Have you ever submitted changes to your website only to immediately regret that decision?
It’s a fairly common occurrence, to work on your project in a live production environment. But if you do make live changes on a production site, you’re also exposing yourself to greater risks.
I think many of us can admit to the fact that we tend to ignore the right way in exchange for the fast way.
When working with WordPress specifically, I tend to make small tweaks and changes almost every day, and more often than not I feel like I don’t need a staging site. You know, it’s only a few lines of CSS or simple plugin installation.
This approach has backfired on me more than once, but it’s not just me who’s made this mistake. If you look at any development at large, it’s unimaginable that a professional team would operate without a staging environment.
The risk of breaking things and thus breaking the business is far too high to make such an imprudent choice. And to counter the risk, it’s advised to operate from a Production and a Staging environment simultaneously.
What is a staging environment?
In simple terms, a staging site is an ‘exact’ copy of your production site. On a staging site, you can make custom changes or test new features without the risk of breaking things. Well, sort of without the risk. You might still break things, but at least it’s on an ‘offline’ version of the site. As a result, you can prevent those changes from breaking your production site.
Setting up a staging site is relatively easy (we’ll show you how down below), and can often be created through your hosting provider. As soon as you finish setting everything up, you can start working from your staging site.
Does everyone need a staging site?
In all fairness, if you operate sites with sensitive information, then you should consider getting a staging site.
If you operate only a small blog with >50k readers every month, you can likely get a pass. The same goes for developers who are confident in their understanding of code changes.
Although, this can backfire when you’re dealing with adding new themes and plugins.
I think for the most part, if your site stores sensitive data or has some connection with the exchange of funds, then it’s pretty much mandatory to have a sandbox version of your live website.
Center stage: Best practices for staging environments →
Tips for developing and maintaining staging environments that will help you build more stable software systems.
What are Pros & Cons of using a staging site?
When talking about external features, there’s always a chance to have some drawbacks. In the case of staging sites, the pros tend to outweigh the cons.
Here are a few of the pros:
- Can be reproduced either online or offline. As a result, you can work on development and design even when offline.
- Learn about bugs, errors, and other critical issues ahead of time.
- Build better sites and features since you can thoroughly test them before submitting to live.
And here are some of the cons:
- If you go with a host-provided version, then you’re likely to incur additional service costs. Depends on your needs, since a local version is always possible to set up.
- Development might slow down as you spend more time checking for bugs and other errors.
All in all, hard to justify not to go for it.
How to create a staging environment for a WordPress site?
Creating a staging site for WordPress-oriented sites is surprisingly simple. In most cases, you’re going to be using a plugin but potentially use a staging environment service provided by your hosting company.
Let’s explore all of the options.
Option #1: Your hosting provider
Using a staging environment provided by your hosting provider is one way to guarantee consistency. Also, it’s generally quite easy to set one up.
Pushing your staging environment to live
Another advantage to provider-level staging sites is that you can typically push new changes to your live site instantaneously. This would also counter one of the points we made earlier, about losing time.
But you have to check with your host individually. Kinsta is one of the WordPress hosting companies providing this service.
Option #2: Using a plugin
Where would WordPress be without its fantastic plugin library? It seems like there is a plugin for just about anything these days, and that includes staging sites.
Here’s us highlighting two prominent choices.
This duplication-based plugin lets you copy your production site into a new development site within minutes. The way it works is quite simple. You navigate to the plugins’ dashboard, click Copy and whola — your clone is getting prepared.
Of course, this sounds easy on paper, but there are a lot of things happening in the background, too.
The plugin has to copy files and the database and has to make sure that all links are working correctly. With that in mind, WP Staging is a wonderful plugin to use.
This plugin also has a Pro version, which adds features such as Push Changes to your staging site. Meaning, you can apply changes directly to the live site without having to do it twice.
More than 30,000 WordPress users use WP Staging, so you’re in good hands!
Another solution that you can use is WP Stagecoach, albeit this one only offers a free trial, and is otherwise a premium product. That said, it might be worth the investment based on the fact that WP Stagecoach has a lot more features.
- One-click installation. Works fast. Set a custom URL, and choose whether you want to Disable caching and/or add a Password to your new staging site.
- Password protection. If you work with clients, you can show a preview of their design project and protect the page using a password.
- Native SSL support. Don’t risk letting data slip through and activate SSL on your newly created development site. Easy and effective!
- Database merging. Probably the unique feature of our staging plugin, which you can’t get anywhere else: it merges databases. E.g., Your production site can operate as usual, and when you import new changes from staging, your existing database data isn’t affected.
To conclude, the WP Stagecoach plugin feels more appropriate for client-based projects where you need some flexibility.
Option #3: Localhost
Your third and last option is to do everything locally.
It’s free, and you get much faster access to the development process, on top of being able to customize your site offline.
Localhost-based staging sites are quite popular amongst software development companies, but work perfectly with WordPress sites, too.
XAMPP is an entirely free, easy to install Apache distribution containing MariaDB, PHP, and Perl. The XAMPP open source package has been set up to be incredibly easy to install and to use.
Also, even though XAMPP is a flawless local development environment, there are tools provided to help you push your staging sites to production, E.g., You can push your XAMPP applications to cloud providers such as Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud.
Bitnami offers independent Stacks that you can use as cloud-based, as a container, or a local installation on your computer.
The Bitnami Stack for WordPress lets you get a WordPress site going in one-click. It’s available for Unix, MacOS, and Windows machines. And it’s a lot of fun to work on your site locally if you have never done it before. If you need help in setting up the local server, then check out this online training.
Lastly, Bitnami provides support for a lot of the most popular content management systems on the web. Take a closer look at their App Catalog to see what’s up for grabs.
You never know, you might find something that you have meant to try out but never had a chance.
Creating a development site for WordPress is easier than you thought!
Most importantly, by creating this staging site, you can ensure that your live website is protected from unexpected accidents or hack.
With so many free and beautiful choices presented, there’s no excuse not to get a staging environment rolling for your project.