Why and How to Set Up a Local WordPress Environment

You can’t call yourself an experienced WordPress user unless you have made some code tweaks directly on your site. It’s not a good idea, and I strongly recommend not doing it, but in spite of that, 99% of all WordPress users have installed or updated multiple plugins at once or made some code changes.

Setting up a local WordPress environment is a healthy alternative to making adjustments to your live website. It sounds complicated, and to some extent it is, but you won’t face any issues if you carefully read this article.

What Is a Local WordPress Environment?

A local WordPress environment lets you store your site’s files and database on your hard drive. A server keeps your live site’s files while a local environment creates a virtual server that stores the same files. Everything happens on your computer!

Why Use a Local Environment?

A local environment is a must for anyone who wants to learn the ins and outs of WordPress. Sooner or later, you will have to set up such an environment. Here are some of the most important advantages:

1.    Learn WordPress Development

You won’t learn WordPress without practicing, and a local site is golden in this respect. You can tweak the code, change permissions, modify core files, or customize the theme without worries because nothing bad can happen. In addition to a good text editor and perhaps a big cup of coffee, a local environment is the perfect way to learn to create plugins or themes.

2.    Test New Themes and Plugins

Nowadays, a site needs constant improvements or extended functionalities. That means that you should install and test new plugins and themes. Unfortunately, some plugins or themes might be incompatible with one another, causing the site to malfunction or even crash. On top of that, the newly installed themes and plugins might not be what you expected. Avoid these unwanted scenarios by using a clone of your site on the local environment. It takes time, but you will rest assured that your site looks and works how you want it to.

3.    Independent of Internet

Do you like to work outdoors but don’t have a powerful wireless internet connection? A local environment is the solution because it doesn’t rely on an internet connection. Much more, a local environment is way more secure because you aren’t connected to the internet, and every web page loads faster because all the files are stored on your hard drive.

How to Set Up a Local Environment

The above advantages should have convinced you that your set of coding tools should include a local environment. Countless developers have countless ideas about the perfect environment, so there are no set-in-stone components of a local environment. However, the vast majority of WordPress developers agree that the following tools are mandatory:

  • A local server environment
  • A text editor
  • A developer-friendly browser

Local Server Environments

A local server environment is the most important tool for WordPress development. You can’t run a WordPress site unless you use one of the below recommendations.

Local by Flywheel

If you are like me and don’t have patience, then Local by Flywheel is for you! All you have to do is to download it, click a few times to install it, and fill out the basic information, such as website name, admin username, password, and email address. Now you have a robust local server on which to create WordPress sites.

Local by Flywheel is the most user-friendly interface among all local servers. If you are stuck while installing it, watch the video on the homepage showing you how to set up the local server.

Local by Flywheel comes with three price tiers, including a free basic plan that is more than enough for tweaking the code and testing new themes and plugins.

DesktopServer

DesktopServer is another simple and effective option for local servers. It’s simple to set up, and a plethora of developers are satisfied with it, so give it a chance.

In the beginning, use the free version, which allows you to create WordPress sites, supports domain name mapping, and automatically generates a virtual host. The premium version includes all these features and many others, such as multisite support, website exports and archive, and direct deployment onto a live server.

DesktopServer works on both Mac and Windows.

XAMPP

XAMPP stands for Apache, MySQL, PHP, and Pearl, and it’s one of the most popular pieces of software for creating local servers. Despite its popularity, XAMPP isn’t simple to install, but once it’s set up, it will considerably streamline your work.

Fortunately, you can watch YouTube tutorials showing you how to install XAMPP. For instance, this video reveals how to install XAMPP on Windows 10.

XAMPP works on Mac and Windows.

Vagrant

Vagrant is an open source software suitable for larger WordPress sites. It creates virtual boxes, and users are free to choose the proper one from the library. Of course, there is a box that mimics a host for WordPress sites. I recommend Vagrant for experienced WordPress users.

Text Editors

A text editor will save you plenty of time if you edit code regularly. Many, if not most, highlight the syntax and help you avoid mistakes. You can use your operating system’s default text editor, but it doesn’t come with too many productive features. Check out the following suggestions and consider using one of them to write code like a pro.

Notepad++

The single downside of this text editor is that it works only for Windows users. Unlike Notepad—the default Windows text editor—Notepad++ comes bundled with impressive features for optimal code writing. It works with many coding languages and highlights the syntax. You can also open multiple tabs.

Visual Studio Code

Microsoft launched Visual Studio Code in 2015. Since then, an army of coders has used it with satisfaction. It’s suitable for writing code in HTML and CSS, JavaScript, and PHP, so feel free to use it to customize WordPress themes and plugins.

One of the advantages of Visual Studio Code is the large number of extensions available on the marketplace. For instance, use Debugger for Chrome to debug JavaScript code in your Chrome browser.

Brackets

Brackets is a free text editor that works on both Mac and Windows. Unlike other text editors, it lets you extract data from PSD files—Adobe developed both Photoshop and Brackets.

Developer-friendly Browser

You need a developer-friendly browser to display the output of your code. All major browsers have helping tools for developers, but Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome are the best. Use whatever browser you want, but consider testing one of these two options.

Wrapping Up

Setting up a local WordPress development environment is a necessity if you want to sharpen your WordPress skills. Configuring the local server is the most challenging part, but the endeavor is paid off in the long run. The above suggestions are tried and tested by us, but there are many other top-notch alternatives. Do you have any tips? Which tools do you use? Drop us a comment with your tools of choice.


About the Author

Rikard is a full stack WordPress developer with a passion for maintenance and page speed optimisation. Rikard is currently working as a project manager at SteadyWP.