When you’re in the process of deploying new code, the possibility that bad code could throw off your rollout and render the whole project a failure may always be at the forefront of your mind.
A staging environment is a natural solution to this problem, allowing you to ensure your code is in tip-top shape before it is deployed.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- What a staging environment is, and why it’s important.
- The various components of a staging environment.
- Different types of testing that can be conducted.
- Best practices and potential challenges with staging environments.
What Is a Staging Environment?
A staging environment is a dry run for your code under the closest possible parameters to its real-world application. It is a near-perfect replica of the servers, infrastructure, architecture, and application of the actual use environment of your code. The key difference is that it is completely walled off from the front-facing actual environment.
Components of a Staging Environment
While a staging environment is a means of testing code, it is distinct from a testing environment as it uses a complete replica setup to test the code in a variety of different, simultaneous ways that would be present in actual applications. To that end, staging environments are made up of a variety of components you wouldn’t find in a test environment.
Hardware and Infrastructure
A staging environment must run as similarly as possible to the code’s intended environment. Because of this requirement, the hardware and infrastructure of your staging environment need to match the hardware and infrastructure of that intended environment in order to test the code in circumstances as close to real-world as possible.
Staging Environment vs. Production Environment
The production environment refers to new code that is made live and put in front of its intended users – the final stage of the production life cycle. Since a staging environment runs on the exact same hardware and infrastructure and is subject to the same technical stresses as the production environment, the key difference is the lack of real users.
Data in Staging
The purpose of a staging environment is to collect as much data as possible on the performance and stresses on code before it gets in front of users. The more data you can collect and assess, the better equipped you are to find issues and resolve them before your product goes live.
The Importance of a Staging Environment
We can see how a staging environment that is set up well and part of a robust testing schedule is a fundamental step in getting new code user-ready. However, what are the key benefits a staging environment offers?
Catching Bugs Early
Buggy code can be an absolute disaster, and the worst-case scenario is a catastrophic issue being discovered after deployment to the intended users. Obviously, having an environment in which you can put code under the pressures of the actual hardware and architecture it has to run on has a lot of benefits in catching bugs early.
Testing New Features
Rolling out new code could mean a completely new product built from the ground up. It could also mean adding new functionality to existing code. A staging environment allows you to test how new features interact with the pre-existing product and develop solutions to any incompatibilities before they go live.
Preparing for Scalability
If you imagine a staging environment as a model of your real-world coding environment, then using it as an opportunity to see how your code behaves as you scale it up across multiple platforms or applications is a key feature of the process.
Types of Testing in a Staging Environment
A staging environment offers a lot of different opportunities to test a range of features and capabilities of your code. Some are simple tests that will be clear as soon as you deploy the product to your staging environment, while others require a direct effort to test.
Integration testing is the process of introducing successive pieces of software into an environment and eventually testing how they function in concert with one another. Introducing code systematically into a staging environment allows you to assess how it will operate within existing systems.
User Acceptance Testing
User acceptance testing is a process where software is tested by its intended users. This can take the form of in-house volunteers, developers playing the role of the end-user, or paid test subjects. In any case, user acceptance testing should be carried out in a staging environment to put your code through its paces under realistic conditions.
Performance & Load Testing
The first thing you’ll likely think of when you think of testing your product is performance or load testing. These are the classic tests: How well does the code do what it’s supposed to do? How does it handle multiple requests? How does it handle rapid spikes in use? These tests are all instrumental in determining how your product will cope with day-to-day use.
Security testing in a staging environment gives you the chance to test security features without actually putting any important data or accesses out in the open. This is obviously a good idea if your code deals with sensitive information, but a crucial step for any software or coding product.
Regression testing helps ensure no old bugs raise their ugly head with the introduction of new code. This occasional problem is better assessed and dealt with in a staging environment rather than leaving end users to discover it.
Best Practices for Effective Staging
Continuous Integration and Delivery
A staging environment is an excellent system for managing continuous integration and delivery. This increases efficiency and reliability of code implementation.
Regular Testing and Monitoring
Regular testing and monitoring in a staging environment for each and every new deployment or update keep your project running smoothly without any hiccups. Be sure to devote appropriate time to running multiple tests and reviewing the accompanying data.
Testing and Debugging
Ensure you run your debugging before the product goes live. The staging environment gives you the best setting in which to perform debugging and testing, and it prepares you for real-world debugging requirements.
Potential Challenges with Staging Environments
While staging environments are an integral tool in any development process, there are a handful of challenges you need to be aware of when implementing this stage of development. These challenges include:
- Data synchronization and drift challenges
- Resource limitations and contention
- Configuration discrepancies and version control
- Delayed bug detection and testing scalability
- Security vulnerabilities and collaboration bottlenecks.
Understanding how these challenges can arise and experimenting within the staging environment to find solutions to them is a normal part of the staging environment process, and is worth investing time and effort into before the product goes live.
A Handy Tool in the Development Process: Closing Thoughts
As we’ve covered, a staging environment is a handy tool in the development process of any coding project. It gives you the flexibility to experiment with solutions, the opportunity to prepare for potential bugs, and the best chance of success by working in a similar environment to your final product. Taking advantage of the value that a staging environment brings will make your project rollout smoother, more efficient, and the highest quality it can be.