If you update your WordPress files, or your plugin files on your live site you are risking taking your whole site down. Hang around any online forum or Facebook group for a little while and you are 100% sure to hear the horror stories about ‘white screen of death’ or ‘can’t get into my site’ or ‘nothing works after the last update’. To keep your live site safe I want to show you how to update WordPress using a staging site. You will be so glad you found this blog post.
What is a staging site?
A staging site is an exact duplicate of your current site running in the exact same technical environment. To be a real staging site it needs to run on your current server. If you were to duplicate your site on another server then you are not going to see the full picture when you test out your updates.
Why use a staging site?
A staging site is really useful to test out changes in way that won’t disrupt your main, working site. I use staging sites when I test out updates, when I test speed improvements or when I want to test a new WordPress plugin. When I change clients sites I like to show them updates first on a staging site. I have heard clients complain about dodgy web developers or designers who change the main site directly and break something or leave it in a mess. As staging site ensures your main site will always look great while development work is going on behind the scenes.
How do you create a staging site?
Some hosting packages allow you to create a staging site from within your hosting account control panel. So, ask your hosting supplier if you have this feature. If you do then you can use it to test your changes then ‘push’ your changes to your live site. Push changes just means to update your main site with the changes you have made on your staging site.
If you don’t have this feature then you can use a plugin. I recommend using WP staging https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-staging/, it’s free to use the basic features which is enough fo the budget conscious entrepreneur.
Once you have downloaded the plugin and activated it, you wi want to create your staging site.
Before you create your site, please back up your website incase anything goes wrong.
In the left hand admin panel of your WordPress dashboard, go to WP_staging -> Sites / Start
Click on ‘Create New Staging Site’
Give your staging site a name, I use ‘Staging’, and click ‘Start Cloning’. Your staging site will now be created.
Once it has been created you can visit your staging site at www.yoursite.com/staging (if you used staging as the name) and log in using your normal login credentials. Only logged in users can see your staging site so if you mess it up it’s OK – no one will know!
What to do once you have your staging site set up
Before you make your changes you need to be clear in your mind what you are updating and how you are going to test your site to see if the changes were successful. If you are updating a plugin you might want to list out the functions you should test to give you peace of mind. E.g if it is WooCommerce then would you like to make a test purchase to see if its all working well?
If you don’t want to test specific functionality then you can do a visual check of certain pages. I manage updates for several clients and for most of the sites I visually check 5 pages for them to make sure everything looks ok.
Once you are clear on what you want to check, make your update. I advise doing one update at a time just incase something breaks, you will know which plugin was responsible.
What to do if an update breaks your WordPress website?
If something breaks then you need to find what broke it. If it was a plugin then you know NOT to update that plugin on your main site. If it was the WordPress core files then you know NOT to update those on your live site. In this situation you should wait for another release, test it and see if it’s any better. Sometimes you might find the faulty plugin never gets updated. If this is the case you must replace the plugin with something else. Plugins that become incompatible with WordPress and don’t get updated are a huge security risk. Replace them as soon as you can with something else.
What to do if all the tests pass?
If everything passes then you are free to update your main site. If you have the pro version of the plugin or you have staging including in your hosting package you can ‘Push’ changes to your live site without having to do anything else (of corse still take a backup before you do this just incase).
If you are on a budget and only have the free plugin then you just need to repeat the changes you made on the staging site on your live site. It just takes a little bit more time.
After you have updated your site
Test your changes again just to make sure everything is ok. If not then you need to revert to your backup and call for help. I’ve never known an update to pass on a staging site then fail on a live site so this scenario is extremely rare but if it happens it will need much closer investigation than I can go into in this blog post.
Assuming everything is ok, then you have two options. Disable the plugin. It’s good practice to disable anything you are not using. This helps your site load quicker and reduces security risks. Your other option is to delete the plugin and only download it again when you need it. This will make sure your WordPress admin is nice a clean. It’s your call which option to go for.
Always test your changes on a staging site. If you cut corners here, you risk taking down your entire website. Sometimes you need to call a developer to get it back again. I don’t want that for you. Please take the advice in this blog post, one day you will be so glad you did.
That being said, if you ever find your site has broken after an update do give me a shout. I can probably fix it for you. And if you don’t want ANY this hassle on your plate then get in touch with me, I offer WordPress maintenance packages designed to give you the ultimate peace of mind.
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