Staging vs production – what’s the difference
Let’s get nerdy for a second, shall we? In development, the live site (what your customers use + visit) is called production. And a test site (one that your customers do not have access to) is called staging. Just like staging a home, this is a great place for seeing what the final result could look like.
Perks of not working in production
While it’s fun to be able to make changes to your WordPress pages + menu then instantly see those tweaks on your live site, it can be dangerous. The page + post editor features undo buttons + preview tools to help, but some themes turn the revisions option off completely. So not only could you accidentally delete an entire section of content + not be able to go back, you could remove opt-in code, delete a core theme template, or install a new plugin without realizing that it conflicts with two other plugins you use.
But it’s not just about avoiding disaster. The reason that I recommend staging sites to my clients is that it’s a great place to play. (In fact, they are sometimes called a sandbox environment, which always conjures up feelings of being playful for me.) You can rearrange your menu + sit with it for a few days before unveiling it to the world. You can set up new plugins to replace ones you aren’t happy with + test them thoroughly before letting your customers see the new version. And you can see what different images look like in your header or slider before putting them front + center on your site.
How to set up a staging site of your own
Option #1 – manually clone your site
The reality is that a staging site is a clone of your live/production site. so you can clone your existing site (using a tool like BackupBuddy) + install it on your hosting account as a brand new WordPress install. That way you are free to make changes + putz around before making those same changes to your public site.
When I set up staging sites for clients, these are the steps I follow –
- Clone existing site with BackupBuddy
- Install clone on server (usually in a folder named “dev” or “staging”)
- Password protect the site
- Optional: install a plugin to connect the two sites for quickly transferring changes
Because you are cloning the existing site, your login will be the same, unless you change it after installation to keep them separate.
Option #2 – Automatic staging sites with Flywheel
For all of my hosting clients (yup, tiny blue orange offers hosting now!) this option is automatic. Flywheel has staging sites — currently being beta tested, but I’ve been so happy with them — where it’s set up with a click of a button. Once set up, you can play on your staging site + then transfer all changes to the live site by, again, clicking a button. How easy is that?
No matter what your WordPress hosting situation is, setting up a staging site is a great way to keep changes from frustrating customers when they don’t quite work, keep you from feeling fearful of making changes + updates, and adding a secure measure to your site upkeep process. So set some time in your calendar to create your very own staging environment before the year is up!