A WordPress staging site allows you to change your website in the background without impacting the live site. You can test out new things like layouts or plugins and 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 WordPress installation located within your website's Managed WordPress * hosting. Your staging site is a separate duplicate installation of your current WordPress website.
First a little history…
Back in the day, if you wanted to switch themes or 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 manually migrate the site content, theme, and plugins over so you could work on the duplicate of your website. Like a staging site, this approach allowed you to keep the existing live site and 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 used a little trick to access a WordPress site without a domain. You would need to modify the Hosts file on your computer, which intimidated many users.
This process requires adding a line of info to your Hosts file on your local computer that notes your site's IP address and domain. The addition of his line would direct your computer to resolve your domain to that IP. Essentially, you were tricking your computer into thinking that your domain was on your test site.
Adding a line with your site's actual IP and your existing domain is what you would add to your computer's Hosts file. It looks something like this:
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…
This solution is still a viable option for those without a Staging environment. 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 integrate on a live site.
What's the process — exactly?
Creating a staging site is simple in most managed WordPress hosts I've worked with. 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 WPMU who I use to host this website. One-click, and you are good to go with a duplicate of your live website in staging. Easy!
Staging Site Considerations
Production/Live vs. Staging
Your staging site is a snapshot of your live site at the moment in time when you created your staging site. Therefore, if you make any changes to the live site after creating 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,