What is staging and why it matters for your website

Web development isn’t a one-and-done thing. Most websites are living projects, constantly updated, fixed and improved; however, changing anything in a website carries a few risks, such as the potential to break pages, features or even the whole site. Staging is a way to avoid a disruption to the regular flow of your website and to test changes before they reach your users.

What is staging

A staging server is essentially a duplicate of the production server, i.e. the server where the website lives for the users. In web development, staging is the second of three steps in the development, staging and production (DSP) model; as an example, sometimes developers work on a web app project such as a website “locally” (in their own computer, replicating a server) and then move that project to the server—the staging server is a middle point where developers can test to see if there are any more bugs or fixes needed before moving it to the production side.

Staging servers are handy because they allow developers to test the near-final website or any subsequent alterations, such as updates to a plugin or to the source code. They work by having an identical copy to the “live” website—the site that users visit and interact with—that you can test your changes in. So, for instance, you can add a new plugin or change site code without fear of breaking it for your users, making it unavailable and costing you time, money and customers.

How staging works

A staging environment replicates the exact conditions of the production environment and lets you test out your website in real-life conditions before launching changes.

Often, staging environments are also used after launching a website in order to test further changes before deploying them to the live website. In those conditions, the staging site is an exact copy of your live site that you can modify or update, then push those changes into your live site—or, alternatively, scrap those changes and make a new fresh copy of your live site to replace the staging one you’ve been messing with.

One point to note is that deploying from staging to live is usually a manual action, because you don’t want to risk testing something that breaks a feature and then have it move automatically to your live website. Likewise, most services that offer a staging environment let you essentially “reset” your staging environment to the current condition of your live site with a single click, so you can discard changes you’ve made without having to deploy them, much like closing a document without saving.

Why you need staging for your website

If you’ve ever carelessly updated or installed something on your website only to see it immediately break and then have to spend hours trying to fix it (or paying someone exorbitant amounts to do so), then the need for staging is probably self-explanatory.

As mentioned, the biggest reason staging is necessary is for stability. Web development is volatile and things often break, even more so with content management systems (CMS) that have a multitude of plugins. One update can break something or even many things, so you need to make sure it works before committing to it.

For instance, let’s say you have a WordPress e-commerce website for your business and you can’t risk it being down. If a big new update to WordPress or to one of your plugins, such as the WooCommerce e-commerce platform, comes along, you should update for new features and security fixes, but there’s a risk that it may conflict or break something else on your site.

What you do then is test out the update on the staging environment where you have a copy of your store. That way, you can test out that everything works, nothing was lost or broken, and only then proceed with said updates. And if something does break, and all of a sudden a feature doesn’t work or, worse, your whole website is down in the staging server, it’s no problem: you can just discard that instance and make a fresh copy of your live, perfectly working website to staging.

How to set up a staging environment

There are many ways to set up a staging environment, some manual and others automatic.

If your Web Hosting service doesn’t include a staging feature, you can still create an ad hoc staging website by creating a duplicate of your website on your hosting service and assigning a subdomain or a completely different custom domain to it. That means manually moving files and messing with databases, however, and also requires a lot more manual labor to get it working, not to mention a bigger chance of human error.

Some WordPress backup plugins also offer a staging feature that lets you create said duplicate more easily, such as WP STAGING and Duplicator. Ideally, though, you want a Web Hosting service that already contemplates staging in their service in one way or another. Neoxea includes a free staging environment in every single plan, even the cheapest, so that you can upgrade and improve your WordPress website without a worry. Plus, with our excellent support and free daily backups, you also know that, if things do go wrong, you’ll always have help. Check our plans or get in touch and find out how Neoxea can help your business thrive online.