How to Create a Copy of Your WordPress site to test it for Gutenberg

Why Bother?

With WordPress 5, the new block editor, codenamed Gutenberg made its way into the core of WordPress. Some of you might heed to the calls of caution. Every new feature has some teething problems and unless you want to spent some of your time troubleshooting update issues, the prudent thing for you to do is to resist and to install the Classic Editor plugin.

At Pauli Systems, we have been using Gutenberg in production for many, many months for new site projects. And from experience, I can tell you, once you get into the habit of working with Gutenberg you will prefer it, and it will be hard to go back to the old editor. However, for content heavy and complex sites, we go the route of caution ourselves. For most of our long time clients we will wait for later versions of WordPress 5.0 to start the implementation process. We estimate it’ll happen in February or March 2019.

If you business depends on your website being up and making you money, you, too, want to hold off and install the Classic Editor, or just wait with the update. You also need to have a safe space to test your site for Gutenberg readiness. We show you here how to create the safe space.

There are quite a few options for you.

Local install a local development suite like Local by FlyWheel or Desktop Server by ServerPress. Both have easy installs for Mac and Windows. We use them, for instance, to quickly create new WordPress instances for clean out-of-the-box testing of plugins in combination with Gutenberg. Both applications require some RAM and CPU time on your machine, though.

Managed hosting companies, like WPEngine or Pressable, provide you with easy “Clone-your-site” features, some for free some will charge additionally, depending on your contract.

What’s a small business DIY site owners, a blogger on shared hosting to do? The fine folks of Pantheon, provide staging sites for free and you can use them as long as you need it. We walk you through the process in this post.

This post has three sections:

  • Detailed instruction, you should read before starting. We show you also screen shots and videos. The videos tie it all together, illustrate the flow, and help avoid problems. 
  • Found Trouble, you see instructions are easy to follow, mistakes can be readily corrected, and the videos are important for a smooth migration.
  • The short of it – Bare bones instructions to perform the migration when the you are ready. 

How much time is involved?

  • To read this post, you probably need about 5 minutes. It’s mostly text, screenshots and 3 mini-videos of 30 to 40 seconds videos.
  • Getting everything set-up is as complicated as logging in to your live site as an admin.
  • Starting the process and letting the robots do the rest of the work, will cost you probably another 5 minutes.
  • Then another two minute to check back if the migration process is finished.
  • Total 12 minutes.

A few ‘accidental techies’ at nonprofits tested these instructions and the whole process.  We incorporated their feedback to improve these instructions. You can do it too! Let me know how it went in the comment section. 

“The videos are really helpful and you should watch them before you start on this journey!”

Mary Rack

Why Pantheon?

Pantheon has a heart for WordPress site owners and provides free staging development space, knowing you can’t experiment or improve a site without having a safe space that doesn’t interfere with your organization’s live website. And you can use it without a change of the hosting for your live site. But of course, if you like it, you should stay. I have been using Pantheon way longer that they were a sponsor of Gutenberg Times.

What will happen throughout this migration process? An overview.

Knowledge prerequisites

  • You need to be able to open browser in new tabs and navigate a multi-tab browser window
  • You need to have administrator permissions on your site
  • You need to have one of the browser tabs logged in as administrator at current website.

This process takes three steps:

  1. First you tell Pantheon which site you want to migrate and what CMS you are using.
  2. Then you install a plugin that copies the site, connects it with the new space at Pantheon, and installs the site on the development server at Pantheon.
  3. Finally, you log into the staging site with the same credentials as your live site.

Most of the process happens in the background, and it can take about an hour for a fairly large site. But don’t worry: neither your browser nor your site will be “bogged down” during the time it takes. Just leave the browser tabs open. Everything will happen in background, and you can stop by at your Pantheon dashboard to see if the migration has finished.

If this is the first time you are done something like this, you might wonder if it will change anything on the existing site. The answer is No. It will need to know your live site’s URL, and it will help you install a plugin on that live site. But it will change nothing else, and your visitors won’t notice anything different.

You might also fear that this is a technical process that is over your head. Don’t worry!  If you are able to fill out online forms, you can do this. And if you are stuck, Pantheon has a Live Chat to connect you with a technician. Or you can just ping me and we’ll figure it out together.

After the migration you can test and play around on your staging site to you heart’s content.  That won’t mess up your live site. In fact, that’s the whole point of this exercise!

How long you might ask can the staging site be hosted on Pantheon?  You will rejoice to read that it can stay on Pantheon as long as you need it. And it will do so at no charge.

One more thing: Make sure that on one of your browser tabs you are already logged in with your administrator account on your WordPress site. I’ll help with the seamless background processing Pantheons support through their migrations process.

So, are you ready? Let’s go!

Create an Account With Pantheon

Head on over to Pantheon and sign-up for an account

If you already have an account, now is the time to login. 

For your Sign-up all you need is your

  • First name
  • Last name
  • Company name 
  • Work email address and
  • a password.

No credit card, no long form to fill out or decisions to be made. When Pantheon writes “You only pay when your site launches”, it means you pay only when you connect your site to a public domain name, the url changes from “” to “”.

Once you are on your dashboard, you can start with the migration.  

Select “Migrate Existing Site”.

It will be a 3-step process, as indicated on the top of the screen.


Watch this short video before you start. It’ll helps you get comfortable. When you watch it the second time, I want you to watch the the “Site-Url” changing while typing to see the context

And then there they slip in another step: Install and Authenticate. It’s ok. It’s easy.


Install the Migration plugin on Your Live Site

Next you’ll click on “Install on /wp-admin” See in below video what will happen once you do:-)

This feels like a local news teaser: Your World will change for ever.
News at 11

Seriously, what will happen is that the “Install on / wpadmin” Points to a page on your live site’s plugin page and once you click “Install Now” in the right corner of the screen, it will initiate the plugin install on your site. Then you have to active it. 

Once installed and activated, you will first connect the plugin to your Pantheon site. Next add the “Machine Token” from your earlier screen (the tab is still open in your browser).  Finally click on “Migrate”

Now we wait.

Copying and migrating is all done by means of the Blog Vault tool which Pantheon provides for this process.

You will be able to follow the process which will take between a few minutes and an hour.

That  part is as interesting as watching grass grow or paint dry. It has a zen kind of way to it, so if you need a break from an otherwise hectic day, this is a good way to calm your nerves.

You can leave the tab/window open and get back to your Pantheon screen and click on “Confirm Migration Progress”

We’ll come back to this after the process is finished.

At any time, you are free to stop the migration process either on this screen via “Cancel Site Migration” or from the screen on your site which displays the Blog Vault screen.  Just click on “Cancel Migration.”

You also don’t need to wait for a “block your browser” tab. You can just continue your other work. The fine folks at Pantheon give you permission: “You don’t have to wait here – we’ll email you when your site is ready.”

Depending on how large your site is, and how many posts and plugins it has, the migration may take more than hour or two. Keep an eye out for that email:-)

And be aware that each server site has its own time-out settings. Don’t worry about that. If the process stalls for any reason, go back to either your live site or to your pantheon dashboard and restart the process. It will begin where it left off on time-out.

Migration is Complete. 

Congratulations! You did it!

Pantheon Dashboard

Click on “Visit the Site Dashboard”. You may feel a little overwhelmed as a new comer. Ignore the techie stuff and just concentrate on the grey buttons.

When you click on “Visit Development Site” you’ll see the public view of the copy of your site. You might want to bookmark this page, so you can easily return to it or share the URL with your team members or bosses or your consultant.  

Click on “Site Admin”  to enter the WordPress Dashboard of your staging site.

You can even use your customary username & password: since this is a copy of your live site, it also copied all users with their credentials.

Next steps:  testing your site for Gutenberg

Are you able to take it from here? Need more assistance? Let us know in the comment section or via the Contact Us – page

The Short of it

Preparation: On one of your browser tabs log in with your administrator account on a WordPress site.

  1. Create a Pantheon Account. (Or log in if you already have one. )
    1. Enter your
    2. First name
    3. Last name
    4. Company name
    5. Work email address
    6. A password
  2. Select “Migrate Existing Site”.
  • Enter the existing site URL
  • Select that site’s CMS ( click on WordPress)

 “Step 1. Install the Migration Plugin” (Important: Do not close this page. You will use it later.)

Check your wp-admin page: (The Pantheon plug-in may already be on it.)

If the Pantheon plug-in is NOT on your wp-admin page, click on download the plugin. When the plug-in is there, click on the button in the grey box Install on /wp-admin

“Step 2.  Paste This Information into the Migration Plugin”

  • See 2 boxes with entries: “Pantheon Site Name” & “Your Machine Token”.
  • Paste those entries into the Migration Plugin Blog Vault.
  • Click on “I agree” box.
  • Click on “Migrate” box.

Wait. It may take an hour or more.  When finished you will receive an email with further instructions.

PostScript: Found Trouble

A note from Mary Rack who went before you and ran into minor trouble 

I started the migration process after reading the explanations and studying the screen prints, but without viewing the videos. That was a mistake. Those videos are important.

I followed instructions blindly, and made tabs of some pages, but I had trouble finding the right tabs later.  Fortunately, when I could not locate the one with the “machine token” when it was needed, I recalled reading that I could create a new one if I failed to save the original.

I had been rattled, but was relieved by that recollection. I created a new machine token easily, and finished with no more mishaps.

Had I viewed the videos, I suspect I would have had no trouble returning to the original token’s location.


This is brilliant. Thank you for sharing this resource, and the very detailed instructions.

Glad you find it helpful! Share with your friends:-) Happy Gutenberg testing!

hey mr. admin do we know when wp 5.0 with gutenberg will be finally released? thanks!

Hi Jacob, thanks for stopping by! There is no official release day set for WordPress 5.0. If I venture a private guess, I expect to see the first beta release mid November – the temptation to have a major announcement for WordCamp US might proof irresistible. A final release won’t happen in 2018, though. But that’s just be personal guess, which is as good as yours 🙂

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