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GuidesProduct developmentWhat is a staging environment?

What is a staging environment?

Last updated

11 January 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

Before any product is released to customers, it must be free of errors, bugs, or problems that might disappoint end users. This is especially challenging in software development, where a single code error or dependency can significantly alter how the product or a certain feature works.

To ensure the product is ready for customers, developers conduct a final round of testing to simulate end use as closely as possible. For this, they use a staging environment.

A staging environment is a replica of a production environment. It enables testers to ensure an app, site, or product will perform as expected after deployment. It uses the most updated version of a product to mirror a live site or polished product.

In the best-case scenario, testing in a staging environment won’t indicate changes are needed. Instead, it will confirm that the product is complete and ready for deployment.

In this article, learn why development and quality assurance (QA) teams use staging environments, how they differ from other types of testing, and best practices for using them.

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Staging environment vs testing environment

Staging environments and testing environments have much in common since they are both used to test software before it is released to end users. However, the environments serve different purposes and are often used by different teams.

Different test environments may be used throughout the various stages of development. Members of QA or development teams conduct the tests. These environments have specific conditions and expected outcomes based on the development phase in which the test is conducted.

A testing environment focuses on finding and repairing defects, and their outcomes are typically used to improve the product.

Meanwhile, a staging environment focuses on ensuring an application meets user requirements and expectations. The conditions are intended to simulate real-world use as closely as possible, and the data obtained is used to ensure the product is ready for deployment. 

Testers using a staging environment are users who haven’t previously interacted with the product, such as stakeholders and end users.

What’s the difference between user acceptance testing and a staging environment?

User acceptance testing (UAT) is an environment in which a small group of users test a product and provide feedback about use cases. It is used in the final stages of development, sometimes in the staging environment.

UAT enables end users or stakeholders to use a software application or product in a realistic environment where they can test features. This reveals whether any functional changes are needed.

A staging environment assumes the product is complete and ready for deployment. It’s the final test cycle to ensure coding and other technical components work correctly so that the product’s roll-out will be seamless.

Is staging the same as a sandbox?

A staging environment is designed to emulate end use as closely as possible. A sandbox is different. It’s designed to be an isolated environment in which developers can test unproven code during various stages of development.

A sandbox environment can be used early in development or during late-stage testing. However, it doesn’t provide a realistic user environment.

When do you need a staging environment?

A staging environment’s purpose is to ensure that all changes (such as code, builds, and updates) from previous environments work as intended. Since it’s a final test, it’s used during the steps leading up to deployment.

What tests can you complete in a staging environment?

The staging environment can be used to conduct several important tests to ensure a product is ready for deployment. Some of the most common tests performed in a test environment include the following:

Unit testing

A unit refers to a software system’s smallest testable component. By testing individual units in isolation, you can pinpoint singular defects. This not only speeds up testing processes but also enables developers to recognize issues before integration with other components.

This testing is useful in early development stages, but it can still be used during staging environment testing because it can offer a final evaluation of a single unit.

Integration testing

One of the main reasons for creating a staging environment is to ensure different software modules interact properly when put together in a system. Integration testing focuses on interactions and dependencies to ensure everything works together as intended. The tests pinpoint issues that arise due to updates or code changes that could affect dependent units.

Regression testing

The software development lifecycle (SDLC) spans beyond a new product’s initial development stages. It requires developers to continue making changes while the application or site is being used. This means development teams frequently build new features and code to change an existing product.

Developers use regression testing to ensure new deployments don’t cause issues with features that are already live and working well. The staging environment enables testers to use new features in a safe environment that is a replica of the intended final version. It verifies that new features haven’t changed how existing ones function.

Regression testing is often performed after smaller modifications, such as bug fixes, or larger code changes, such as adding new features. It can also be used to ensure there haven’t been any unintended changes to the product’s layout or usability.

Chaos testing

This type of testing is designed to create a staging environment for worst-case scenarios. It involves purposefully introducing failures or disruptions to the system to test the software’s resilience.

Controlled disruptions allow testers to better understand how the new software will respond to unexpected events such as traffic overload or network failures.

Does a staging environment have limitations?

A staging environment offers many benefits but isn’t a perfect real-world model. Some factors will fail to replicate the production environment accurately.

User traffic, time limits, and realistic data limitations are the biggest drawbacks to staging environments.

  • User traffic: a test environment can’t emulate the high levels of traffic that occur with full use, so it’s impossible to accurately detect how the site will work under stress.

  • Time limits: it’s also difficult to test products for long periods in a staging environment.

  • Realistic data limitations: it may not be feasible to populate a staging environment with full datasets or realistic data, making it challenging to see what production-level data will look like.

With these limitations to staging environments, it’s impossible to fully predict all product issues and complete deployment readiness.

Choosing the right environment: local, development, staging, or live

Since software testing is used throughout all development stages (including deployment and updates), a variety of environments can be used for testing. While smaller projects may only require a single testing environment, larger projects may demand multiple environments for different users working simultaneously.

Understanding the differences between testing environments can help you determine which will best meet your product demands at any given development phase.

Local environment

A local environment is one of the most cost-effective and safe options for testing software.

This environment offers money-saving advantages by limiting paid environments. It also allows developers to be independent of internet connectivity since it’s run on a local machine or server that is independent of hosting and kept offline. This enables them to work on projects from anywhere.

Development environment

A development environment is typically used to conduct tests long before staging. It enables development and QA teams to create test conditions for specific requirements.

This environment can be set up with safety precautions to avoid any repercussions of testing an unfinished product. Tests may be conducted independently by different team members.

Staging environment

A staging environment is the last setting for testing and is as similar to the production environment as possible. It is considered the “dress rehearsal” before a site goes live or an application is deployed.

The staging environment will highlight any remaining bugs or issues in a product before end users get their hands on it. It can also be used to create demos for end users or stakeholders.

Live environment

Also called the production environment, the live environment is where users will access the final product. The live environment will be free of bugs or issues if your staging environment has done its job.

Some companies release the live environment in stages, making it accessible to a few users before rolling out changes for everyone.

Best practices in a staging environment

A staging environment isn’t foolproof. But, with careful preparation, it can provide a reliable way to test new products, features, and updates.

These simple practices will help you get the most out of the tests you conduct in your staging environment:

  • Define testing goals before setting up a staging environment.

  • Identify the types and scope of testing required.

  • Develop a scalable testing environment to support increasing amounts of user traffic and data.

  • Periodically update the testing environment to include the latest software and hardware configurations.

  • Consider the value of deploying automated testing throughout development to proactively catch issues.

  • Set up a system to monitor testing environments, test cases, and outcomes.

  • Devise effective testing and debugging procedures. This ensures the environment is structured and produces reliable results.

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