Every time a new version of WordPress is released, some people will experience compatibility problems with their sites. These can be minor and easily resolved, or they can be more tricky to diagnose. Either way, especially for non-developers, such problems are a little scary, particularly if they make your website inaccessible or unusable.
One way to ease the stress of an upgrade, or to experiment with any changes you may want to make on your site, is to create a sandbox, or testing site. The video below shows you how you can easily do that using free tools.
If you use WP Engine or another managed WordPress host, you have access to a staging area, which allows you to make a duplicate of your site with one click.You can then use this staging area to test out upgrades, plugins, theme changes etc.
If your host doesn’t offer you a staging environment, you have a couple of other options:
- Run a duplicate site on a local installation of WordPress. Local means it’s not accessible via the internet, only on your computer.
- Use a spare domain to create a duplicate of your site. This would be live on the internet to anyone that had the web address.
I prefer option 1 because it’s more secure. If you set up a live dummy site you either need to delete it after your tests, or you need to maintain it just like you would any other site to maintain security. When people forget about their test sites they then forget to update plugins, WordPress etc and they tend to be easier targets for hackers. This tutorial focuses on option 1.
Keep scrolling for the text version of the instructions!
Set up a local test site on your computer
Local is a free tool from the company behind WP Engine which allows you to easily run WordPress on your computer.
You don’t have to create an account, just click the link that says “download for free”.
2) Install the Duplicator plugin on your live site.
Create a Package and download the Archive file to a folder on your computer
3) Launch Local.
Then all you need to do is locate the zip file you downloaded from Duplicator, and just drag it over the Local window. Like magic it will scan the archive and set up the site.
4) Choose the environment
In the environment settings, I recommend trying to match what your live site has, for best compatibility. If you are not sure, then use the default “preferred” settings in Local.
Then you’re done and your site is ready to go!
There is only one caveat. If you are on a Mac, the SSL process sometimes requires these extra steps.
It’s a small pain, but only takes a couple of minutes.
After you complete the onscreen steps, navigate to your dev url and boom! – there’s a duplicate of your live site running locally on your computer. Congrats, you’re a genius!
Now you can test away, run the upgrade, see if any plugins need replacing etc. Then you will know exactly what needs to be done on your live site to ensure a smooth upgrade.