As new site owners, navigating your way through the world of website security can be daunting. A pervasive notion across numerous articles online is that changing your database prefix is a smart security measure. But, what does it mean to change the default prefix? Can it crash your site? Why should you do it?
As seasoned security specialists, we don’t think you should do it. Changing your database prefix is an incredibly fiddly process, involving a lot of technical expertise and loaded with the risk of crashing your WordPress site. Worst of all, it doesn’t really stop a good hacker – just delays them.
However, if you’re looking for an easy guide to change your database prefix, you’re at the right place. We’ve broken down and simplified each step and offer the safest way to change the prefix.
TL;DR: Changing your database prefix is a complex and risky task that involves editing the wp-config file. It is ultimately not worth the effort, as it doesn’t really do much to protect your website from hackers. For better—and easier—security for your WordPress, install MalCare instead.
The default database prefix for WordPress sites is “wp_”. This prefix standardizes the installation process, ensuring that plugins and themes function correctly right from the outset. It’s a key aspect that most WordPress documentation and tutorials recognize and use for instruction.
However, there is a prevailing theory that this commonality could aid attackers in guessing your database table names. This theory is not untrue, as most WordPress installations have a similar database structure. The question to ask is if changing the database prefix is a sufficiently good security measure that the inconvenience caused by doing so becomes acceptable.
The answer is no. We typically do not recommend changing the “wp_” prefix. While it might sound like a feasible protective measure, the risk of crashing your site is much higher.
Instead, the best, most effective security for your WordPress site is to install MalCare. With MalCare, your site gets a powerful firewall, a thorough malware scanner, and the best one-click malware removal for WordPress sites. Moreover, with MalCare, there is no need to choose between function and security, as you get the best of both.
Changing the database prefix
There are two principal methods to change the database prefix, each with its benefits and drawbacks. The first method involves the use of a plugin, which is considered less time-consuming and complicated. This makes it an ideal choice for those not comfortable venturing into the backend of their website. On the other hand, the second method requires manually changing the prefix. It is certainly a more challenging procedure and carries greater risks than the first option.
Note: For brand-new, out-of-the-box WordPress installations, changes to the database prefix are potentially simpler to execute. However, changing the prefix can become a complex and risky endeavor for sites heavily dependent on numerous plugins. If you choose to change your database prefix despite these issues, there are ways to do it, but proceed with caution and deep consideration. As always, before making any changes to critical files on your site, take a full site backup.
Method 1: Using a plugin
Solid Security, formerly iThemes, is a popular WordPress security plugin and we’ve put it through the wringer before. While it fails in many critical security aspects, among its working features is the ability to change your database prefix. Here is a step-by-step guide:
Install Solid Security plugin: Install and activate the plugin from the Plugins section of your WordPress dashboard.
Access the Security dashboard: Once the plugin is activated, go to the plugin dashboard by clicking on Security from wp-admin.In the Tools tab, go to the Database Security section and click on Run.
Test your changes: Login to your phpMyAdmin and select the database you just modified, in the sidebar. Then, check the tables to make sure that you’ve successfully changed the prefixes of all the tables. Then, check your siite and make sure that all your pages are working as normal.
Note: This plugin does not allow you to choose a new prefix. Instead, it generates one automatically for you.
Method 2: Manually changing your database prefix
Changing the database prefix manually involves two critical changes that must be done in lockstep for the site not to crash.
The first one is changing the database prefix in the database itself. This part seems obvious enough. The second step is to change the database prefix in the wp-config file. WordPress uses the wp-config file to connect to the site database, and therefore it is very important to make sure the new prefix is updated there as well.
We cannot stress enough that we do NOT recommend this method as it has a high risk of crashing your site. In fact, not all web hosts allow you to make this change to the database for this very reason. Additionally, there is little security benefit you get for such a risky move.
But if you still wish to do so, here are the steps to change your database prefix with the least risk:
Note: Steps 2 to 4 are only valid if you have root access to your phpMyAdmin account. If you do not have root access, take a backup and then skip straight to step 5.
Step 1: Take a full backup
Before proceeding with any major changes to your website, it’s crucial to take a comprehensive backup of your site—files and database included. This is where BlogVault comes in handy. A full backup safeguards all your valuable data, including your website’s design, code files, images, posts, pages, comments, and the database that holds key configurations and settings. In the event of any missteps while changing your database prefix, or if your website encounters unexpected issues, having a complete backup is a lifesaver.
BlogVault takes a complete automatic backup in minutes. It also stores your backups on its servers so your website doesn’t slow down. It also has an external dashboard. So, even if your site crashes, you can use the one-click Restore features to get your site back to normal. All you have to do is sign up and add your website to the dashboard, and it will automatically sync your site. Export the database
Step 2: Export the database
To export a database from phpMyAdmin, you first need to log in to your phpMyAdmin dashboard. Once there, select the particular database you want to export from the left sidebar. After selecting the database, click on the Export tab which you will find at the top of the dashboard. On the Export page, you will have two major export methods, namely the Quick and Custom export methods. For a simple export, choose the Quick method. Lastly, determine the format you want to export the database to: typically SQL. After you select SQL, click the Go button which allows you to download the SQL file containing the exported database.
Step 3: Create a new database
In the left menu of phpmyadmin, click on New. This option will only be available if you have root access for your website.
Add the database name of your choice. Click on the Create button. You have now successfully created a new database.
Step 4: Import the database as a clone
Start by clicking on the name of the newly created database in the left sidebar of the dashboard. Once the new database has been selected, click on the Import tab located at the top of the dashboard. Now, click the Choose File button, which opens your file explorer. Navigate to where the .SQL file is located on your machine and select it. Ensure the format selected under Format is SQL, as it must match the format of your exported database. This is usually by default. Click on Import. Wait for phpMyAdmin to complete the import process and give you a success message.
Step 5: Deactivate all plugins
The next step is to deactivate all your plugins to avoid any conflicts during the database prefix change process. On your admin panel, navigate to the Plugins tab, in the sidebar, and click Installed Plugins. Then, select all and choose Deactivate from the Bulk Actions dropdown.
Step 6: Revert to the default theme
Next, switch back to the default WordPress theme from your admin dashboard. You can do this by going to Appearance, then Themes and choosing one of the default ones. This minimizes any potential theme-related conflicts during the process. Once the process is complete, you can activate your preferred theme again.
Step 7: Edit your wp-config.php file
There are three ways you can do this.
A. Using an FTP client like Cyberduck
Connect to your server: Open Cyberduck and connect to your server using your FTP credentials. If you’re unsure of what these are, contact your hosting provider.
Locate wp-config.php file: Once connected, navigate through your site files until you find the root directory where your WordPress files are located. Here, locate the wp-config.php file. Right-click on the file and select Download. After downloading, open the file with a text editor like Notepad or Text Editor.
Alter database prefix line: Look for the line of code starting with $table_prefix. wp_ is the default database prefix, and this will be the prefix for most sites. However, if someone else has had the same inclination to change the prefix before, then it may be different. Replace the existing one with your new preferred prefix. Ensure your new prefix is complex enough to deter hackers.
Upload the file: Once you’re done, upload the file back to the server.
B. Using cPanel
Log in to cPanel: Start by logging into your cPanel account. The login credentials will be provided by your hosting service.
Open File Manager: The File Manager icon will open up a new page with directories and files.
Find and edit the wp-config.php file: Navigate to the root directory and locate the file. Right-click on the file and select Edit.
Modify the database prefix line: Replace the value between the single quote marks with the new prefix of your choice in the following line:
Save changes: After you’ve edited the database prefix line, click Save Changes and close the editor. Your new database prefix is now active. Remember to ensure the new prefix is a unique combination of numbers and letters.
C. Using SSH
Log in via SSH: Open a Terminal on MacOS (or Command Prompt on Windows) and type in the following command, replacing ‘username’ and ‘yourserver.com’ with your actual username and server address:
Navigate to WordPress directory: Once you’ve logged in, navigate to your WordPress root directory.
Open wp-config.php file: Use the nano command to open the file.
Modify database prefix line: Replace the existing prefix with your new, unique one in the line starting with: $table_prefix =
Save and exit: After changing the prefix, it’s time to save your changes and exit the file editor. If you used nano, use Ctrl+O to save, Enter to confirm, and finally Ctrl+X to exit.
Step 8: Edit the prefix in database tables
Choose replace prefix: Once you’ve logged into phpMyAdmin, select your database and then click Check All to select all tables. Find the With selected: dropdown menu, which is located below the list of the tables, and select Replace prefix.
Replace prefix: In the fields that open up, type the old prefix in the From field (the default is ‘wp_’) and your new prefix in the To field. Click on the Submit button to execute the change.
Search for old prefix: Execute the following SQL command to find any mentions of the old prefix within the options table. Remember to replace newprefix with whatever you’ve just set as the new database prefix, and oldprefix with the one that was there before.
WHERE `option_name` LIKE ‘oldprefix’;
Change the prefix: In instances where the name needs to be changed, execute another SQL command:
SET `option_name` = REPLACE(`option_name`, ‘oldprefix_’, ‘newprefix_’)
WHERE `option_name` LIKE ‘oldprefix_%’;
Change the prefix in the usermeta table: Repeat steps 5 and 6 for the usermeta table as well.
Please note that the steps for other database managers like Adminer will be different but similar, and you have to make changes to the same tables.
Step 9: Test the site
Reactivate all the plugins and your theme of choice. Then test to see if all your pages are functioning as normal.
Note: The remaining steps are only valid for those with root access.
Step 10: Export the modified database
Select the modified database and click Export at the top. Then, select Quick and SQL Click Go when you’re done.
Step 11: Import the modified database into the old database
Select the original database and click Import at the top. Then, click Choose File and select the file you exported in the previous step. Then, click Import when you’re done.
As we have said repeatedly throughout the article, changing the database prefix is rife with risk. It improves security by a trivial margin.
You will see many articles claiming that changing the database prefix helps foil SQL injection attacks, however the real problem in those cases is the SQL injection vulnerability on the site that hackers were able to exploit in the first place. Changing the database prefix in the face of an SQL injection vulnerability is a very feeble obstacle in the paths of determined hackers.
Many, many things can go wrong during a change like this, so here are a few ways to restore your site in case something has indeed gone pear-shaped:
Syntax errors: Syntax errors typically occur when the coding rules or grammar of the programming language are violated. When changing the database prefix, ensure you’re inputting the exact commands with no extra spaces, omitted characters, or incorrect formatting.
Prefix inconsistencies: Consistency in the database prefix is key. Ensure that every instance of the old prefix has been replaced with the new one. Even one instance of the old prefix can cause unnecessary complications so make sure all changes are applied uniformly across the board.
Broken site caused by inconsistencies in site files: Inconsistent changes in your site files can result in a broken website. If your website breaks after changing the database prefix, double-check the wp-config.php file to ensure the prefix matches the one used in your database.
Hosting provider restrictions: Some hosting providers may not permit certain changes, such as altering the database prefix. If you encounter such limitations, reach out to your hosting provider’s support and inquire about possible workarounds or obtain necessary permissions.
Data loss caused by plugin issues: Occasionally, plugins can conflict with the prefix change, resulting in data loss. To mitigate this risk, ensure all your plugins are deactivated before initiating the prefix change. Also, as always, maintaining a recent backup of your site is essential. This way, even in the event of a problem with plugins causing data loss, your website can be quickly restored to its state before the prefix changes. Moreover, do check the compatibility and updates of your plugins to prevent such issues, and always take a full backup before updating any plugins.
Why you should NOT change your database prefix
While some WordPress enthusiasts and articles advocate for changing your database prefix as a security measure, we, as security experts who have dealt with malware on 1000s of sites, disagree with this perspective. Here are some reasons why we do not recommend it:
Potential for errors: Changes to the database prefix can lead to unexpected errors if not done correctly. These could disrupt your entire system operations and cause data loss.
Compatibility issues with plugins: Some plugins might be configured to work with the original database prefix. Changing it can, therefore, lead to compatibility issues, preventing plugins from functioning as effectively as they should, or even rendering them entirely inoperable.
Difficulties in reverting: If issues occur after altering the database prefix, trying to revert to the previous state can often prove challenging or even impossible without proper backups or significant technical expertise.
Need for technical knowledge: Altering your database prefix is not an easy process, necessitating a solid understanding of databases. For people without this technical knowledge, trying to make changes could lead to more harm than good.
Time-consuming: The process includes changing the name of nearly every table on your database. You also have to go into certain tables and change every mention of the old prefix. Additionally, you may have to reconfigure your plugins with the new prefix. The process is especially frustrating if it’s not an out-of-the-box installation.
False sense of security: It’s just a minor deterrent rather than a real security measure. It’s essentially security through obscurity, which is not security at all. This is why we recommend installing a more comprehensive security solution like MalCare.
Altering your database prefix is not an easy process, and it carries substantial risk. Making such modifications demands a meticulous approach and technical understanding. If done incorrectly, it can lead to significant errors, even system-wide crashes.
In addition, given the amount of time and effort required, one has to question the worth of such a measure, especially since it doesn’t effectively deter determined hackers. These hackers possess sophisticated tools capable of bypassing such minor security measures with relative ease.
We endorse the use of robust, comprehensive defense strategies to keep malicious actors at bay. MalCare offers an all-encompassing security suite, providing real-time firewall protection and regular scanning to identify and thwart any potential threats proactively.
Why should I change my database prefix?
You should not change the database prefix. Some individuals suggest changing your database prefix as a security measure to make it more difficult for hackers to predict and infiltrate your system. However, this does not offer a solid defense against determined hackers and is not recommended as a standalone security solution.
What are the potential problems I may encounter when changing the database prefix?
You may encounter difficulties such as errors stemming from incorrect changes, compatibility issues with plugins that use the old prefix, challenges in reverting to the old prefix, and a disruption of your website’s functionality.
What can I do to prevent these problems when changing the database prefix?
Only proceed if you have a good understanding of databases, as this can reduce the likelihood of errors. Backup your database before making changes so you can restore it if things go wrong. Also, verify with plugin and theme developers if changing the prefix might lead to compatibility issues.
Should I always change the database prefix manually?
We do not recommend that you change the database prefix at all.
The manual method is also risky and time-consuming. You’re better off installing a security plugin like MalCare.
What if I do not have permission to change the database prefix?
If you don’t have permission to change the database prefix, it means that as a user you might not have the required user roles or capabilities in the system. In such cases, you’ll need to contact the system administrator or a developer with the necessary permissions to make these changes. Alternatively, your web host may have disabled this option.
Will changing my database prefix disrupt my website functionality?
If performed correctly and carefully, changing your database prefix should not disrupt your website functionality. That said, even if there is the slightest deviation from the process, it can cause considerable errors, potentially crippling your website’s operation.
How do I change database details in WordPress?
Database details can be changed in the wp-config.php file located at the root of your website files. This file holds many of your website details, including your database information. If you open the file, you will find variables namely DB_NAME (database name), DB_USER (database username), DB_PASSWORD (database password), and DB_HOST (database host). Change the details according to your needs.
How do you replace a prefix in MySQL?
To replace a prefix in MySQL, you need to execute an SQL query. First, make sure you backup your database, then in your SQL query window, enter a command such as “RENAME table old_table_prefix_mytable TO new_table_prefix_mytable;”. You should replace “old_table_prefix_mytable” with your old table name prefixed and “new_table_prefix_mytable” with your new prefix and table name. Remember, this must be done for each table you wish to change. Alternatively, if you are using a database manager such as phpMyAdmin or Adminer, they possess tools with which you can select all the tables and replace the prefix all at once.
What is my database prefix?
Your database prefix is the initial part of your table name that indicates to which application or module a certain set of tables belongs. In the context of WordPress, for example, the default prefix is ‘wp_’, so your tables would be named ‘wp_options’, ‘wp_posts’, etc. You can find the prefix used by your site within your website’s configuration file. In WordPress, you can find it in your ‘wp-config.php’ file, on the line beginning with ‘$table_prefix’.
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