Creating a Test Site with cPanel Print

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Testing on Your Server

For large complicated changes such as upgrades, it may make sense to do a
final test on your production server. This way, configuration changes
between your local and live environments can be discovered and dealt with,
and your store will work as expected when you go live.

The instructions below assume you are using cPanel.

1. Creating a Test Site using cPanel

For purposes of this exercise, we will use a cPanel account high64 with home/high64/public_html as the location of your existing site and as your current Zen Cart website.

Use the backup that you just made from your live site to fill the database with data. (See restoring the database.)
Using the terminology from the glossary, we have:

  • Webroot: home/high64/public_html
  • YOURACCOUNT: high64
  • YOURACCOUNTFOLDER: home/high64/

Note: In your actual installation, the store may be located in a subfolder (e.g. home/your_account/public_html/store), but for this exercise, we will assume it is not. See [/user/first_steps/deployment_configurations/] for more examples of how stores can be set up; this is deployment model 1.

A. Create a NEW database in cPanel that uses your standard name and add test.

The Create New Database will present you with the prefix of high64 and a block to fill in the final part of the new database name. To keep track of things, the new database for testing 1.5.8a could be set to high64_test, making it easy to tell it from other databases. high64_test or anything that identifies the database for you is fine.

Unless you feel it is necessary to give this new database a separate user and password, you can scroll down in the Database Section to Add User to Database. Select a current user in the User block and make sure the new database name is showing in the Database block. Click on Add, and a new screen will appear.

Select the ALL PRIVILEGES option and click on Make Changes. Your new database is ready and waiting for data. You will need that username and password in Step E below

B. Download Zen Cart and Upload the Zip to Your cPanel

Whether upgrading, testing, or creating your first Zen Cart installation, always obtain the files from the official Zen Cart download location. In this case, download the latest version to your hard drive. You will want to create a folder for it and the mods you will be adding or testing on the test site.

With cPanel’s File Manager, it will probably open with /home/your_account/public_html/. This is known as the "webroot." If your cPanel File Manager loads at the webroot, just click on Up One Level to be “above the root.” You should see a Home symbol followed by (/home/your_account). From the menu bar, click on Upload and drag the Zen Cart zip file into the upload block. If you do not see an upload block, use the Select File button to browse your computer for the zip installation file.

Once the file is uploaded, click on the Go Back button to return to the File Manager. You should still be above the root and the zip file should be listed in the right-hand column under name. If not, click on the Reload option to have the file appear.

Again, make sure this is a Zen Cart-distributed zip file. All distribution zip files from Zen Cart will be extracted to a folder. If it is NOT a Zen Cart-distributed zip file, you may be dropping files everywhere. Backup here, just in case.

Select the installation zip file and click on the Extract option on the menu bar. In the case of 1.5.8a, the zip will extract to a folder named zen-cart-v1.5.8a-######## that matches the file you uploaded.  Version 2.0.1 will unzip to a folder named zencart-2.0.1.

C. Creating the Test Folder.

Select the folder created by unzipping the Zen Cart file and rename it something like _test, _upgrade, _OPC_tryout, etc. Something that is easy for you to remember. Prefixing with the underscore (_) makes the folder less likely to be mistaken for an in-use site.

D. Creating a Sub_Domain.

In cPanel, navigate to the Domains Section and click on the Create a New Domain option.

Creating a Domain in cPanel

Since we are using _test as our folder for this exercise, we will call the Subdomain test.

In the Domain block, make sure the domain is showing the that matches the site you are going to test/upgrade.

Make sure the Share Document Root selection is empty (not checked) and click on Submit.

If you stilll see public_html in the block under the Share documnt root checkbox, your host has not allowed you to work "above the root".  Hopefully, contacting them can get that changed.  Otherwise, your test will be easily found by the public and search engines.

Sub Domain Settings

You now have a Subdomain of ready to be set up.

E. Setting the PHP for the Test Site.

If your cPanel does NOT have a Software Section with a selection of MultiPHP Manager, you may need your host’s help on this step.

cPanel Software Section

If you don’t have MultiPhP Manager, ask your host to set the PHP for the _test folder that you created.

If you do have MultiPHP Manager, go to the Software Section in the cPanel and open MultiPHP Manager. Set the PHP version appropriately and click on Apply.

If is not already listed with the needed version of PHP, select the box in front of and select a version of PHP in the drop-down titled PHP Version above the listing area.

The PHP version you select should be the latest supported version that works with your version of Zen Cart. The PHP Version Matrix will show you the versions of PHP that work well with the version of Zen Cart you are testing.

For instance, with Zen Cart 1.5.8a, you could use any version of PHP from 7.3 to 8.2.
However, at the time of writing, PHP 8.0 is now end of life and most servers do not support lower than 7.4, you can start with PHP 7.4 while testing mods for your site, but keep in mind that you will be better off with mods that are current in their PHP compliance.

In the example below, the system set the default at the lowest PHP level (7.4).  In the example, we are updating the level to 8.0.  By using this method, both the root site and our test site can use different PHP versions correctly.

MultiPHP Manager Settings

F. Run zc_install.

In your browser, navigate to If everything is correct so far, you should get the Installation Screen. Follow the directions to load Zen Cart on your test site.

The test site should offer you the option of https:// if you have an SSL installed on your server. This is one of the advantages of testing on your remote server.

Whether to add example products is up to you and your purpose for creating the test site. If you can quickly and easily create your own products in the Zen Cart backend, don’t add example products.

Let the installation process create the two configure.php files for you. All you have to provide is the database username and password.

G. Finalize Installation.

Copy down all the pertinent usernames, passwords, and the new admin folder name. Then, delete the zc_install folder in the cPanel File Manager. You may need to re-install that folder later if you want to upgrade a previous version’s database, but if you have that folder you created on your computer with all the files you need, re-loading the zc_install folder is simple with the cPanel File Manager. Renaming the zc_install folder is not recommended. If someone stumbles across the renamed folder, they can use it to wreak havoc with your test site.

H. Test/Upgrade

You now have a fully functioning, initial installation of the version you uploaded to the server.  You can change the PHP to each of the higher versions and test your existing mods before going public.

2. Creating a Test Site on a non-cPanel server.

Some servers do not use cPanel due to the cost involved for the host. Still, most hosts have some form of “Control Panel” that acts pretty much the same as cPanel. Each section may be named slightly differently but you should be able to figure out the steps that result in the test folder creation, database creation, subdomain assignment, PHP selection, etc.

DirectAdmin and Plesk are two of the most common cPanel alternatives. If you find yourself with one of cPanel’s alternatives and are stuck on a step, just open a thread on the forum, and someone will be glad to point you in the right direction. Be sure to mention the cPanel alternative you are using.


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