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Production environment is a term used mostly by developers to describe the setting where software and other products are actually put into operation for their intended uses by end users.
A production environment can be thought of as a real-time setting where programs are run and hardware setups are installed and relied on for organization or commercial daily operations.
One way to define a production environment is by contrasting it with a testing or development environment. In a testing environment, a product is still being used theoretically. Users (typically engineers) look for bugs or design flaws. In the production environment, the product has been delivered and needs to work flawlessly.
The production environment is different from the development environment since it’s the place where the application is actually available for business use. It allows enterprises to show clients a “live” service.
While developers need their own version to work on, clients and end users must have a distributable version they can use. Distinct builds are created to allow developers to test new functionalities, hunt for bugs to squash, and add new code without affecting the customer’s version. The purpose of this difference is to allow any test to be performed without impacting the operativity of the live product.
Each developer might work in his or her own specific development environment with distinct differences, and different development version might have unique features such as showing contextual data that is normally hidden. There’s a single production environment, instead, that is used to avoid confusion with customers as well as to prevent security issues.
A third environment is sometimes present, and it’s called staging or preproduction environment. Here the best candidate version for release is tested, and it’s usually a mirror of the production environment.
Preproduction is usually short-lived, and only serves the purpose of performing the final stress testing the “next” version of the product before it goes live. When a certain feature is sufficiently checked to reach approval, it can be moved from the test to the preproduction environment before it’s launched in the production environment.
Deploying to production is a particularly sensitive matter, as the clients or users might not be lenient if bugs or errors are found in the final version, or if a new feature does not work as intended. Because of this, sometimes the product is run in quality control (QC) environments which can or cannot be the same thing as preproduction.
For example, a video game patch changes could be play-tested by hand-picked gamers on a QC server to ask their feedback. Unwanted or unexpected changes could be rolled back to avoid negative reactions from the community.
A related term, production code, refers to code that is being used by end users in a real-time situation, or code that is useful for end-user operations. A debate over what constitutes production code shows that there is a lot of ambiguity about the formal application of either term to a specific scenario because of the many stages that code and tech products go through in their respective life cycles.