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How to Migrate a WordPress Website with WP-CLI and rsync

6 min read


There are many ways to migrate a WordPress website, but the most efficient is arguably with WP-CLI and a program like rsync

This is especially true for large websites where plugins often have trouble, and sometimes can’t be used because there’s not enough disk space to create the backup. 

This kind of migration is done over the command line and is far more straightforward than most people realize. In this article, we’ll take a look at how to migrate a website to vCanopy, but the same steps apply to pretty much any host if you have SSH access and you can modify things accordingly. 

In this guide, we’re going to be using the system user for our websites, not the root user.

Part 1. Backup Your Origin Website Database with WP-CLI

You’ll need to connect to your current websites server over SSH to export your backup. 

You’ll need to figure out your directory structure and then navigate to your WordPress installation’s directory. As an example, over SSH as the root user on vCanopy this is:


Other common paths include:


Once you’re connected to your server you can confirm the correct path.


First, make sure you’re running as your website’s system user with:

sudo -u systemusername

Then use the following command to export your database with WP-CLI:

wp db export database.sql --all-tablespaces --add-drop-table

It will let you know once the operation is complete and that it was a success. Note that if it’s a big database it can take some time.

Part 2. Create and Prepare Your  Destination Website on vCanopy

There’s some quick, basic prep work before you begin the migration.


Back in your vCanopy account, head over to your Sites page, and create your website. If you have an SSL on your origin site, you may also want to add an SSL.

Leave caching and the security features turned off for now. You can enable them once your site has been successfully imported.

For a guide on creating new websites on vCanopy, check out this knowledge base article:
New WordPress Website Build Configuration Settings

Once created you have everything you need in place to bring over your origin files, including a newly created WordPress database and properly configured wp-config.php file.


If this is your first time connecting to a vCanopy server, please see the following guides to get started:

Step 1. Generate your SSH Key

Step 2. Add your SSH Key to vCanopy (also see Add default SSH Keys)

Step 3. Connect to your server by SSH as Root user (we like and use Termius)


Now connected to your server, navigate to your website’s directory with the following command (replacing site.url with your URL):

cd /var/www/site.url/


We’re going to pull over the whole WordPress installation, so first let’s remove the existing one with:

rm -R htdocs

Now recreate your htdocs directory with:

mkdir htdocs

vCanopy keeps the wp-config.php one level up outside of the /htdocs directory, so we don’t need to worry about making a copy or moving it beforehand.

Part 3. Copy Your Website Files from Your Origin Server to Your vCanopy Server with rsync

rsync allows you to both push files from the origin server, or pull files from your destination (vCanopy) server. Here we’re going to pull, so the commands below will be ran directly from inside your destination (vCanopy) server.

If your server allows you to connect to your server over SSH as the site’s system user and password, the easier route is option 1, where you simply run the command and you’ll be prompted for your SSH password after hitting Enter.


The command below will pull your files from your origin server into your destination. Here’s the basic syntax:

rsync -avz -e ssh [email protected]:/source/* /destination/ --info=progress2

Here’s an example you can adjust. You’ll need to switch out the origin server’s IP address, your system user name, the /path/to/site.url, and replace site.url with your website’s URL.

rsync -avz -e ssh [email protected]:/path/to/site.url/htdocs/* /var/www/site.url/htdocs/ --info=progress2

You’ll be prompted for your system user’s password, and then the process will begin.

If your origin server is using a custom port (managed hosts like WPEngine, Kinsta, etc, often do), you can specify that with the -p flag as follows:

rsync -avz -e 'ssh -p 2222' [email protected]:/path/to/site.url/htdocs/* /var/www/site.url/htdocs/ --info=progress2


Before you begin you need to setup your public and private SSH keys so that your vCanopy server can access your origin server. You may wish to use a newly created pair for the migration. Make sure your public key is on your origin server and your private key is on your vCanopy server. You may need to check your host’s documentation to get your public key set up correctly on your origin server.

Optional: Create a New Key Pair

On your vCanopy server you can create a new key pair with:

ssh-keygen -t rsa

You’ll be ask where you want the files to be created, I recommend:


Now if you list your files with ls -l you’ll see your private key (just named “key”) and public key:

root@steves-example-server:~# ls -l
total 56
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 56 May 23 07:34 2
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 1 May 23 07:50 curr.user
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 6 May 3 07:23
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 16 May 3 07:23 grid.source
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 27 May 3 07:31 grid.subdom
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 May 3 08:00 gridcreds
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 May 23 07:50 gridenv
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 26 May 3 07:32 gridhttp.auth
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 37 May 3 07:23 vCanopy.server.key
-rw------- 1 root root 2610 May 23 07:44 key
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 580 May 23 07:44
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 3 May 3 07:23 ripley.egg
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 15 May 3 07:31 server.ip
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 26 May 3 07:25 sites-available -> /etc/nginx/sites-available
drwx------ 4 root root 4096 May 3 07:26 snap
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 8 May 3 07:25 www -> /var/www

Now run the following to display your public key, then highlight it to copy it and you can now add it to your origin server:

Migrate Your Files

Once your SSH keys are all set, the command below will pull your files from your origin server into your destination (vCanopy) server. You’ll need to switch out the key path, system user, IP, website path, and site URL:

rsync -avz -e 'ssh -i /path/to/private/key' [email protected]:/path/to/site.url/htdocs/* /var/www/site.url/htdocs/ --info=progress2

If you’ve created a new key pair as above, the path will simply be as follows:

rsync -avz -e 'ssh -i key' [email protected]:/path/to/site.url/htdocs/* /var/www/site.url/htdocs/ --info=progress2

If your origin server is using a custom port (managed hosts like WPEngine, Kinsta, etc, often do), you can specify that with the -p flag as follows:

rsync -avz -e 'ssh -i /path/to/private/key -p 2222' [email protected]:/path/to/site.url/htdocs/* /var/www/site.url/htdocs/ --info=progress2

Note: Once your migration is complete and you’ve verified everything is working correctly, remove your private key with the following if you’re not migrating any further sites:

rm /path/to/private/key


Once rsync has completed the transfer it will let you know. You can then navigate to your site’s /htdocs directory and verify the transfer has been successful with:

cd /var/www/site.url/htdocs

And then list your files with:

ls -la

Part 4. Complete Your Migration

Now that you’ve successfully copied your files over, we need to import the database and unzip your site files. We’ll start with your files.


If you’re not already in your websites /htdocs directory you can navigate there with the following command (replacing site.url with your URL):

cd /var/www/site.url/htdocs

It’s generally best to run database imports as your system user instead of using GP-CLI, so run the following command, replacing systemuser with your website’s system user:

sudo -u systemuser wp db import database.sql

It will let you know once the operation is complete. Note that if it’s a big database it can take some time.


To finish up you can quickly make sure all your file permissions are correctly set with:

gp fix perms site.url

Part 5. Migration Checks

Regardless of how you migrate your site, you may need to do some clean-up to ensure your website runs smoothly. Below are a few of the most common issues we see. Once you’ve confirmed your migration has been a success you can enable your caching and security settings.


Depending on where you’re migrating from your database may have a database table prefix that is different from the standard wp_. If this is the case, you will need to update your wp-config.php file.


If you’re migrating from a host that uses any must-use plugins, you likely no longer need them and/or need to remove them. You can first disable them by simply renaming the folder.


If your site still isn’t showing as expected yet, our full diagnosing migrations issue can be found here: Diagnosing Migration Issues

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