How to move very large MySQL Databases

I’ve been shifting some things around and came across several very large WordPress databases for a few projects I was hosting. The largest was 1.3GB or 317MB compressed (!) which obviously poses a problem. Most sites – even those of frequent bloggers – amount to well under 2MB when compressed, but Multi Site or BuddyPress databases can get large quick.

To extract a database from a WordPress site, I’ve always relied on the superb WP DB Backup by Austin Matzko but even that timed out after 170MB.

In this article I’ll talk you through how we can handle this. I’m assuming here that a simple phpMyAdmin export/import isn’t working for you anymore. This is by all means not the only way to go about this task.

Step 1: Exporting the database

Very much dependent on the size of your database you have several options on how to extract those. Most of these work fine for databases under 50MB:

  • phpMyadmin, a web interface usually provided by your host
  • WP DB Backup by Austin Matzko, a plugin for WordPress
  • mysqldump, a Linux shell command

But because my database is really large I’m using Sequel Pro, a free Mac client which works a bit like phpMyAdmin but doesn’t time out. I know of nothing similar for the PC at the time of writing – if you do, please post a comment.

Connect Sequel Pro to your source database server, select the database on the top, select all tables and right-click to bring up the EXPORT option. Check out the advanced options where you can set compression options and – VERY IMPORTANT – set the “New INSERT Option” to every 1 row. This is the equivalent of using no extended inserts MySQL.

make absolutely sure that the New INSERT Statements is set to “every 1 row” – otherwise you’ll have a problem importing your file

Hit export and grab a coffee – this could take a while. Sequel Pro will write an uncompressed .sql file to your local hard drive.

Feel free to use any of the other tools mentioned above, all that counts is that you have a full .sql (or compressed variation thereof) on your local machine.

Step 2: Transferring your data to the new host

The next thing we need to do is somehow bring this .sql file over to the new destination server. If this is your local system for testing, then the hard part is done already. But if you’re transferring to a new remote host then you’ll need to undertake this extra step.

Needless to say, you’ll have to setup a new database on your destination server too – we’re not going to cover that in this article though.

In an ideal world, you’d just access phpMyAdmin, select your new empty database and hit “import”. Then you’d select your file, itย  uploads and populates your database. Sadly this only works when your file is small enough to survive a web upload without timeouts and when your destination server allows MySQL uploads larger than 2MB. In other words: this is not an option for us.

Lucky for us Alexey Ozerov has written one of the biggest MySQL lifesaver tools I know of: a small free PHP script called BigDump. It staggers the import Give this man $20 today!

First you’ll have to transfer your .sql file to the destination server via FTP. Next you’ll have to configure bigdump.php as it needs to know your host, database, user name and password. You’ll also need to tell it the file name of your .sql file. BigDump will work with .sql and zipped vairations (.bz and .gz).

Step 3: Importing to your new database

Next you’ll have to call BigDump via http://yourdomain.com/subdir/bigdump.php. If you’ve configured it correctly it will give you one option (Start Importing) and show you the subsequent progress. Refill your coffee as this will take some time. If your file is not zipped (i.e. straight .sql) you’ll even see a progress bar.

Just make sure you leave your browser window alone – do not navigate away from this page! You can do other things in other tabs… just don’t disrupt the BigDump tab.

Step 4: Happiness

If you’re like me you don’t like disruptions to your sites – I’ve chosen to populate the new database while the site’s wp-config.php file was still pointing to the old database server. Once your import has finished, all that remains to do is tweak the wp-config.php file to look at the new server/new database and the job’s a good’un.

Hope this article helps you move those huge databases without breaking a sweat ๐Ÿ˜‰

PS: don’t forget to donate to Sequel Pro and BigDump – the developers deserve it!

Further Reading





Jay is the CEO and founder of WP Hosting, a boutique style managed WordPress hosting and support service. He has been working with Plesk since version 9 and is a qualified Parallels Automation Professional. In his spare time he likes to develop iOS apps and WordPress plugins, or draw on tablet devices. He blogs about his coding journey at http://wpguru.co.uk and http://pinkstone.co.uk.