How can I test WordPress without everyone seeing the test site?

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Customers who want to start using the powerful WordPress CMS software sometimes ask if there’s a way to make sure the site isn’t visible to the public while they test it (this is often called “staging”).

If you’re installing WordPress on a brand new domain name with no existing content, a plugin called WP Maintenance Mode can do this. Just install WordPress normally, add that plugin, and you’ll be able to view and test the site while showing other people a special “coming soon” page.

The rest of this page has suggestions for a couple of other cases, too:

Creating a one-time “staging” site that you eventually want to make “live”

Customers who already have an active site with us, but want to switch to a new copy of WordPress in the future, need a way to leave their old site visible to the public while they test the new WordPress site.

You can do this by installing a new copy of WordPress in a subdirectory as a first step, then configuring it as you want it to look, then making it visible at the top level when you’re ready to take the final step:

1. Install WordPress normally in a new directory

As a first step, you should install WordPress the usual way, choosing the “in a directory” option. The new directory name you choose doesn’t matter, but we recommend calling it wordpress.

Installing WordPress in a new directory will not affect the existing appearance of your website.

Tip: Use the real domain name for the staging site.

Developing a new site as a directory of the real final domain name is much simpler than developing it on a different temporary domain name. That’s because moving WordPress between domain names is hard (you’d need to move the database, too), but moving WordPress within the same domain name is easy (you won't need to move the database, and we’ll be glad to move the files for you for free).

In addition, some third-party WordPress plugins and themes use licensing schemes that are tied to a particular hostname, causing them to stop working if you move them to a different domain name (or even to a different subdomain). Using a directory of the intended final domain name avoids this.

2. Configure and test your site

Once you’ve installed it, configure the WordPress site just as you’d like, and test it. Again, this will not affect your main site.

(If you want to start the new site as a copy of an existing WordPress site, you can use the WP Clone plugin to copy the original site’s content to the temporary staging site.)

3. Make WordPress “live”

When you’re ready, the final step is to move your “staging” WordPress copy to the top level of your site. We’ll be glad to to do this for you.

Creating a permanent “test” site

The instructions above talk about creating a separate “staging” site in a subdirectory, modifying the staging site until it looks perfect, then making the staging site be a live site.

Some people want to do something different: Create a separate WordPress site as a permanent “test area” that they never intend to use as the real site. This is a good way to experiment with different themes or plugins. It’s really no different from the “temporary staging site” described above, except that since you have no expectation of using it as the real site, you don’t necessarily need to duplicate all of the original site, and you don’t need to be particularly careful not to ruin anything — you can experiment as much as you want.

One way to do this is to use a third-party plugin like WP Staging. The free version of that plugin allows you to create staging areas as part of your existing site; the paid “Pro” version allows you to replace the live site with a staging one you’ve tested.

Alternately, you can just create a second WordPress site yourself. To do this, install a separate copy of WordPress, choosing the “in a directory” option. The new directory name you choose doesn’t matter, but you may want to call it something like test-site.

Then create a couple of “dummy” posts and pages in order to see what the content will look like (or use the WP Clone plugin if you want to copy all of an existing small site). Now you can experiment with the test site as much as you want, making sure that plugin and theme changes are “safe” before you make the same change on your main site.

Can I duplicate my live site as a staging site?

Customers occasionally ask how to duplicate a copy of their live WordPress site into a “staging“ area, often to test updates, or to try out new themes without changing anything on the live site.

A third-party plugin like WP Staging can do this. Other plugins can copy an existing site in different ways, including the WP Clone plugin and the WordPress Duplicator plugin.

If you don’t want to use something like that, you should consider whether a full “staging“ site — one that’s a complete copy of the live site, including all the data — is more trouble than it’s worth for testing routine plugin or theme updates. It’s often more complicated to properly duplicate a site like that than it is to apply the updates to a live site and quickly roll them back if they cause an issue. (You can make an extra backup before you try any updates, then restore that backup yourself if you encounter any problems.) Modern versions of WordPress also offer built in protection against plugin and theme updates causing errors that would prevent a site from working properly, making updates even less likely to cause trouble.

If you don't want to use a plugin and prefer that we make a full copy, that’s also an option. This would normally count as a paid WordPress migration with a fee, but we waive the fee the first time we’re asked for a given account. Just contact us if you’d like us to duplicate an existing copy of WordPress. (Duplicating a site may take up to one business day.)