Does Deleting a Website Remove Access to the Files on It?

How to Delete or Close a Website

Does Deleting a Website Remove Access to the Files on It?

by Christopher Heng,

I was asked by a visitor whether "deleting a website" prevents the files on it from being accessed over the Internet. "Or do I have to delete the files, PDFs and documents on that website before deleting the site, in order to make the files inaccessible?" she asked. This article addresses that question.

It Depends

It depends on what you mean by "deleting a website".

How to Close or Delete a Website

  1. Back up your website first

    Before you delete anything, back up your website on your own computer. You should do this even if you don't think you will ever want to resurrect your site. Otherwise, if you have a change of heart in the future, or find that you want to reuse something that you have worked on in the past, the next question you'll end up asking me, years down the line, is "Can I recover my files from a website discontinued a long time ago?"

    Don't just back up the files. If your site uses a database, as it may if it is a blog or if it runs on a content management system (CMS), make sure that you back that up too. See my article on How to Back up a Website if you are not sure how to do any of these things.

  2. Delete your data

    Once you're sure you want to get rid of your website, the first thing to do before cancelling your account is to delete your data. If you cancel your account first, depending on the service you use (that is, how immature and amateurish the people running it are and whether they throw a tantrum), you may lose all access immediately and cannot delete anything.

    After you delete your data, test it by using a browser to access your site and the various files that you're worried about. You should encounter an empty directory, your web host's placeholder page, a File Not Found error or some other error.

  3. Cancel your account

    Look for your web host's account cancellation page. Do not do it by simply halting future payments. That is not the correct way to terminate an account. The web host may just think that you are slow in paying that month or something, and continue to maintain your account and bill you. Use the method that the web host provides to inform them that you wish to cancel it.

    If your web host is a professionally-run business, your site will probably only disappear after the expiry of your term. That is, if you have already paid up for the month, and you're cancelling for next month onwards, your web host will continue to make your website available on the Internet (albeit in its now empty state, since you have deleted everything yourself in the first step), and provide you the normal access you had before, until the end of the month.

If your site is archived by the Internet Archive, a copy of your files will continue to be stored in their library since their intention is to preserve Internet history for sites that allow them to do so. If this is not desirable, for example, your site contained information that you now realise should not have been publicly available in the first place (eg, you inadvertently disclosed your home address, and you now find that you're regularly contacted by innumerable Nigerian princes eager to share with you their fortune), you can write to them to ask that your site be removed.

Otherwise, the above procedure should be sufficient to get rid of your site on a normal web host. But remember, as I said earlier, if you're talking about a profile page or some other set of pages placed on a social media site, whether the above is successful or not depends on that service, and whether your data continues to exist in some dark corner of their system, waiting to be resurrected on a whim.

Copyright © 2018-2020 Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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