Reflecting on 10 years of not having to update WordPress
Over the weekend, the boredom of COVID-19 isolation motivated me to move my personal website from WordPress on a self-managed 10-year-old virtual private server to a generated static site on a static site hosting platform with a content delivery network.
This decision was overdue. WordPress never fit my brain particularly well, and it was definitely getting to a point where I wasn’t updating my website at all (my last post was two weeks before I moved from Hobart; I’ve been living in Petaluma for more than three years now).
Settling on which website framework wasn’t a terribly difficult choice (I chose Jekyll, everyone else seems to be using it), and I’ve had friends who’ve had success moving their blogs over. The difficulty I ended up facing was that the standard exporter that everyone to move from WordPress to Jekyll uses does not expect Debian’s package layout.
Backing up a bit: I made a choice, 10 years ago, to deploy WordPress on a machine that I ran myself, using the Debian system
wordpress package, a simple
aptitude install wordpress away. That decision was not particularly consequential then, but it chewed up 3 hours of my time on Saturday.
Why? The exporter plugin assumes that it will be able to find all of the standard WordPress files in the usual WordPress places, and when it didn’t find that, it broke in unexpected ways. And why couldn’t it find it?
Debian makes packaging choices that prioritise all the software on a system living side-by-side with minimal difficulty. It sets strict permissions. It separates application code from configuration from user data (which in the case of WordPress, includes plugins), in a way that is consistent between applications. This choice makes it easy for Debian admins to understand how to find bits of an application. It also minimises the chance of one PHP application from clobbering another.
10 years later, the install that I had set up was still working, having survived 3-4 Debian versions, and so 3-4 new WordPress versions. I don’t recall the last time I had to think about keeping my WordPress instance secure and updated. That’s quite a good run. I’ve had a working website despite not caring about keeping it updated for at least three years.
The same decisions that meant I spent 3 hours on Saturday doing a simple WordPress export saved me a bunch of time that I didn’t incrementally spend over the course a decade. Am I even? I have no idea.
Anyway, the least I can do is provide some help to people who might run into this same problem, so here’s a 5-step howto.
How to migrate a Debian WordPress site to Jekyll
Should you find the Jekyll exporter not working on your Debian WordPress install:
- Use the standard WordPress export to export an XML feel of your site.
- Spin up a new instance of WordPress (using WordPress.com, or on a new Virtual Private Server, whatever, really).
- Import the exported XML feed.
- Install the Jekyll exporter plugin.
- Follow the documentation and receive a Jekyll export of your site.
Basically, the plugin works with a stock WordPress install. If you don’t have one of those, it’s easy to move it over.