Should every business website have a staging site?
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You’re probably aware that once you have your website live, you’ll need to keep its software updated to the latest available. WordPress makes this easy by providing the user-friendly interface through which you can update all your themes, plugins and even the core in just one click.
Well, the process is as easy as it sounds, but nobody can predict what happens after an update is done. Themes and plugins are developed by good programmers all over the world, but they do not guarantee that their updates will work well with a particular plugin or theme. In all fairness, anything can go wrong even if you follow the best of programming practices available in the whole world. In addition, if you have done any customization to the plugins and themes that you use, those could be wiped out completely once you update. There is a good chance that after you finish your updates, your entire site can go down.
This has happened to the best of us. Any professional developer will agree to this. If you’ve been proactive and have backups, you may be able to restore your website quickly. But that will be a backdated version of your website, and you may lose any further changes or posts that you have done during that period. Besides, you still need to update your website.
Enter the Staging environment
A “Staging site” is a clone of your live website where you can try applying your updates and changes before applying them to the live website. This ensures that even if something goes wrong after the update, only the staging site is affected and you or your developer can fix the issues before applying the changes to the live website.
Some of the scenarios where a staging website is useful are given below:
In short, a staging site is a good move for any website whose business depends on it.
OK, I’m sold! How do I set up a staging site?
There are multiple ways to create a staging site.
1) Through your host
You may be able to set up a staging site through your host. Managed hosting solutions add a lot of features to your WordPress setup, and most of them (WPEngine, for example) include one-click staging site options. Your web host will have documentation on how to do this, and even the most non-technical users can easily create a staging site in a few clicks.
2) Using an external service
WPStagecoach is a hosting service which lets you create a staging site on their domain. The pricing starts at $20/month for businesses, and you can host up to 3 domains that you own. Once you create your staging site, you get FTP access to the site so that you can manage your files and make changes as needed.
To create a staging site, you have to create an account under WPStagecoach and get your API key. Then you need to install and activate their WPStagecoach plugin and enter the API key. Now you can easily create a clone of your site on WPStagecoach’s domain right from your website’s admin dashboard. You have the option of reverting back any changes if the site is not updated correctly.
3) Using a Plugin
There are a few plugins in the WordPress repository that facilitate the creation of a staging site. In fact, you can use ANY good backup and restore plugin that you can find in the WordPress repository to create a clone of your website. Some of the plugins that you can try are listed below:
- Install Backup Guard on both the original and destination sites
- Create a backup on the original site’s backup guard interface
- Download the backup and import it to the destination’s backup guard interface
- Select the imported backup and click on Restore to restore the site at the destination
4) The Manual Route
Without using any external software, you can create a staging site manually. WordPress is a combination of the files and the database it uses. The manual way to do this is to:
- Zip all the files in your existing WordPress install.
- Backup your database (you can see the database that your WordPress site uses in the wp-config.php file)
- Open the database backup and make changes to it to reflect the new domain name or path
- Copy and move the files to the new location, and extract them in the new location
- Import the modified database file to the new database install
- Configure the extracted wp-config.php file to use the new database
That’s how to do it the manual way in a nutshell. As you can see, this requires some technical skills, so if you aren’t comfortable with MySQL database operations, go ahead with one of the other options above.
To sum up,
- Create a staging site to test any changes or updates before you apply them to the live site.
- ALWAYS back up your live site before you apply any changes so that you can revert back to a working version quickly if something didn’t get caught by the staging site.
Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.