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I have a client who's in a situation with her website: her ex-husband owns the hosting company and won't let her have FTP or any other server access, she still has dashboard access, she wants to move the site to another hosting provider, and the site is on version 3.5.1. - hasn't been updated since 2013! Same with the plugins, of course.

Normally I'd install Duplicator and let it do its thing, but since the WP core files are so old, I'm unsure of the best way to proceed. I'm thinking of finding a version of a backup plugin contemporaneous with the version of WP, installing that and backing everything up/downloading it all, then updating the WP core to current, then installing Duplicator. Is there a better way to proceed?

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    problems with hosting companies not following on their contract are legal not technical, and should be solved by legal means. In theory the husband could have added all kinds of backdoor for fun. Advice, don't get involved in divorce battles, they are never fun. – Mark Kaplun Sep 22 '17 at 1:30
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You will have to scrape the site for the data, or better if you have back-end access so you export the data in a file, then checking the file you can modify it to make it ready for import in the latest version, just check how it changed.

I did it before but with traditional sites that are jumping to Wordpress. Scrapping the site for the data and creating either a JSON or a XML file ready for import.

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I would try the route of finding a backup plugin that will work with her version of WP. That would be the easiest way.

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If you are familiar a 'clone'-type backup restore program, and have admin access, give it a try. I like the WP-Clone cloning program, but you can use one you like.

If you have phpMyAdmin access, use it to backup the database to your local drive. Then install a development system with the WP version of the site, backup that, then start updating things.

Once you get it all current, move (clone) it to the new hosting place.

Getting a database backup is the first step, though, whichever way you can do that. That's where all the content is. You might have to do some theme-tweaking, but the database backup is the first step, IMHO.

Transferring the domain name is another issue, so getting control of that is important. Changing the emails of the domain owner is first step, so that you can transfer domain to another domain registrar. If you can't do that, you'll need to move the site to a new domain (after registering it). WP-Clone, among others, will adjust the URLs in the database from the old place to the new place.

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