Staging environment vs test environment: What’s the difference?

So your developer’s building a website for you and says it’s now time to move things from a testing environment to a staging environment. You nod and smile. What does it all mean? Here’s the breakdown of a staging environment vs test environment.

What’s a testing environment?

A testing environment involves creating a space that lets you to perform test executions of your component parts. So the test environment includes both the software and hardware you’re running it on. Your testing environment is therefore very specific. And not one-size-fits-all.

It’s something you have created and developed to test a certain function in a specific way. Every app or component you develop has fundamental requirements which need to be put to the test. Hence, with a testing environment, it’s your component under test that dictates the environment. And not the other way around.

What's a testing environment? Staging vs test environment - Plesk Tips
The component being tested determines the nature of your testing environment.

What’s a staging environment?

Your staging environment is a setup that replicates your production environment. In short, it’s an identical replica of your product. You shouldn’t be able to tell find any differences between your staging environment and your final product. But unlike your final product, it’s not for public domain.

Think of it as a safe space where you can throw everything together and find out how it works. It’s the ultimate Quality Assurance test because it’s as close to the real thing as you can get.

If they’re both for testing, what are the differences?

The difference is found in the specificity and scale of the tests we do in the staging environment vs test environment. Both are about finding an end result. But it’s a different type of end result.

Your testing environment will likely have nothing to do with your final product. The end result here is very specific. Does component X fulfill its role? So, it’s about putting on the goggles and the white jacket, and getting down in the lab. It’s a controlled environment. No variables. One bit at a time. What’s this one thing supposed to do? And does it do it right?

A testing environment is like a controlled lab, whereas staging is a replica of the real world - Staging vs test environment - Plesk Tips
A testing environment is like a controlled lab, whereas staging is a replica of the real world.

So when it comes to staging environment vs test environment, your staging environment is more like real world testing. Without any of the dangers. You can keep control and privacy, while testing the whole thing together. Does each part work in harmony to produce the overall end result you’re hoping for?

Why do you need both a staging and test environment?

We can probably forgive you for thinking that if each part does its job, there’s no reason it won’t work when all put together. But unfortunately, things don’t work out like that in reality. It’s like building a race car where the factory is the test environment.

First, you might test the body in a wind tunnel for aerodynamic efficiency. Then the engine outside the car to make sure it works. After, the brake lines to see that when you hit the brake pedal, it engages. So you know all the parts work fine individually in a test environment.

Confidently, you put it all together and take it for a test drive. Not straight in a race though, but on a controlled race track (staging environment), where you can put it through its paces.  You accelerate smoothly until you reach the end of the line and hit the brakes.

Because you don’t stop in time and go skidding off into the gravel. How did this happen? You tested the brakes? Why didn’t the car stop in time?

Although you tested them independently, you didn’t test for such a big load, because you can’t anticipate everything. So with everything put together, you’ve discovered the engine and aerodynamic setup helped you develop more speed than you predicted. You didn’t expect that it would all end up being too powerful for one of your components to handle.

Staging environment vs test environment – different for good reason

To ensure your product performs exactly how you expect it to in the real world, you need both a testing and staging environment. The testing environment helps you ensure that each component does its job. Meanwhile, the staging environment makes sure each component still does its job with everything else going on around it. Both will help stop you from skidding off the right track. Learn more about the staging environment you can have in the Plesk WP Toolkit.

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