If you want to update your WordPress website but don't want your readers to experience buggy and broken pages while you work out the issues, you need a controlled test environment.
That's exactly what a WordPress staging site provides. It's a private copy of your public website, and you can mess around with it without affecting the live site.
In this guide, I'll walk you through how to change WordPress theme without going live by creating a staging site using the WP Staging plugin. Afterward, I'll discuss some alternative ways you can create a WordPress staging site.
Here is a list of steps on how to make a WordPress staging site:
- Create a backup of your WordPress site
- Install the WP Staging plugin
- Activate and start the plugin
- Create your staging site
- Log in to your staging site and implement changes
- Push changes to your live site
1. Create a Backup of Your WordPress Site
This may seem unnecessary but, trust me, it isn't. If you make an error or experience a hardware failure while creating a WordPress staging server, you might irreparably damage your WordPress files. That means it's vital you create a complete backup of your directory before continuing.
To create a backup, you can use a plugin such as WP Database backup, which is one of the most straightforward WordPress backup plugins available. By following this guide, you can also create a manual backup through your server's control panel.
2. Install the WP Staging Plugin
Now it's time to start building your WordPress test site before going live. There are a number of ways to do this, and I'll discuss some alternative methods below.
However, for now, I'm going to focus on a method that uses the WP Staging plugin.
Why? Because it's very user-friendly and is the fastest way to create a WordPress staging site.
To get started, head over to the WordPress plugin directory.
You can access it by clicking 'Plugins' and then 'Add New' in your WordPress sidebar:
In the top right-hand search field, search for 'WP Staging'. Next, find the plugin named 'WP Staging - DB & File Duplicator & Migration' and click the 'Install Now' button.
3. Activate and Start the Plugin
Before you can use the WP Staging plugin, it will need to be activated from your plugin directory. To do that, open the 'Installed Plugins' section of your sidebar...
And, under WP staging, press 'Activate'.
4. Create Your Staging Site
Now that you've activated the WP staging plugin, it will appear as it's own section in your WordPress sidebar. Open it, skip the message that advertises the 'Pro' version of the plugin and click 'Create New Staging Site'.
Before the plugin creates your staging site, you will be given the opportunity to change various options. In most cases, you won't need to do anything except enter a name for the staged site.
However, if you only have a limited amount of space on your server, you can unselect options such as 'wp_comments' from the drop-down 'DB Tables' menu.
Once you've set your options, click 'Start Cloning'.
Now just sit back and wait for your staged site to be completed. This process will probably go off without a hitch, but it's worth keeping an eye on the code window for any error messages.
5. Log in to Your Staging Site and Implement Changes
When WP Staging has finished creating your staging site, it will provide you with a link to it.
You will need to log in using the same credentials you use to access your normal WordPress dashboard. Although the staging site will be assigned its own URL, nobody without knowledge of your admin password will be able to access it.
You can now enter the WordPress of your staging site and make any changes you want. It's easy to tell if you're editing your staging site rather than your live WordPress website because the bar at the top of your screen will turn orange:
6. Push Changes to Live Site
When you're finished experimenting with your staging site, you will likely want to apply your modifications to your live site too. Unfortunately, with the free version of the WP Staging plugin, this cannot be done automatically, so you will need to manually recreate the changes from within your live WordPress.
If you are willing to pay for it, the $100 WP Staging Pro plugin upgrade allows you to push changes from your staging website to your live site in a single click. There are other bonuses to using the pro version too. For example, you can create multiple staging sites and stage subsections of your site separately, for example.
If you decide to purchase the upgrade, you can push changes to your live site by following this extra step:
Enter the WP Staging Pro section of your WordPress sidebar. Ensure the same database table boxes that were selected when you created your staging site are ticked now. This will guarantee that every change you've made will be reflected on your live site.
Then click the 'Push to Live Site' button and wait. It will take a few minutes for the changes to be transferred to your live server. Once done, that's it! You have now successfully applied the modifications that you have made on your staging server to your live WordPress site.
Alternative Ways to Create a Staging Site
As mentioned above, WP Staging is by no means the only way you can create a staging site for your WordPress server. Here are a few alternatives worth considering:
Use a host with in-built staging functions
Picking a web host that provides automatic staging functionality is another extremely easy way to create a staged version of your WordPress server. Both CloudWays and SiteGround offer 1-click staging. Unfortunately, to go down this route, you will need to migrate your entire server to a new host if your current service does not offer server staging.
Do it manually
Using cPanel, you can manually install WordPress on one of your server's unused subdomains. Then you'll have to manually copy the entirety of your WordPress database to it using phpMyAdmin. When you're ready to implement changes, simply copy the database back again. Simple? Well... No, not really. This method requires a fair bit of technical knowledge, so I don't recommend it for beginners.
However, if you wish to do so, this WordPress backup tutorial will help you find out how to download a database of your website.
Use an alternative plugin
You might well have noticed that WP Staging isn't the only staging plugin in the WordPress plugin directory. WP Stage Coach is another decent option. With this plugin alternative, it won't overwrite your database when pushing changes, reducing the risk of breaking your live site, so it's worth shopping around before choosing the plugin you'd like to set up a WordPress staging site with.
Set Up a WordPress Staging Site - Avoid Crashing Your Website
Before making any big changes to your website, let's say changing a theme, layout, or trying out new plugins - spare some time to create a staging site. Playing around with the major changes in a controlled and private environment first will help you avoid a broken website and lost data.
What's your experience with WordPress staging sites? Maybe there's a method or a plugin you prefer that's not mentioned here? Comment down below!