How to work with Flywheel staging sites

I wrote a comparison post of my favorite hosts awhile back and it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Flywheel. They excel most notably in their seamless hand-off of customer billing.

But there’s one area they’ve historically fallen a short of some other managed WordPress hosts:

Flywheel Staging Sites.

The good news is that Flywheel now offers staging sites (still in beta)! Woohoo!

I’d like to give you a brief overview of staging in general and then show you the process in action on a Flywheel site.

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Staging Sites: A Quick Synopsis

What is a staging site, you ask? It’s a copy of your live site (both files and database) to a staging area on a temporary domain. From there, you can make content updates, test out new plugins, and generally mess around in an environment that’s identical to your live site, but doesn’t impact your live site (yay!).

It’s an environment where you… stage changes, safely.

Assuming all goes well and your updates are a success, you can then replace your live site with your staging site.

For future updates you just rinse & repeat.

Mind you, the concept of a staging site is nothing new. WP Engine has long offered this feature to their customers. But, for those who want to use Flywheel, this feature addition is great news.

Setting up a Flywheel Staging Site

Let’s take a look at the specifics of how to set up a staging site with Flywheel and then copy the staging site back over to the live site. It’s gloriously straight-forward.

Step 1. Enable Staging

Once you’ve logged into your account and are in your dashboard, look for the Advanced tab. Click it.

From there you’ll see a button to toggle on/off staging capabilities. Click it!

flywheel dashboard

Step 2. No really, enable staging.

Ok, this is a little reminiscent of Windows where you get pop-ups to ask if you really meant to click that button. Why, yes! I did – thank you for asking, Flywheel!

Go ahead, enter your password, and complete the process by clicking the Enable Staging button.

Enable Staging on Flywheel

Congrats – you have successfully set up a staged version of your existing site!

Options for working with a staged site

Once you’ve enabled staging, you’ll notice a new tab in your Flywheel dashboard named — you guessed it — Staging.

Go ahead and click on the Staging tab and then we’ll walk through the elements on that page.

Flywheel staging page overview

Staging Options page

1 – The Staging Tab

Click this anytime you want to view details for your staged site.

2 – Your Staging Domain

This is the temporary URL where you can view your staged site.

3 – Password to view your staged site

By default, you’re staging domain is NOT available for the world to see. That’s a good thing. Use the generated username and password to view the site

(Note: This is not a WordPress username/password – more on that later)

4 – Options

You have the ability to flush the cache or enable WP_DEBUG on your staging site. Cool, because that stuff comes in handy.

You also have the option to Reset your staging environment. This is super duper important. Every time you click Reset staging, it pulls over a fresh copy of your live site. As noted beside the button, when you click it, any changes on your staging site are lost.

5 – Make those changes live!

Once you’ve made all the changes you want to your staged site, click the Move staging changes to live site site. The button does exactly what it says.

Miscellaneous, but good things to know about

There’s just a few other details you should note before you try staging.

No backup

Okay, this isn’t really a gotcha, but it is worth a mention. Flywheel does a lovely job of backing up your site every day, but this backup does not include your staged site. Staging sites aren’t intended to “be around” for very long. They’re designed to get in, make changes, and send those changes back to live. You could create your own backup if you’d like, but unless you’re using that site for a while, I personally wouldn’t bother.

WordPress users

Since a staged site is an exact replica of your existing site, all of your same user logins and passwords are they same. Once you get past the first Flywheel password prompt that keeps your site away from prying eyes, go about using and working with your staged site as you would with any WordPress install.

Database & Files

You can get access to your staged site’s database and files just like you would your regular site. From the staging page, you’ll see some find your database table prefix so that you can find which set of tables belong to the staged site.

Likewise, your files are accessible via SFTP right next to your live site files. The only difference is that _staging is appended to the folder name.

Duplicate folders

I reckon that’s the scoop. Are there other features you’d like to see in a staging environment (Flywheel or other)? Leave a comment and do tell!

9 thoughts on “How to work with Flywheel staging sites”

  1. This is awesome, and at the perfect time for me 🙂 I’m currently working on a new site design and just had the guys enable Staging for me to try it out. Thanks for the info Carrie!!!

    1. You can push a button to copy live to staging at any time – totally automated (and darn near immediate). Moving staging to live will leave the staging site in place.

  2. Carrie:

    I use Flywheel, but am having some problems moving a live Flywheel site back into DesktopServer using the Duplicator plugin recommended by ServerPress, which isn’t a surprise given Flywheel’s custom setup. Using the backup copy from Flywheel also doesn’t work, because the archive doesn’t include the database. Do you have a recommended, relatively fast process if you have to move a live site from Flywheel back to DesktopServer for more serious development?

    Colston

  3. Hi Carrie,

    I have staged my website for changing the theme. I used WP Staging plugin. Now, I’m done polishing my site and want to move the staged site back to live. How is that done? I mean as easy as I staged my site with WP Staging. Appearently, WP Staging does not have a “move back to live” option (yet)…

    Thanks for your reply
    Yener

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