How does WordPress deployment work?

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In the intricate world of web development, understanding how WordPress deployment works is pivotal for seamless website management. Let’s explore the intricacies of deploying the WordPress site, shedding light on the process from local development to the live server. Thus empowering users with the knowledge to efficiently bring their websites to life.

Programmers-working-on-WordPress-deployment
Programmers-working-on-WordPress-deployment

Whether you’re a seasoned developer or just starting your journey into the realm of content management systems, understanding how WordPress deployment works is crucial for ensuring a seamless and efficient online presence.

Deploying a WordPress site involves a series of intricate steps, from the initial setup of site files to launching your website live on the internet. This blog post aims to demystify the process, breaking down each stage and providing insights into the underlying mechanisms that make WordPress deployment possible.

From configuring your development environment to choosing the right hosting solution, and from optimizing performance to implementing security measures, this guide will walk you through the key aspects of WordPress deployment. Whether you’re a solo blogger, a business owner, or a web developer looking to enhance your skills, gaining a comprehensive understanding of WordPress deployment will empower you to create, manage, and maintain websites with confidence.

Join us on this exploration of the intricacies behind WordPress deployment, as we unravel the layers of this powerful content management system, providing you with the knowledge and tools to deploy your WordPress site successfully. Let’s embark on this journey together and empower ourselves with the know-how to make our digital presence flourish.

What is WordPress website deployment?

WordPress website deployment refers to the process of making a WordPress website available for public access on the internet. It involves moving your WordPress website from a local development environment or a staging server to a live web server where users can visit and interact with it.

When it comes to WordPress the process of deployment is moving PHP files, CSS files, and JS files. It is the migration of these files from either a local development environment to staging or the production site. The process involves substituting files in the database with new ones when changes have been made.

Four different scenarios in the web deployment

Let’s explore four different scenarios with web deployment:

Scenario 1 – a website that already exists

If you have a website that already is live, you may come across two different types of change. One change is in the database and the other change can take place in local files. For example, you may want to add a new section to your site. Not only do we have to write a source code (PHP, CSS & JS code) for this new section, but we also have to create this content in WordPress. We need to create this section in the CMS that will service the written code.

Once we have these two things, we need to send to the web host or web server two things. We need to send them the changes that occurred in the local files and the changes that occurred in the database. The way this should be done is by taking local environment changes and deploying them onto the staging site. Once they are on the staging site, we can deploy them on the production site.

A good practice with websites that exist and small changes is to only deploy the files with the changes. So if your site has 1000 files but you only made changes to 6 files. We will deploy 6 files, not all 1000 files. This is much safer.

Scenario 2 – a brand new website

If you are preparing to launch a brand new website, this deployment process will look a little different. Let’s say that you have a domain name XYZ.com and you bought & registered this domain at GoDaddy. All you have is a domain name, it’s not linked to anything and you do not have anything else. Now you may have a web hosting service with A2 or Cloudways, etc. You may tell your web hosting provider, listen I am the owner of the domain name XYZ.com, connect the two.

So that the hard disk or server disk that is based at the web hosting provider with your site (all the source files including PHP, CSS & JS), can be live on your domain. This way when someone types in your domain name XYZ.com they can access & click through your site.

Scenario 3 – a brand new website but switching your web hosting provider

Now you may have a brand new website again with a registered domain and a web hosting provider. But you want a different web hosting provider. Perhaps you want to switch from A2 hosting to Cloudways. So you upload your source files (PHP, CSS, and JS) along with the database to the new server. Then you tell your domain provider to no longer take files from A2 but Cloudways. Then we have domain propagation, which typically takes up to 72 hours. This means it will take up to 72 hours for everyone around the world to see your new site, from a new host.

Scenario 4 – a brand new website to replace the existing one

Now, you may decide that you like your current web hosting provider and you have a domain name. Now all you want to do is replace your old site with the new one. Well, then what a developer will do is take all the source files and database files, and download them onto the computer. This will serve as a backup. Then they will upload all the new source files and database files onto the server. This is without domain propagation and due to this, the process is slightly simpler.

WordPress deployment to new database. Server database at web hosting

Databases – what’s the deal with them?

So when carrying out any deployment process, we are typically dealing with three databases. One database is for your local environment, another is for your staging site and lasts for the production site. They are similar in structure but they may not contain all the same information.

So for example we have a database locally ABC, while on the staging site, someone could have changed the database file to XYZ. So a good practice when it comes to changing files in a database is to use a plugin like WP Migrate DB Pro. It helps us synchronize the given databases. This way we can ensure they are the same.

This helps us avoid changing something that didn’t need to be changed. Moreover, this way we don’t override a change that another developer or web administrator made. The same goes for web visitor activity. We don’t want to override someone’s purchase, comment, etc.

Finally, it is best to make any changes manually. While this may be time-consuming, it’s safer to do it this way. You only send what you changed, as opposed to the entire database.

Web deployment is a delicate process

This is a very delicate operation for a few reasons. Firstly, deploying updates or changes can result in downtime, during which the website is inaccessible to users. If issues arise during deployment, the ability to roll back to the previous version quickly and effectively is crucial. To navigate these challenges, developers often use strategies like continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD), automated testing, and staging environments to simulate the production environment before making changes live. Careful planning, thorough testing, and a well-defined deployment process help minimize risks and ensure a successful and smooth deployment.

People in the office analyzing staging site & production site before web deployment

Local environment vs Staging site vs Production site?

The local environment for developers refers to the configuration and tools set up on an individual developer’s computer to facilitate web development. It typically includes a code editor or integrated development environment (IDE), version control systems (such as Git), a compiler or interpreter for the chosen programming language, and other dependencies specific to the project. Developers often customize their environments based on personal preferences and the requirements of the project they are working on. The local environment plays a crucial role in enabling efficient coding, testing, and debugging processes, allowing developers to work on their code locally before pushing changes to a shared repository or deploying to production environments.

Staging sites and production sites serve distinct purposes in the web development and deployment process. A staging site is essentially a replica of the production site but exists in a separate environment. The way I like to think of the staging site is like a virtual playground. It is used as a testing ground for developers to evaluate new features, updates, or changes before deploying them to the live production site. This allows for thorough testing to identify and rectify any issues or bugs that may arise, ensuring a smooth and error-free user experience on the production site. Staging sites are typically not accessible to the public, providing a controlled environment for testing without affecting the end users. The staging site should be updated & synched as often as possible. This way it is as close to the production site as possible.

On the other hand, the production site is the live, publicly accessible version of a website or application that users interact with. It is the live environment where all finalized and tested changes are implemented for public consumption. Unlike the staging site, the production site is the actual platform that users visit and where transactions, interactions, and other activities take place. It requires a stable and secure configuration to handle the live traffic and deliver a seamless experience to users. The key distinction lies in the purpose of each:

  • staging is for testing and refinement,
  • while production is for real-world usage and interaction.

Why should a staging site be almost the same as your production site?

Maintaining a staging site that closely mirrors your production site is crucial in the context of WordPress deployment for several reasons. Firstly, it is a testing ground for updates, theme changes, or plugin installations before implementing them on the live site. This allows developers to identify and rectify any potential issues or conflicts in a controlled environment, preventing disruptions to the user experience on the production site.

Additionally, an identical staging site ensures accurate replication of the production environment, including server configurations and database structures. This helps uncover any unforeseen challenges that may arise during deployment, allowing web administrators to address these issues proactively.

Ultimately, a staging site that mirrors the production environment provides a reliable and risk-averse approach to deploying changes, enhancing the overall stability and performance of a WordPress website.

WordPress developer comparing staging site vs production site

What does the WordPress site deployment process look like from staging to production?

The deployment process from staging to production in WordPress involves careful handling of various components, including WordPress core files, and leveraging a version control system for effective management.

Begin by ensuring that your WordPress core files, themes, and plugins are under version control using a system like Git. This provides a structured way to track changes, collaborate, and maintain a history of modifications. When transitioning from staging to production, initiate by thoroughly testing the website in the staging environment to identify and rectify any potential issues.

Create a backup of the production database and files to prevent data loss during deployment. Also, make sure to update configuration files, such as wp-config.php, to match the production environment settings before deploying. Using the version control system, push the changes to the production server, ensuring a documented and reproducible process for future updates. Regularly monitor the production site post-deployment to catch and address any unforeseen issues promptly.

Why is web deployment so important?

Web deployment is a critical phase in the life cycle of a website as it marks the transition from development to making the site accessible to users on the internet. The importance of web deployment lies in bringing carefully crafted and tested web applications, content, or services to a global audience. It ensures that the website is available and functional for visitors, allowing individuals, businesses, or organizations to share information, products, or services seamlessly.

Time of day you deploy changes

The time of day that you deploy changes matters. You want to deploy changes when there is little traffic on your site, to avoid user disruption. While you may never have any traffic, it’s always best to aim for the minimum. Some web development companies will run deployment processes in the middle of the night. Some may consider the middle of the day when most people are working and not browsing the internet. You want to find a time that best works for you and your website, to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Man informing customers about the WordPress deployment process

Important considerations for clients when deploying changes to an existing site

Deploying changes to a website is a critical process that requires careful planning and execution to ensure a smooth transition without disruptions. Here are some things to consider:

Backup Your Website

Before making any changes, ensure that you have a recent backup of your website. This can be crucial in case anything goes wrong during the deployment.

Test Changes in a Staging Environment

Always test your changes in a staging environment that mirrors your production environment. This helps identify and fix potential issues before deploying to the live site.

Version Control

Use version control systems (e.g., Git) to track changes and manage different versions of your website’s code. This allows you to roll back to a previous version if needed.

Documentation

Keep thorough documentation of changes made, including any configurations or settings adjustments. This documentation can be valuable for troubleshooting and future reference.

Communicate with Stakeholders

Inform stakeholders, such as team members, clients, or users, about the upcoming changes and the expected downtime (if any). Clear communication helps manage expectations.

Calendar planner organization management. Scheduling deployment

Scheduled Deployment

Plan your deployments during low-traffic periods to minimize the impact on users. Avoid making major changes during peak hours unless necessary.

Monitor and Rollback Plan

Implement monitoring tools to keep an eye on the website’s performance during and after deployment. Have a rollback plan in case something goes wrong, allowing you to quickly revert to the previous version.

Post-Deployment Testing

Even after deployment, continue testing the website to catch any issues that might not have been apparent during the initial testing phase.

While you can do deployment without testing afterward, this is very risky. Your change may be perfect and everything works. But sometimes, your change can hurt something else and you may not even know it. You may not even understand how something else fell apart, due to your change. This is why testing is always best.

Check for Broken Links and Cross-Browser Compatibility

Ensure that all links on your website remain functional after the deployment. Also, test your website across different browsers to ensure compatibility.

Performance Optimization

Verify that your website’s performance is not adversely affected by the changes. Check page load times and optimize assets like images, scripts, and stylesheets.

Here’s an example:

Google PageSpeed Insights requires that JS &CSS files only load for the particular landing page or blog post that they are needed on. It does not particularly like when all files load for every single page you have when you are loading page X. You should only load JS & CSS files for page X, not for pages A to Z. This will likely worsen the performance of your site.

Also, when it comes to verifying performance optimization use Google PageSpeed Insights on a staging site, it’s not as easy to do as with a live or production version. Furthermore, when developers are making big changes during deployment, they may forget about performance optimization. It may be something as simple as not optimizing an image. Perhaps they did exactly, what our customer asked from a UX/UI perspective, but unknowingly they hurt the performance of the website. In these scenarios, the development team has to sit down and fix these issues, to get the site back to where it was in terms of optimization.

Security Measures

Pay attention to security considerations. Make sure that your changes don’t introduce vulnerabilities. Keep software, plugins, and frameworks up to date.

Man working on reviewing content on his website

Content Review

If your changes involve content updates, review and proofread the content to ensure accuracy and consistency.

Monitor User Feedback

Encourage users to provide feedback and monitor social media channels for any reported issues. This can help you quickly address emerging issues.

How do our WordPress professionals carry out website deployment

Let’s check out how our WordPress development team here at Acclaim, carries out website deployment.

Communication

First things first, we communicate with two important parties. We gain consent from the client and we gain consent from our internal team of QA testers. We need to make sure we have to go ahead to run the deployment process.

Consent from the client

We need consent from the client so that we can go ahead with the deployment. During this process, we want to make sure of a few things:

  • What do they want us to deploy? Is it all the staging site files? Perhaps it’s only some files? For example one landing page?
  • Have they made any changes in the recent day or two, that we may miss? We don’t want to overwrite something on the production site, that was not updated on the staging site. For example, we don’t want to overwrite a form that was sent. Or we don’t want to overwrite a heading that was just changed. These are small changes but are not always easy for us to detect.

These are just some things we want to ensure because unfortunately not all details are communicated all around. Sometimes customers won’t think it’s a big deal, that they changed something and did not inform the development team. This is where errors happen, information gets lost and precious time/money is wasted.

Consent for the QA tester

The next step is we want to get a big thumbs up from our QA tester. QA testers meticulously examine the website, identifying and reporting any issues or bugs that could impact its performance or user experience. Obtaining their consent ensures that potential problems have been addressed, and the application meets the required quality standards.

This formal approval mitigates the risk of deploying a flawed product. Thus it enhances communication between development and QA teams, instills confidence in end-users, and sets the stage for continuous improvement based on valuable feedback from the testing phase. In essence, QA tester consent serves as a crucial checkpoint, confirming that the application is reliable, secure, and ready for a successful deployment.

Backup

We never implement changes without downloading the previous version of the files. We do not rely solely on the automatic backup system on the server. This is because we cannot be sure that everything is OK with it.

Moreover, it is worth downloading individual files or the entire directory. Furthermore, when working with Acclaim WordPress developers, it’s a good idea to compress it and upload it to our Slack thread related to deployment.

Girl programmer wearing glasses working on transfering the database

Database

We never transfer the entire database from staging to production. We transfer “database” changes manually, even if it takes a long time. Transferring an entire database from staging to production during deployment is a risky practice that should be avoided for several critical reasons.

Staging environments typically serve as testing grounds where developers can experiment with changes, manipulate data, and conduct trials without impacting the live production system. The staging database may contain test data, debugging entries, and potentially sensitive information that should not be replicated in the production environment.

Moreover, differences in configuration settings between staging and production databases can lead to unexpected consequences, such as overwriting critical production data or causing application failures. Incremental deployment strategies, involving the selective transfer of changes or updates, are preferred to minimize the likelihood of errors, maintain data integrity, and ensure a smooth transition from development to production.

Changes in ACF

Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) is a plugin that allows users to add and manage custom fields to their content, including posts, pages, and custom post types. ACF enables users to extend the default content fields provided by WordPress with custom fields, providing more flexibility in content creation and presentation.

When deploying a WordPress site with ACF, it’s crucial to ensure that the plugin is properly configured and that any custom fields or data are migrated appropriately to maintain the desired functionality and appearance.

ACF fields should always be defined at the theme level to ensure consistency in the event of database issues. The best method is to add field data exported from ACF in the form of .json or .php code and add it to the appropriate place depending on the theme’s structure.

Minify files

Minifying files before deployment is important for several reasons in the context of web development and software deployment. First and foremost, minification reduces the size of files, such as JavaScript, CSS, and HTML, by removing unnecessary characters, whitespace, and comments. Files in production (e.g. /dist) should be minify. Depending on the environment, the npm run prod command may be responsible for this.

This results in smaller file sizes, leading to faster download and page loading times for end-users. Improved loading times contribute to a better user experience, especially on slower network connections and devices. Additionally, smaller file sizes reduce bandwidth usage and server load, optimizing overall system performance.

Minification is also a common practice to enhance security by obscuring the code and making it more challenging for malicious actors to understand and exploit vulnerabilities. Ultimately, the combination of improved performance, reduced bandwidth usage, and enhanced security makes file minification a crucial step in the deployment process for WordPress sites.

Team meeting verifying all aspects before deployment

Verification with the rest of the team

Before uploading files, we always check Slack channels related to the project. Furthermore, we check recent commits on GitHub to make sure that no one else is currently deploying or making changes to production. This will help us avoid potential overwrites.

Start deployment process

The start of the procedure should always be preceded by making a backup copy. Furthermore by verifying the changes sent on staging. Finally verifying the team’s activities. In the case of really large changes, it is a good practice to activate a service plug before starting the procedure. The service plug will bind the website while the files are transferred. Thus providing us with full control over what visitors see during deployment.

File changes

We always compare files, preferably only individual lines of code. We can never be sure that there isn’t something in the transferred file that shouldn’t end up in production.

The formal end of the deployment process

After the process is complete, the QA should be informed. Then the website should be tested (not only for individual changes). Additionally, it is worth adding information and the URL to the deployment thread to the changelog.

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TL;DR: Summing up website deployment

WordPress deployment involves the process of making your website accessible to the public. This journey typically begins with choosing a reliable hosting provider, followed by installing WordPress, configuring settings, and customizing the site to meet your specific needs.

Check out this table for key takeaways about website deployment:

Key aspects Description
Local environment vs. Staging Site vs Production Site Local environment: a self-contained and isolated computing environment on an individual’s computer where software applications can be developed, tested, and debugged before being deployed to a production environment.
Staging Site: Use a staging site to test changes before deploying them to the live production site. It helps identify and resolve issues without affecting the live environment.
Production Site: This is the live website where real visitors interact with your content. Changes should be carefully deployed to avoid disruptions.
– These sites should be as similar to each other as possible. But it’s almost impossible to have them identical.
Single Change Deployment vs Entire Site Deployment Single Change Deployment: Deploy individual changes or updates to minimize risk and make troubleshooting easier. Provided they are properly documented, communicated, etc.
Entire Site Deployment: Deploying comprehensive updates may be necessary, but it carries higher risks. Ensure thorough testing and have a rollback plan in place. This is a global process with many moving parts.
Testing Everything before & after deployment Test all changes thoroughly on the staging site, including new features, plugins, and updates.
Conduct functional, performance, and security testing to catch and address potential issues after deploying to the production site.
Communication is Key Keep all stakeholders informed about the deployment plan, including timing and potential impact.
Establish clear communication channels for immediate issue reporting and have a rollback plan in case of emergencies.
Key considerations for WordPress deployment

These key takeaways emphasize the importance of staging sites for testing, choosing the appropriate deployment strategy, thorough testing of changes, and maintaining effective communication throughout the deployment process.

Need help with your next web development & deployment project?

Are you ready to embark on the exciting journey of WordPress development, and seize the opportunity to craft a digital masterpiece? Dive into the world of limitless possibilities with our expert team at your side. Whether you need assistance in design, functionality, or troubleshooting, our dedicated WordPress support is here to elevate your website to new heights.

Ready to transform your digital presence? Drop us a line today and let’s turn your WordPress dreams into a captivating reality. Your journey to a stunning website begins with a simple click – take the first step towards success now!

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