Home » The Blog » WordPress » What is a WordPress Staging Site and Why Do I Need One?

What is a WordPress Staging Site and Why Do I Need One?

WordPress Staging sites let you "practice" your changes before making them live.

So you can practice. Your WordPress staging site allows you to make changes to your website in the background. You can then update your site precisely the way you want it. Then, once your modifications are ready for prime-time, you move or “push” the staging site to replace your live site. Cool, huh?

Staging Sites Simply Explained

WordPress staging sites duplicate your current website (at that moment in time) that you can work on without disturbing your “live” site. Once your staging site is set up, you are provided a temporary URL. You can then access this additional installation of WordPress located within your website's Managed WordPress (aff) hosting.

First a little history…

Back in the day, if you wanted to switch themes and update layouts, for example, you would have to set up another install of WordPress. However, unlike a staging site, that install is not connected to your live site.

You would then have to migrate the site content, theme, and plugins over so you could work on the duplicate of your website. Similar to a staging site, this approach allowed you to keep the existing live site uninterrupted for your website visitors.

After getting things to look the way you want, you will have to manually mirror any changes made on the test, or beta site, to the live site — in real-time. Over the years, I worked on many sites after business hours for these reasons.

What was complicated is now easy.

Before managed WordPress hosting, temporary URLs were not available either. We had to use a little trick to access a WordPress site without a domain. You would then need to modify the Hosts file on your computer, which intimidated many users.

This process required that you add a line of info to your Hosts file on your local computer that noted your site's IP address and domain. The addition of his line would direct your computer to resolve your domain to that IP. In essence, you were tricking your computer into thinking that your domain was on your test site.

Adding this line (of course, with the actual IP and your existing domain) is what you would add to your computer's Hosts file.

222.3.444.55 yourdomain.com www.yourdomain.com

You would then have to go back into your Hosts file and remove that line when you wanted to access your actual live site where your domain resided. Sort of a PIA…

For those without a Staging environment, this solution is still a viable option. You can find out how to modify your Hosts file based on your OS here.

Enter Managed WordPress Hosting

One of the many advantages of Managed WordPress Hosting is the included staging environment. Most managed platforms offer the ability to set up a staging environment with just a click or two. A lot easier than what I described above.

So why would you want or need a staging site? Here are some tasks you would prefer not to have to integrate on a live site.

  • Adding a membership platform to your current site.
    Adding membership (aff) plugins and protected pages can get very complex. You then need to add the membership area to your navigation, sidebar, and footers. Usually, you are switching themes as well to accommodate these new features.
  • Integrate eCommerce on your established site.
    Adding an eStore requires new pages for your terms, policies, etc., as well as a page for each product. Next, you need to add your payment gateway(s). As well as the various plugins that will add and enhance functionality, and you do not want to be setting this up on a live site. Here again, you'll most likely switch themes as well.
  • You want a fresh look.
    To keep up with visual trends, you'll probably want a new look every other year or so. Or you start looking dated. A staging site allows you to install the new theme with your current content. You can then tweak your site to display precisely how you want before making the new look live.
  • Testing new plugins and functionality.
    By first testing on a staging site, you can identify any possible conflicts, potential configuration, or layout issues.

What's the process — exactly?

In most managed WordPress hosts I've worked with, it's pretty simple. Check out my Toolkit for the hosts and services I use and recommend.

You quickly have a duplicate of your live site to do with what you may. Then, when you are ready to “push” the staging site to live, you go back to the staging tab and deploy the site from staging to production. Your new revised site is now live to the world.

Here's a screenshot from one of the hosts I use, Siteground.

Setting up staging in SiteGround.

Staging Site Considerations

  • There is no server-side caching in place on staging sites, and being Managed, WordPress hosting (aff) tends to have caching built-in; you'll want to ensure anything newly added that could conflict with the cache should be tested once live.
  • Depending on your hosting company, the staging site may only include a predetermined date range of the /uploads folder copied over to staging. We do not need all the uploads (images, for example) back to the beginning of time for a staging site. Check with your host for any limitations.
  • Some plugins should not be used in the staging area. For example, plugins with automation around tweeting or posting are not ideal to use in staging.
  • Plugins that may have issues in the staging area are generally connected to third-party services or validate licenses based on your domain and are for one website. In this case, you may need to purchase two licenses to ensure similar functionality between your live and staging sites or add your staging domain to the license. Again, you'll want to contact the author of your plugins for more information.
  • When pushing changes from staging to production/live, the file system from staging does not overwrite the live file system but instead merges with the live file system. Therefore, when you push the staging site to production, any updated files in staging will be updated on the live website.

Production/Live vs. Staging

Your staging site is a snapshot of your live site at the moment in time that you created your staging site. Therefore, if you make any changes to the live site after completing your staging site, you will need to mirror any changes made to the live site manually into the staging site.

This is so your changes on the live site are not overwritten when you push your staging site to live. If you make any changes to your site or post daily or several times a day, you'll want to plan your staging project to be completed as quickly as possible. This way, you do not have to keep making double entries (live and staging) to keep both sites in sync.

Staging Sites are an Invaluable Tool

Staging sites do not have to be exclusively created to go live eventually. You can also use a staging site environment as a testing environment.

Say you are curious about how to integrate a new plugin. You can create a staging environment of your live site and then, in the staging environment, play with the plugin and see how it displays and operates. Once you have your feet wet, you can add the plugin to your live site knowing there are no conflicts and tweaking the settings based on your staging test.

Now that you know what a WordPress staging site is and the various ways you can use your staging site, you'll wonder how you ever lived without one.

At your service,

Judith: WordPress Consultant and Coach