Web site developers and designers can move, switch jobs, or change careers. Sometimes they just seem to disappear. If you depended on your developer to maintain your site, this can be a real cause for concern.

Although never a pleasant circumstance, if your site is built with a well known package like Joomla, you're in a much better position than you would be if you had a proprietary or custom built solution. This is because there are many alternative suppliers who can help you out, and if you have some technical knowledge you can even do it on your own.

This guide is designed to help give you the information you need to make an informed decision on how to proceed.

Decide whether you want to do it yourself or to get professional support.

Joomla is designed to be relatively simple to use. Its success in doing this is one of the reasons why it is one of the most popular CMS packages in the world. Thousands of people with limited technical skills successfully create and maintain Joomla web sites, and there's no reason why you can't be one of them.

At the same time, Joomla's power can make it seem quite complicated, and its flexibility and ability to support complex sites can be overwhelming.

The most important decision you need to make is whether or not you want to manage your own site or to find a new partner that you can form a strong working relationship with. At this point it may be too early to decide which alternative is best for your specific circumstances. We hope this guide will give you some insight into what's involved and help you make an informed decision that's right for you and your business.

Determine if you have access to your site's administration and hosting control panels.

The first thing to do is to make sure you have the ability to access and manage your site. There are two parts to this: the hosting Control Panel, which gives you access to your site's files and database, and the Joomla Super Administrator Login, which lets you manage your Joomla installation and change site content.

Of the two, the control panel is the most important. In a worst case scenario, a skilled developer can regain control of your Joomla install with control panel access. If you don't have control panel access, you will need to work with your hosting provider to get this first.

If you don't have the Super Administrator Login, get a knowledgeable Joomla expert to reset the password by updating the Joomla database directly.

Make sure you have a backup.

Check with your hosting provider first. Better providers will make automatic backups at least weekly, and preferably daily. Unfortunately with some cheaper hosting companies there's no guarantee that their backup claims are related to reality. Many will also charge a fee to restore your site. If you're at all in doubt, make a full backup of both your site and the database. Most hosting control panels have commands for doing this. There are also some good Joomla extensions designed for this purpose.

Get your Joomla site up to date.

Now that you can log in as the Joomla Super Administrator and have a current backup, the next most critical task is to determine if your Joomla installation is up to date. If it's not, and you are missing security updates, then your site is at serious risk of being hacked.

Your version of Joomla is displayed in the header of the site administrator interface. Visit joomla.org to compare it against the most recent release.

If your version starts with 1.0, then you have an older edition that is not supported after July 22nd, 2009. In this case you should first ensure that you are using the most recent 1.0 release. Once this is complete, you can start planning for a migration to a more up to date version. Maintenance releases (moving from 1.0.x to 1.0.y, or 1.5.x to 1.5.y) are designed to be relatively simple. Migrations between versions (such as 1.0 to 1.5) can require significant work and are too complex to cover in this article.

In most cases applying a maintenance release won't affect your site, but if you have a custom template or have made modifications to one of the default templates, then upgrading might have some undesirable side effects. In this case, you might want to set up a test version of your site, apply the upgrades, make any changes required to get everything working properly, and then update the live site. This isn't as difficult as it might sound, but it's easier with a test environment. If you are at all uncomfortable doing this yourself, seek the assistance of a Joomla expert.

If any release between the version you are running and the current version is listed as a security update, then you are strongly advised to update immediately. Until you do, you are at risk of having your site hacked. Getting hacked is guaranteed to be more painful than any upgrade. You may also want to check your site for subtle hacks, such as trojans and back-door scripts.

Update your extensions.

The Strength of Joomla lies in the power of it's extensions. Most extensions are developed by “third party developers”. This simply means that they are not part of the core distribution. Extension developers follow their own release schedules that run independent of the core package.

This means that you should check each of your extensions for upgrades. Check with the developer's release notes to understand what has changed between versions, paying particular attention to any security related issues.

Understand your configuration.

The appearance and features of your site depend on the extensions that you use.

Templates determine the visual appearance of your site. Your site may be using one of the default templates that comes with the core install, or one provided by a third party. The base template has probably been customized by your developer to meet your specific needs, for example by using your logo in place of the default.

Components provide significant new functionality to your site. Examples of components are image galleries, storefronts, and document managers.

Modules allow you to control how your content is displayed. Example modules include news tickers, tools to integrate content from external sites, and new ways to display your site's content.

Plugins are powerful and versatile tools that let you change the way your content is presented. System plugins are responsible for masking mail addresses from spam robots, caching content for performance, and much more.

Extensions are frequently a combination of Components, Modules, and Plugins.

If you understand how your system has been configured and the roles of each extension that has been installed, you are well on your way to being able to administer and maintain your site.

Understand your content.

The final and most important part of your site to understand is the organization of your content. To gain this understanding, start by exploring your site's menus in the administrator control panel. Most menu items link to a component that is responsible for retrieving content and preparing it for display. If you understand the relationships between your menus and your content, then you will be in a good position to update and maintain your site.

A good developer will have organized your site so that Joomla does most of the hard work. For example, if your site features news updates, then it should probably have a category for them. When you add an article in this category, your site should be set up to recognize this and automatically put the latest article at the top of the list of news items.

If you find you need to make several manual changes every time you want to have new content display the way you want, then you may want to consult a Joomla developer to see if they can help reorganize your content to streamline the process.

Conclusion

Losing your site developer is almost always an unfortunate event, but if your site is Joomla based, it doesn't mean you have to start a new site from scratch, or just leave your current site “frozen in time”.

It is possible to learn how to maintain your site and to keep it working, or you can choose to work with a new developer who is already familiar with Joomla sites, and leverage their expertise.

No matter which way you go, it is very important that you put some ongoing maintenance effort into your site, ensuring that your data is backed up regularly, and that both your base installation and extensions are kept up to date. If you elect to partner with another developer, make sure that they will take care of these functions for you. Far too many site owners have discovered that they were inadequately protected only after they experienced catastrophic losses.