting the Backup

Once you verified the clone site works, it’s important that you delete the backup file you created in Step 1. This is because technically anyone would be able to clone your site from this file if they knew the URL of the backup.

Go back to your original WordPress website.

Go to the WP Clone tool in the admin panel.

go back to wp clone

Scroll down until you see the button labeled, “Delete backups and remove database entries.”

delete backups and restore databases

When you click this button, the system will ask you if you’re sure. Click OK and the backup will be deleted.

backup will be deleted

Now, you have a duplicate WordPress website ready for traffic or to experiment.

Keeping the Backup File

In reality, there is very little to fear by leaving the backup ZIP file on the original site. In fact, it’s no worse than storing a backup on the original server as many plugins will do anyway. For someone to be able to clone the site, he or she would have to know the precise filename and location of the file.

WP Clone uses additional components in the filename when it creates the backup. For instance, a time stamp and a random string of characters are added to the end of every instance. Someone would need direct access to your site’s directories to find that exact filename.

In which case, you have bigger problems with security than someone stealing the backup. You may want to consider security plugins to protect your data even if you don’t keep the backup file.

This is perhaps one of the easiest methods I have come across for creating a duplicate WordPress site. It’s simple, effective and doesn’t take a lot of time to complete. Before you pay for services to transfer your content, give this tool a try. It may save you a lot of money and time in the long run.

What kind of methods do you use to create backups of your site? Have you experienced problems moving your WordPress site from one location to another?

Author: Josh Dargie

My name is Josh Dargie and I’m the Operations Manager at GreenGeeks. I’ve been with the company since 2009. I have over 16 years of experience working with and for various web hosting providers specifically in development, day-to-day operations and customer service.

Updated on March 16, 2017

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