Extensive Guide: How to create a WordPress Staging Environment- BionicWP

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Source: Fixrunner

What is a WordPress Staging Site?

A WordPress staging site or environment is a clone of an original or a test site that you use to make safe changes or plugin updates before going live. A staging site is an offline clone on which you perform tests and updates in a hidden WordPress staging environment. Working on a staging site helps a developer eliminate any downtimes or malfunctions due to page crashes, broken codes, or plugin failure. Using a staging site provides a safer, offline environment for website development and innovations before going live with the original piece.

Most users install WordPress locally on their Mac or Windows systems to test changes and then switch from localhost to live server once done with the updates. This approach’s problem is that something that worked on localhost might not work on the live server. It happens because localhost and live WordPress servers do not have the same environment. Since the staging site goes live on your web hosting server, you can prevent those errors as it runs with the same configuration as your live site.

The Importance of a Staging Site

Whether you plan to process financial transactions, sell online or have lots of reads, you will typically use a website powered by WordPress. Having a staging site is an essential part of your website planning. In any case, if your site experiences downtime, you will likely lose money or visitors. Here, the importance of having a WordPress staging environment comes into play as it saves you from all the troubles before going live with your final product. You can solve all the major issues before even engaging with online users.

Additionally, the cost of having a staging site is so small that you can consider it in your business plan before you even initialize building the website. Staging sites keep your business or blog from losing its charm by solving all the major and complex issues for a smooth user experience. Hence, the staging site serves as an essential part of your website building and maintaining process.

Pros and Cons of Using Staging Site

A WordPress staging environment has hosting offered on your site’s private subdomain to act as a testing ground. The benefits of using a staging site include:

  • It acts as a black canvas form where you can add pages, make changes to plugins, fix codes, and everything related to a website. Your work remains unseen by clients, managers, and everyone else until you go live.
  • Serves as a mirror image of a website where you can test plugins or update themes. Developers handle updates on a staging site first and then move forward with the live site once confirming no issues.
  • A staging site is a platform that saves time developing a similarly structured website from scratch. Developers use it for QA and testing before presenting it in front of team members, clients, or stakeholders for review.
  • It is a place to test new coding techniques and methodologies. The developer can use a copy of a website that already exists or test theories to hone their skills before adding it to their workflow. A staging site is also a perfect option to train new developers on the team.
  • A staging site is a place to build prototypes to demonstrate a specific design or feature to the client. You do not need to explain the idea of a landing page or any payment method integrated. You mock it up in the staging site and demonstrate the working in real-time. It provides an excellent way to experience a page first-hand and avoid miscommunication.
  • WordPress staging environment site lends to safer coding practices.
  • It gives you a private and isolated environment to work on updates and fix codes without having anyone keep checks.
  • If something goes wrong in the code, a staging site does not include it in the live website or prevents access to the WordPress admin. It prevents poor reviews by clients as well as visitors.
  • It helps you save considerable time and effort that you would otherwise spend fixing errors or troubleshooting in the live installation.
  • A staging site is a place to build prototypes to demonstrate a specific design or feature to the client. You do not need to explain the idea of a landing page or any payment method integrated. You mock it up in the staging site and demonstrate the working in real-time. It provides an excellent way to experience a page first-hand and avoid miscommunication.
  • You might also notice a change in speed while working on a staging site and live server. If you work on speed optimization, you will see more reliable results when you have a staging site on the same server.
  • Hosting sites frequently charge for staging sites.
  • It takes time to upgrade as you have to evaluate modifications initially.
  • Caching, security, or backup are not the same on a staging site, so it may not be a precise reproduction of a live website.
  • Hosting a staging site in the same production place might become confusing or lead to information leakage and disruption.
  • Sometimes you cannot identify a bug as there are different data sets in play.
  • Internal users do not prefer a WordPress staging environment due to fear of overridden or forgotten data.
  • During downtime, clients want to have a problem fixed ASAP, which a developer supplies by having a quick fix to ease the tension. However, most forget to have that tiny fix done in the staging site too.
  • Separate teams deal with the same job, and it becomes hard to bring them on the same page.
  • The staging site does not contain genuine information as the use cases differ in production.
  • Some issues like memory leaks, data corruption, or external acts may take longer to brew and leaves a staging environment running for quite a long for addressing the problems.
  • If your live site addresses international requests, so should your staging environment. If you have global operations, you need to set your WordPress staging environment according to the same location patterns.

3-Ways to Create WordPress Staging Environment

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Despite the many benefits that a staging environment offers, you do not have much leverage unless you know about creating one. Here we give you 3 ways that will help create a staging site.

Most hosting services such as BionicWP offers a one-click creation of staging environment in their packages. Steps to set up a WordPress staging environment may vary across different platforms, but the process remains the same. BionicWP, for instance, offers a dashboard to select an environment where you can either install or migrate your site.

  • Once you have selected the option, you need to fill in your site information that looks like the image below:

Here you will have your website title, username, password, and selection for region and selection of database. (If you have selected a new install, then you will not receive the next steps).

  • The next step is very straightforward as BionicWP provides all the options on a single page. You will need to fill in information for migration, including your agency name, WordPress credentials, domain, and hosting credentials.

After you have given all the required details, the last steps in which the service asks for putting your site in a staging environment. Check that box to have BionocWP set a staging environment for you. The credentials remain the same for both your website and the staging site. BionicWP also asks whether your site is multisite and if it has any crucial directories in the root.

Source: BionicWP

Once you have completed all the steps, BionicWP gives you a WordPress staging environment where you can conduct tests and handle errors.

If your WordPress hosting company does not offer a staging feature, you can still create a WordPress staging Environment using a plugin. However, there are also some drawbacks present in using plugins to create an environment. Some of these include:

  • Consumption of server resources as WordPress plugins create a clone site on the same server. It may impact performance, and you may experience the website slowing down.
  • Many plugins use subdomains, so they neither support multisite network or translation plugins.
  • A plugin may have limited control over server hosting and may not give the best results.
  • The plugin will create a WordPress staging environment on its server, which is not an ideal situation if you have concerns for privacy and data protection.

Considering all these shortcomings, creating a staging environment using a plugin has its share of benefits. Let us see the details about using these plugins for a staging environment.

The first thing you need to do is sign up and install the staging environment plugin offered by BionicWP. You can follow a step-by-step guide to install a WordPress plugin.

Once installed, BionicWP will add a new menu to your WordPress admin bar that looks more or less similar to the image below:

You will need to enter your plugin username and API key (provided by BionicWP) under your account on the plugin website. After that, you will have access to set a staging environment.

It would help if you gave a name for your staging website, which you will use as a subdomain of your WordPress staging environment.

Do not forget to check the box for ‘password protect the staging site’, if available in the plugin dashboard. It will hide your staging site from public view and search engines. Here we will use an example of a similar plugin to show you the process.

Once you have completed the above steps, click on continue. Your WordPress plugin will create a backup of your website’s files and database to link it with the staging environment. Once completed, you will have the link to your staging site and admin area.

Once you have all the changes done and errors fixed, you have to import them to your live site. Head over to Plugin Setting > Import Changes and click on the check for changes button. The plugin will check for changes on the staging site and then give you options to import.

You can select file changes, database changes, or all changes and import them to your live website. The plugin will show you the progress on the import and notify you when completed. You can test your live site and see if there is a successful import of changes.

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Another hands-on approach to creating a WordPress staging environment is to develop it manually. This approach is best for advanced WordPress users with MySQL knowledge, as beginners will find it challenging. The advantage of a manual approach is that it gives you complete control over the entire staging setup. The process of manual staging setup includes:

  • Log in to your cPanel or any other control panel provided by your hosting service and create a subdomain on the main domain category. Creating a subdomain helps website owners to run their staging environment in a separate folder. A separate folder leaves the central database and all the related unaffected. Consider the image below to create a sub-domain within the domain group.
  • Enter the name of your sub-domain and then use the drop-down menu to select the original domain. The text box named ‘document root’ will immediately fill itself inside and show the location based on the sub-domain, which will look something like public_html/staging.
  • Once you have finished the previous steps, click on ‘create’, which will display the sub-domain in the table. You can also verify it using a web browser, and it will look something like the image below:
  • The following step is to create a database for which you have to head over to your hosting panel and click on MySQL Database located under the Database section. Provide a name for your database and click on create..
  • Next, you will create a MySQL username by scrolling down to the MySQL section and provide a username and password. You need to permit  this user to access and modify the entire database created earlier. Scroll down to ‘add a user to database’ and select the user and database recently created. You will be asked to give user privileges so check the ‘All Privileges’ box and then click on make changes.
  • You will need to run MySQL queries as in the image:

These queries will replace the values as you enter them in the SQL query box:

  • Start the queries and wait for the confirmation message. Once your database copies, you can copy other features like themes and plugins. Go to the WordPress site and download a new copy of the software to upload all the contents to the WordPress staging environment without installing the software.
  • Once completed, you can connect the WordPress staging to the database copied before. Open the staging environment through the sub-domain created earlier. If you have a wp-config.php available, edit and put the new staging connection information. If there is no such file present, you gave to create one using database connection details.

WordPress will connect to the staging database, detect the installation and ask you to log in. The credentials for the login will be the same as that of your website. If all is set correctly, you will have a WordPress staging environment independent from your live site ready for testing.

Important Notes Regarding Staging

It would help if you kept some critical notes in mind while using and maintaining a WordPress staging environment. These notes include:

The creation of a staging environment happened purely for development purpose. Testing and debugging. BionicWP has page caching set to disabled by default, and if you try to run the program, you will experience higher runtime. If you want to have smoother load times, you have to enable the caching on the staging site to serve the pages right from the cache. Go to your tools page in your site control panel and click on the ‘Enable cache’ button, and you can use ‘Clear Cache’ to clear all the files.

A WordPress staging environment works as a duplicate of your website for testing purposes. The login credentials of your staging site remain the same as that of your live website until you decide to change them.

Indexing of staging sites remains off by default, so it does not influence your live website’s SEO or any other ranking factor. In your staging site’s dashboard, you have a check for search engine disability. The option allows the following header to add to your site ‘x-robots-tag:noindex, nofollow, nosnippet, noarchive.‘ The header will keep the staging site hidden from search engine crawlers and not index on any results page.

If you plan to use any social plugins, you have to deactivate them in your staging site. If not disabled, these plugins will start sharing your staging site URL and will compromise your analytics.

Remember that if you use a plugin that changes your login’s default URL, this will also copy itself to the staging site.

You go through all the effort to create a WordPress staging environment for the purpose of testing and development, so you should only use it for this purpose. Not everything present in a staging site is compatible with a live environment, so ensure that you do not mix both environments. Your hosting service or developer should not be held responsible if you decide to use it as a live website.

BionicWP excludes a staging site’s disk space from the planned total and considers only live sites’ space. The point of this action is to provide maximum disk space available to a user.

The working of multiple sites to work with a single staging environment depends on your multisite setting.

  • Subdirectory multisite will work fine with the BionicWP staging environment.
  • Sub-domain multisite will work fine with the BionicWP staging environment.
  • Multi-mapped domain sites will not work and need a manual setup.

Conclusion

The thought of creating a WordPress staging environment can seem stressful for many users and site owners. However, they need to understand that this staging site helps them identify and address various issues before going live with your website. You can experiment with many options without the danger of hurting site analytics or overall performance. It is essential to conduct your testing in a safe, private environment, and staging sites offers just that. The staging environment is most suitable when provided by your hosting platform, such as BionicWP, as they handle all the complexities. If you are an advanced user, you can go for either plugin or manual option.

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