If you have a website that accepts and/or processes sensitive information, like credit cards, or updates databases, or both, you need a staging website.
Why Do You Need A Staging Website?
Because if you implement a code change or install a plugin update without testing it first on a live (production) website, you could cause all types of problems. Those problems will probably require downtime and could result in a lower reputation. In serious cases, you can lose vital data which you may or may not be able to restore from a backup.
I use a staging website for my ecommerce website to test updates for WordPress plugins. Mostly because I want to make sure these updates do not break my website. Also, I want to verify the updates do not reduce the security I have in place.
So if a plugin update causes problems with another plugin, or if I see some general weirdness going on with my test website, I know not to update my production website. Thus, I saved myself a ton of time having to fix my website. Also, this exercise kept me from becoming stressed out.
How Can You Set Up A Staging Website?
Now this depends on what framework you use to build and/or host your website.
If you use self-hosted WordPress, check with your web hosting company to see how you can created a staging website there. My web hosting company uses Softaculous to install and maintain the WordPress installations, and they made it very easy to create a staging website. Again, check the Help Section or the Knowledge Base section of your web hosting company for assistance.
Now, you can use certain application to setup a local staging environment for your WordPress site. This means your changes aren’t saved to a web host but instead on your computer. If you want to push those changes to your live website, you will have to copy and paste the files, or transfer the changes via SFTP. WordPress has some suggestions listed here. However, you can find more alternatives by searching. One popular application is Local from Flywheel.
You Need Your Staging Website To Be Exactly Like Your Live Website
To fully verify that any and all changes and/or updates will not break your live site, your test website must be exactly the same. That means if you have a database on your live site, you need the same type (but filled with test data) on your staging environment.
If you’re using certain APIs or frameworks, then you need those installed on your staging website too. You never know what change could break an API or require additional updates.
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