How to create a development environment

This guide will show you how to create a development environment. It applies to our specialized software configuration which makes use of Plesk 12.5 (or newer) control panel and Installatron for easy web application management. If you are not hosted with us, but your web host uses these tools as well, then this guide will work great for you too.

Begin by Logging in to Plesk.

Part 1: Create subdomain

We’ll start by creating a development subdomain. Please note that if your DNS is not hosted with us (ie: managed within Plesk alongside your website) then you will need to create the subdomain DNS A record wherever your DNS is hosted.

  1.  In Plesk, choose the “Add Subdomain” button
  2. You can enter whatever you like for the name. We suggest “dev” or “new”.
  3. Be sure to select the correct parent domain — this should be the domain you’re making a development environment for.
  4. If you wish to customize the document root folder name, go for it! Sometimes we prefer to use ‘development’ rather than ‘dev.<domain>’ as the folder name. It’s up to you.
  5. Press the OK button to save your changes.

Part 2: Clone the application

  1. In Plesk choose the 1-click web apps (or Installatron) button. In most cases you’ll find this on the right side of the page where you see your list of domains hosted under the account.
  2. Find your application in the list. For example in many cases this will be a WordPress installation. If you do not find your app in the list, learn how to import it into 1-click web apps here.
  3. Clone your app using the button with the two side-by-side arrows pointing down. More details on this process here. Your destination for the clone will be the new subdomain you created in Part 1.

And that’s all there is to it! You’ve now got yourself a development environment located at the subdomain URL you specified in step 1. Your login credentials for your app will be identical to the ones you used on the live site.

Considerations prior to making the dev site live

There’s a few things to note about development with cloned sites:

  • If you will not be updating any content (posts, pages, etc) on the live site while the site is under development (recommended, if possible), then the best way to roll out the new site is to clone it again: see below for details!
  • If you will only be editing the files that run the site, such as WordPress or Magento theme files, and *not* anything that adjusts the database (such as theme settings), then edit your files on the dev site. When you’re done making your changes to the development environment use FTP or Plesk’s file manager to copy over only the files you’ve edited to the live site. Many themes (at least for WordPress) come with an option to export and import their settings, so you may also be able to move the settings from your dev site over to the live site without ‘interrupting’ the live database of posts, pages, products, orders etc.
  • If there will be new posts and pages published during development, an alternate approach to making the development site live is to make note of the date you cloned the site. Once you’re ready to go live, export all posts, pages, and other data that have been published since that date, then import them into the development site, thus bringing its content up to date. Then follow the steps below to make the now ‘updated’ development site live via clone.

Making the development site live via clone.

Please see the considerations above prior to completing these actions. Note that these steps will produce a downtime of typically just a few minutes, though if you have a particularly large filesize to your website, it could be longer.

When you’re ready to go live with your development site, complete the following steps:

  1. In Plesk choose the 1-click web apps (or Installatron) button. In most cases you’ll find this on the right side of the page that contains your list of domains hosted under the account.
  2. Find your live application install in the app list (the one installed to your domain and not subdomain.domain.com). Click the button to complete a backup, then choose the X button to remove the app.
  3. Find your development application install in the list.
  4. Clone your development app using the button with the two side-by-side arrows pointing down. More details on this process here. Your destination for the clone will be the live domain as we are copying the site from development to the live URL.

Jordan is a computer, security, and network systems expert and a lover of all things web and tech. Jordan consults with project management for software companies. Jordan is a founder and managing partner at Websavers Inc.

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