Yesterday, I wrote about why you need a staging server.

Assuming you’re convinced that you need one, you’re probably wondering how (or where) to get one.

The answer to that question depends on a few things.

If you’re using a freebee website service, you’re probably out of luck. You get what you pay for.

If you have a web hosting provider, you’ll need to check the particulars of your hosting plan. Your plan needs two things (and maybe a third):

1. You need to be able to create a subdomain.

The easiest way to think of a subdomain is that it’s a “website within a website”. For example, if your website is http://mycoolwebsite.com, a subdomain would be a completely different website that lives within that main website, at say http://anotherwebsite.mycoolwebsite.com. Depending on your hosting provider accessing this may look different. On my cPanel at SiteGround it looks like this:

cPanel Subdomains

2. You need to be able to create more than one website on your hosting account.

Again, check your account details. Often the cheapest hosting plans will only allow one website per account. It’s another you-get-what-you-pay-for thing. But if you’re serious about your site, it’s probably worth the cost to upgrade your hosting.

3. (If your website uses a database, make sure your web hosting allows you to have more than one.)

Ok, now what?

Once you know you’ve got the hosting you need, all that’s necessary is to create a subdomain for your staging site. staging.mycoolwebsite.com is kind of a no-brainer.

Then you copy all the files from your main site into the staging site’s folder. If you need to, you can make a copy of your database (on a cPanel web host you probably have a tool called phpMyAdmin that will allow you to “export” your database, create a new database and then “import” your data. You’ll also have to change the configuration file(s) of the staging version of your website to access the staging version of the database. (I’ll show you how to do this in an upcoming post.)

One last thing to do: directory protect the staging site.

You don’t want the whole world looking at your staging site after all. Again, in a cPanel host, this is pretty straightforward. Find your Password Protect Directories icon. Clicking on it will give you a list of directories on your hosting. Find the directory for your staging site (if you called your subdomain “staging”, your subdomain’s directory is probably something like /public_html/staging) and follow the prompts.

cPanel Password Protect Directories

That’s it! You now have an exact copy of your site you can mess with without embarrassing yourself in front of all your fans. Congratulations!

Next week:

Photo Credit: Boston Public Library