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 temporary “staging” site that you eventually want to make “live”

Customers who already have an active site with us, but want to switch to 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.

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.

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

Note that developing it as a directory of the intended 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 can do it 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.

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.

Our general advice is that “staging“ sites are usually more trouble than they’re worth for testing routine plugin or theme updates. It’s more complicated to properly duplicate a site than it is to apply the updates to a live site and 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.

For customers who do want to create a duplicate of their existing site to test more complicated changes, it’s possible to copy an existing site using the WordPress Duplicator plugin or similar software.

If you'd like us to do it for you, 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.)