Yesterday? Last week? Last month? You are not alone and I have to admit, I too have done this. Staging sites can help relieve this pain point by adding a layer of protection between your updates and your site. People can and will perform their updates and changes to their production/live site without testing these updates. Before WordPress 5.2 this could result in your site getting the horrible white screen of death. Then you spiral into a panic trying to get your site up and running again.
What is a staging site?
In the simplest terms, a staging site is a copy of your live website. It is used to test your plugin and theme updates or when you want to test a new feature to your site. The site is usually non-public facing keeping your testing safely away from your customers. Plugin and theme developers will often ask to have access to a staging site to do testing while they provide support. This ensures that any changes they make do not interfere with your business. We as plugin developers do our best to test our products however, every single site is unique.
Here at WC Vendors we have a policy to never perform any debugging or testing on live sites for this exact reason.
Development site vs. staging vs product site
You may have heard terms like such as development site, staging site, QA, testing or production. These are all various stages in your development process and the life of your website. This is usually hidden behind agency walls and as an end-user, you wouldn’t normally see these. If you want to take control of the technical aspects of your site, or at least understand them. It’s a good idea to learn what they are for and when to use them.
A development site is usually the first site in the process. This contains all your code, includes lots of debugging and is usually where you will test your plugins/themes or introduce a new feature. This version will not have any of the same data as your production site. It is the sandbox for your development and testing. This can either be locally or remotely hosted. This is usually created by the developer or agency and might not be available in your setup.
As you are already aware, the staging site is a copy of your live site. This is where the changes you tested in development can be tested with actual data to ensure any final testing/bugs can be ironed out. This is usually on a web server that can be accessed remotely but is protected from user view.
The production or live site is the end product. This is what your customers/users will be using. This is the core of your business and should be treated as such. This should only get updates once they have passed all your testing in the previous versions.
Do I really need a staging site?
Are you processing financial transactions, selling online or have a lot of readers? If you’re running an online business that is powered by WordPress and possibly WooCommerce, we believe that having a staging site is an absolute must. When your site goes down, you will most likely lose money in the process. The costs of having a staging site are so small that it should be included in your initial business plan before you even consider building your site.
How to set up a staging site?
There are multiple ways to set up a staging site. The easiest is to ensure you have hosting that includes staging sites in the package. This makes it as easy as a few clicks to get your staging site up and running. If this isn’t possible then a plugin is your next best option. We would, however, recommend you seriously consider moving your hosting to a provider that includes a staging site.
Web hosting staging site
This is the easiest route you can take as most popular WordPress hosting companies include simple 1-click staging systems. They will often include syncing systems that allow you to sync either one way (back to staging) or both ways (move changes from staging to production).
The fine folks over at WP Beginner have a detailed tutorial on setting up a staging site on various popular web hosts.
Using a plugin
If you dont have a staging site capable web host you can still set up a staging site using a plugin. There are a couple of options available so we’ll provide the two we often recommend to our users.
This is the go-to staging plugin that we recommend to our users regularly. It allows you to create an exact copy of your entire website for staging or development purposes in seconds, depending on the size of your site. It creates a clone of your website into a subfolder of your main WordPress installation including an entire copy of your database.
There is both a free version and a Pro version. The main difference is that the free version is for single sites only and you cannot isolate your data as easily (separate database). The pro version can be handy if you have multiple team members and require more control over your staging process.
Duplicator is another great free option that allows you to make a complete copy of your site. This can also be used to manually create a local copy of your site. We have been using duplicator for years internally here at WC Vendors for various projects and cannot recommend it highly enough.
It creates an easy to use packaged zip file and installer file so you can easily download and move your site to another host, including for staging purposes.
Having a staging site for your online WordPress powered business is a must in 2020. It’ll ensure that you continue to operate your business while you test any and all updates. If you want to add a new feature this should always be tested in your staging environment first. There are so many options available for staging sites today and in our next article we will be looking into the best marketplace web hosting for