Last Updated on March 9, 2021 by Obaro Alidou K.
Want to setup a staging area in WordPress? But you don’t know where to start and how to do it properly? This guide is made for you.
In this post, I will share with you #4 easy ways to create a free WordPress staging site so that you can test new features, plugins, and themes without the risk of breaking your live site.
What is a WordPress Staging Site?
Also knows as development or testing website, a WordPress staging site is a clone of your website that is not available to the public. It is a production environment to make changes before pushing them on your actual website. So changes you make on your staging site do not affect your existing or live site.
Why Do You Need A Staging Site?
As a WordPress site owner, maintenance is a key principle of site security. There are plugins and themes’ updates nearly every month/week. Plus the WordPress core updates usually come with some interesting changes and security patches. While it is important to keep your site up to date, there is a high risk of breaking it during those maintenance processes.
So how do you make major updates on your WordPress site without the risk of harming it? By setting up a staging area. A WordPress staging or test site helps:
- Test new features (that come with WordPress core updates) to be sure they work without any risk of affecting your actual site.
- Troubleshoot plugins issues without spreading the problem to your live site.
- Test each new plugin, theme, update, and element you want to add to your site before pushing it to the public site.
In short, for major changes, you need a WordPress staging site for testing before going live.
#4 Easy Ways To Setup Staging Area In WordPress
There is a bunch of ways for creating a staging area in WordPress. However, since this post is for beginners, we are going to discuss the 4 easiest ways of setting up a WordPress staging site– No coding skill required. Let’s get in…
#1. Setup Staging Site With Your Managed WordPress Host
Creating a staging site with your web host is the most user-friendly option out there. Most managed WordPress hosting providers like Kinsta and BIONICWP include a built-in 1-click staging feature. You will just have to click a button to get the job done. If you want the easiest and safest way to set up a WordPress staging site, going with one of these managed WordPress hosts is the perfect bet.
Create WordPress Staging Sites with Kinsta and BIONICWP
These hosts offer the best and safest way to create a WordPress staging site as the environment is already pre-built. The only thing you need to do is to click on a button. So with them you are not creating, you are just accessing the staging area with a single click.
#2. Create WordPress Staging Site in CPanel with Softaculous App Installer
Not everyone can drop $25/mo for managed WordPress hosting. Thankfully, there is another way to create a free WordPress staging site using your usual control panel. If your web host provides the traditional cPanel, then you can set a staging site without any hassle.
In fact, cPanel comes with the popular SOFTACULOUS APP INSTALLER which normally includes a 2-click staging feature. So, unless your web host has tweaked and removed it, you should be able to set up a free WordPress staging site with 2 clicks only. Here is how…
Create WordPress Test Site with FastComet
- Go to Softaculous’ WordPress Overview Page in cPanel
Login to your cPanel, scroll down to the Softaculous App Installer section and click on the WordPress icon.
- Click The Staging Icon Provided by Softaculous
On the WordPress overview page, scroll down to find the list of your WordPress installs. Then, locate the site you want to create staging for and click on the staging icon.
- Choose Your Staging Site URL And Create The Site
Now, fill in the details of your staging site and click on “Create Staging” and you are done.
Here you are asked many things. But, only one is required: the URL. It is just a modifier you add to your domain name to make the difference with your actual site. I like adding the word “test” or “staging” as it is a testing site but feel free to add whatever you would like. In the screenshot, my staging site is ecomedec.com/test.
Staging site URL: yourdomain.com/modifier
WP-admin URL: yourdomain.com/modifier/wp-admin
From now, you can access your WordPress staging site’s dashboard by using the credential of your actual site. It is that easy!
Create Staging Site with A2 Hosting
A2 Hosting is more flexible since they provide a 1-Click WordPress staging feature as most managed WordPress hosting providers. So you have two options: You can just follow the exact steps as with FastComet above, or use the 1-Click option. Below is how to create staging area with A2 Hosting using the 1-Click staging button.
- Login to cPanel
That is easy. Just go to your cPanel as you would normally.
- Locate A2 Hosting 1-Click Staging button
Find the Staging Button and click on it.
- Fill in the required info and launch the site
Again, this process might not work for everyone so just use the Softaculous option as described just above.
Setup WordPress Staging Area With ChemiCloudAnd Other Hosts
Some hosting providers highly tweak the Softaculous App Installer and remove or block the staging feature included. That is to limit the resource or to force customers to buy their managed WordPress hosting plans.
However, most web hosts will add custom features to cPanel instead of removing. If you are using hosts like ChemiCloud, the process is the same as with FastComet (discussed above). This is also true for any other web hosting company that uses cPanel control panel.
Ultimately, if you follow the process through cPanel and it doesn’t work for you (meaning your host has blocked the feature), there are still two other easy ways to create staging sites which I’m going to show you just below.
#3. Setup Staging Site In WordPress Using A Plugin
Plugins are the power of WordPress. No matter what you are looking to accomplish in WordPress, there is at least one plugin that helps and creating staging sites is no exception.
Create a WordPress Staging Site With WP Staging Plugin
WP Staging plugin is one of the most popular and also easiest to use for setting up a staging site.
1. Go to Plugins > > > Add New from your WordPress dashboard.
2. Search for “WP Staging”, install, and activate the plugin.
3. Upon activation, go to WP Staging > > > Sites/Start
4. Click the blue “CREATE NEW STAGING SITE” button
5. Enter Sating site name and click “START CLONING“
The staging site name is nothing more than a modifier that is added to your domain name. Choose somithing simple like “test” or “staging”.
6. Waite for the process to complete
It may take a few minutes for the process to complete depending on your site size so be a bit patient.
Once the process has competed, your staging will be ready for use. Just use the URL: yourdomain.com/modifier/wp-admin and use your real website credentials to access the staging site’s WordPress dashboard.
#4. Develop WordPress Staging Environment Manually
When your web host doesn’t allow staging areas by anyway and you don’t want to use a plugin (I don’t like it either), you can still get your staging environment manually. I’m not talking about the mumbo jumbo of root document, public_html/staging, FTP, phpMyAdmin, and wp-config.php. I’m talking about an easy to follow process that everyone can do without modifying any sensitive or complex file.
The manual process involves two things:
- Creating a sub-domain in cPanel
- Using a Backup plugin
Let me show you how it works…
- Setup A Sub-domain In CPanel And Install WordPress
Even if your host doesn’t allow staging sites, he can’t prevent you from creating a sub-domain. So we are just going to create one, make a copy of your WordPress site, then past it to that sub-domain and you will have your staging site!
First, login to your cPanel and create a sub-domain under the Domain section. Once created, go and install WordPress on it as you would usually.
Note: use the same username and password as for your live site. This ensures you don’t have to deal with credential change after pushing the staging site to live.
- Install All-In-One WP Migration Plugin
Now, you need a clone or a copy of your site. The easiest way to get it is by using backup plugins. I recommend you the All-In-One-WP Migration plugin as it is the easiest to use.
So go to Plugins >> Add New from your WP dashboard, search for the All-In-One WP Migration, install and activate the plugin (this is on your actual WordPress site).
- Backup Your Site Using The All-In-One WP Migration
After activating the plugin, go to All-One-WP Migration >> Export still from your dashboard.
Next, click “EXPORT TO” and choose “FILE“. This will allow you to download the backup to your local computer.
It might take a few minutes for the plugin to create a backup of your site depending on its size.
Once the backup is ready, click on DOWNLOAD to save the copy of your site to your local computer.
Note: If you have IDM (Internet Download Manager) installed on your PC, use it for the download to speed up the process. Just right click on the green button and choose “Download with IDM”.
- Import Your WordPress Site To The Sub-Domain
After making a copy of your site, you now need to past that copy to the sub-domain which will be your staging environment.
To do so, log in to the sub-domain’s WordPress dashboard. Then, install the All-In-One WP Migration plugin as well, and activate it.
After you activate the plugin, go to All-One-WP Migration >> Import this time.
Next, click ” IMPORT FROM” and select ” FILE” again.
Select the backup you have just downloaded from your local storage and wait for the plugin to import the files. This process might take a while depending on the backup’s size.
Once the import process is done, you will be shown a warning message like this:
“The import process will overwrite your website including the database, media, plugins, and themes. Please ensure that you have a backup of your data before proceeding to the next step.”
Click “PROCEED” to confirm and you are all set!
Your staging site: the sub-domain
Staging site admin URL: sub-domain/wp-admin
Let’s summarize the process:
- Install WordPress on a sub-domain
- Make a copy of your WordPress site
- Import the copy to the sub-domain
And that it’s!
How To Make A Staging Site Go Live
After creating and making changes to your staging site, the last step is to make these changes go live so that the public can see them.
While the process is simple (just one click), it is not always safe. In fact, sometimes, you might get just part of the changes deployed during the transition, or worse, no changes deployed. In both cases, it translates into a website crash. So before using this automatic push option, it is recommended to make sure you always have a recent backup of your site (just in case).
Nonetheless, the safest way to push the changes to your live site is through the manual option. This means if you test a feature, plugin, or WordPress theme on the staging site and it works, just go to your actual site and perform the same. This is the best way to avoid transition risks.
Staging area is the perfect place to play around with changes before they go live on your actual site. The most effective way to set up a WordPress staging site is through the built-in 1-click staging from premium WordPress hosts.
But as not every type of business needs this kind of hosting, you can also use the Softaculous App Installer through cPanel or just a plugin to set up your staging site. And you can use the manual option as well which in my opinion provides more freedom.
Anyway, pushing the changes to your live site automatically with a button might sometimes be risky (just sometimes). So the safest way is to do it manually (if you have the time).
Hope it helps.
Any question? Get your voice heard in the comment section below.
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