Unlike every other step in the web development process, the procedure of going live is less about slow planning and long bouts of hard work than it is about concentrated and precise coordination. Imagine opening night of a theater production: months of work has already been done rehearsing the actors, creating the costumes, props and set, memorizing cues, planning and testing utility flow charts for things like audio and visual effects, and promoting the show itself. In the brief span of time in which the play is actually performed, everything that has been prepared for in advance must be executed just so in order to preserve the continuity of the experience. Once that curtain begins to rise, every event is part of a precise and coordinated series of events.
Behind the Scenes of a Website Launch
Coordinating the launch of a new website is similar to the opening night scenario I described above. The site has been prototyped, designed, built, tested, and used, but all on a staging server that only we and our clients can see. Launching the site involves moving the working site to our live server, so that anyone who goes to our clients URL (http://www.site.com) will see the new site in all its glory. While it may sound pretty simple, it actually involves the careful collaboration of several people on the team. Our Project Managers like to use group chats to maintain a direct and live line of communication between each person working on the launch.
The Project Manager's Role
The first thing a Project Manager needs to do is make sure that their client can access the administrative account for their website's domain. Every web domain (i.e. website.com) has a domain name server (DNS) associated with it that needs to be correctly configured to refer site visitors to the IP address for the server where the actual site files are stored. Whomever has access to the administrative settings for the domain needs to update the domain's "A" (address) record in advance of our team moving the site files from our staging server to our live server. Making this change is as simple as logging in to the account and changing a few field values, but sometimes tracking down the actual username and password for this account can be difficult. We normally begin gathering this information far in advance of the planned go-live date. Once the A-record is changed, the amount of time needed for the new A-record to be propagated across the web's servers is unpredictable, sometimes even taking up to 48 hours.
The Project Manager will also coordinate the entire going live procedure, establishing the date and time on which it will occur, and facilitate the communication between the client, System Administrator, and Developer during the process. While the team is working, the Project Manager will be busy checking through the site page by page and testing functionality like website forms, data imports and exports, and e-commerce transactions.
The System Administrator's Role
The System Administrator will prepare the server in advance for the new site and assist the developer by transferring files and setting up cron jobs for routine functionality like the keyword ranking tracker in our CMS dashboard or any scheduled data imports (i.e. inventory reconciliation). Because the server is maintained by the System Administrator, no site could go live without his help.
The Developer's Role
The developer, with the System Administrator's assistance, will transfer the site files from the staging server to the live server and make sure that everything he has built works properly once moved. An important detail that the Developer will cover is to update configuration files that use URL's or IP addresses specific to the staging server. Without doing this critical step, many functional elements would not work properly once in place on the new server.
To learn even more about the technical details involved in launching a new website, check out our older newsletters on Dealing with DNS and Goin' Live, or Steve Grothmann's more recent blog post on Going Live, Servers, and DNS for a Newfangled Site.
It Lives! (Now you have to feed it.)
No, it's not over. Going live with a new website is just the beginning. Immediately, you want to have all hands on deck to start using the site just to make sure everything works as it should. This kind of post-live testing is best done by everyone involved and then some. Having as many fresh sets of eyes on a site as possible will ensure that even the smallest details don't go unnoticed. Once the site is actually being used, you'll begin to have an even clearer sense of additional things it needs to do, changes it needs, and the like, which is why content strategy and the on-going nurturing of a website are the next topics in this series.