[Review] WPEngine Backups : The Definitive Guide
WP Engine is one of the most popular managed web hosts. It comes with an integrated backup solution. In this article, we will go deep into WP Engine backups. We will also see how to restore sites from such backups. We will answer the question: are WP Engine backups bulletproof?
You do not want to rely just on your webhost’s backup. We have seen many situations where customers have lost both their original site and the webhost’s backups. As a best practice, you should have a secondary option as well.
TL;DR: Securely backup your website using one of the top backup plugins. We recommend BlogVault because it stores the backups on an external server separate from your web host and offers 90 days of daily backups with easy restores.
How to Backup using WP Engine?
WP Engine is a popular managed web host that automates a lot of website administration. Many people choose it for this reason, as it cuts down on the time spent on admin. It is convenient and efficient.
One of WP Engine’s services is website backup and restore. It stores the backups in an encrypted form.
For the purposes of this article, we tested WPEngine backups with three types of sites: small, large, and site with a large database.
Full website backups
Each backup consists of your entire website: all WP core files, database, plugins, and themes. There is no option to do a selective backup. A backup always consists of the entire website. You can however download a partial backup.
Additionally, it is possible to selectively restore a backup, which we will cover in the relevant section below.
According to WP Engine documentation, they claim to store the automated backups offsite on Amazon S3. In theory, this is great, because having backups stored on the web host’s servers is like keeping all your eggs in a single basket.
However, an important caveat is that we have no way to verify if this is actually the case. There are complaints in forums that WP Engine doesn’t in fact store the backups on Amazon S3 for all their plans. One customer said that the backups eat into their site storage resources. Yikes, not good.
Therefore, being able to download backups becomes doubly important. You can easily create a backup of the whole site and download it. Simply click on the Prepare ZIP button and select the items you want to be included in the download.
This was good, because we wanted an offsite backup of the website, but not great, because we couldn’t automate this step. There is no option to automatically download backups, or to send them to cloud hosting like Google Drive or Dropbox.
Daily automated backups
WP Engine takes a complete backup of your site once a day. Backups are stored chronologically, and each is labeled with its date and time.
At the most, a single website can have up to 40 backups. As newer backups are taken, older ones are automatically deleted. You can restore or download any of the 40 backups at any time. However, if you want to maintain older backups, you have to download and store them elsewhere.
The documentation says that backups are available for 60 days, but the older 20 days can be retrieved via their support only.
Here is where we saw a definite difference between the test sites. Even though the backups took place relatively quickly, the large site and the large database did take longer.
However, since WP Engine backups are stored on their own servers, it is faster than most plugins that store backups externally.
While it was great to get our websites backed up quickly, it is a tradeoff for offsite backups. If the web host were to experience issues, it is unclear how accessible our backups would be.
Manual WP Engine Site Backups
“Create Backup” button. It will prompt you to add a name to your backup and an email address which will get notified once the backup has been successfully created. This is ideal if you are making a big change to your site – like updating plugins, etc.
We recommend you to name the backup meaningfully, so that you can identify the changes in that backup. For example, if you are installing a new plugin you can name it ‘Backup before X Plugin install’.
Keeping in mind that you cannot selectively rollback changes from an automated backup, this is a good workaround. If you feel that a plugin can go sideways, take an on-demand backup just before the update. So if it does go sideways, then restoring this backup means you won’t lose any other changes made after the daily backup was taken.
From our experience, 40 – 60 backups are not a lot. Many times, issues are discovered late. For example, a plugin or theme on your website stops working. If the plugin or theme had stopped working some time ago, and you may need to access a much older backup to restore it.
For this reason, you shouldn’t create too many backups in a single day, as on-demand backups count towards your overall limit of backups. Each time you create a new backup, you are losing an older WP Engine site backup.
Download WP Engine backups
You can easily download the backup in .zip format from the Backup Points screen. Here you get the option to download the whole site, the full database, themes, plugins, and other files.
How to Restore Website using WP Engine?
Your site can break for many reasons, such as a new plugin update or manual error. You should restore the site as soon as possible to avoid incurring losses.
You can restore your website using WP Engine from Backup Points. You can also choose if you want restore with database or not.
Complete website restore
The small site backup took a few minutes to restore, and did so successfully. The large site and the site with the large database took a little while longer, but not significantly so.
On the whole, WP Engine restores are quite fast because the backups are on the same server as the site.
Selective restore – only files
You may want to restore just the files sometimes. For example, one of our plugins crashed during an update while we were adding a new post to the site. We restored just the files so as not to lose the new content changes. You can do this by choosing ‘No’ in the ‘Restore with database’ option. Then only source code files, themes and plugins get restored.
Restore to a new site
You can also restore your current site to a new domain. To restore it to a new location, you can select the new site from the ‘Restore to’ drop down. The process is quite simple. Just make sure that the domain is already added to your WP Engine account before you initiate restore.
Staging with WP Engine
A great feature of WP Engine is staging. It is useful to check a backup point and make changes to it before restoring. You can check plugin or theme updates or edit content before restoring the site.
Troubleshooting WPEngine Backup and Restore Errors
WP Engine doesn’t allow selective backups. That means you cannot just backup the database. This could have been a useful feature for WooCommerce sites. They need to backup information related to orders and customers from time to time, and not the entire website. However, you can backup the whole site and then download just the database manually. This is a workaround, and honestly it was just not as convenient as a partial backup. Plus, the backup bumps out an older backup, so all in all, not the best experience.
Furthermore, although we were able to download the database, there was no option to select specific tables from the database for download. One of the sites we tested is a WooCommerce site, and we wanted to extract customer information. However this wasn’t feasible. In order to get this granular data, you will need to install another plugin to download the database.
Restore only database
There is no option to restore just the database with WP Engine. That means if you need to restore the posts, pages, or other data from a previous version without altering the newly installed plugins or themes, you cannot do so.
The only way around this is to download the whole database from the previous version and upload it manually through phpMyAdmin.
Rollback one plugin or theme
Again, due to the limitations of WP Engine backups, the only way we could do this it to download a partial backup, and then upload it manually outside of WP Engine.
Another way is to take a fresh backup with the bad plugin, use staging to delete the plugin and install a previous version on staging. We also had to reconfirm whether the previous version of the plugin website broke our site. Then, merge staging to our live site.
This was unnecessarily complicated, and took a long time to do.
Our overall experience with WP Engine was good. It was easy to use as most features did not require any particular expertise. However, we found certain limitations such as no selective backup, no restore for only the database, and the backups are not stored separately from the host. Moreover, there is a limit on maximum backups that can be stored, i.e. 40 backups. Due to this our suggestion is to use a secondary backup plan.
We recommend you to install BlogVault as your backup plugin. It offers 90 days of offsite, encrypted backups instead of just 40 and a unique plan for ecommerce sites with real-time backups and 365 days of backup points.
Moreover, unlike WP Engine, BlogVault offers selective restore where you have an option to select even a single file or database table for restoration. This is highly useful for high velocity sites that have a lot of content and use various plugins, and thus have a higher chance of both things going wrong and losing important data.
How often does WP Engine create a backup?
WP Engine creates daily backups. Currently there is no provision to select the time or frequency of the backups created by WP Engine. However, on-demand backups can be created anytime you want. WP Engine also creates a backup automatically when you choose to restore the site. In this case, it creates a pre-restoration checkpoint so that you can easily rollback to the current version.
What does WP Engine back up?
Every WPEngine backup includes the WP core files, database, themes, and plugins. WPEngine excludes temporary files.
Does WP Engine allow backup and restore of only the database?
You may be required to download just the backup of your site. This is especially applicable to WooCommerce sites who don’t want to lose their orders due to other changes. However, WP Engine neither has the option to backup just the database nor to restore. It automatically backs up everything. For restoration, you can either choose to restore the whole site or just the files, as required.
Are WP Engine backups reliable?
While in our experience the backups created were easily restored and we did not face any issue, there can be situations where WP Engine backups don’t work for you. For example, if you want to restore just the database, then you cannot do so using WP Engine, you will have to do it manually by downloading the database from that backup version and uploading to your site.
Furthermore, in case the host goes down, your backups as well as your site will go down with it, leaving you with no option. That’s why we would reiterate: Make sure to also have a secondary backup plan in place.
Can WP Engine backups be restored if your site is hacked?
If your site has been hacked or if you think it is, restoring an earlier version may not be an efficient strategy as it is hard to know when exactly the site was hacked. So, you may just be restoring the site to a previously hacked version. As a last resort you may restore a site to a previous version from a few months ago. However, this is not possible in case of WP Engine as it only offers 40 backup points.
Faryaal is a WordPress enthusiast, and enjoys sharing their experience with fellow enthusiasts. On the MalCare blog, Faryaal distils the wisdom gained from building plugins to solve security issues that admins face.