In my last post (http://www.awebthatworks.com/wordpress-wednesdays-plug-ins-looking-before-you-leap), I mentioned that a development server can really come in handy when you’re making changes to your site. A development server is basically somewhere that holds a fully functioning copy of your website. You can then make the changes on the development server, and once everything is working the way you’d like, you can load it to the site for visitors.
There are some huge benefits to having a development server:
- You don’t have to worry about anything unexpected affecting visitors
- You can take some time making your changes, and come back again and again without having to hurry through them for your visitors convenience
- You can do some guessing and testing, and see how everything rolls out site-wide
Now, I know a development server sounds like something that only really involved websites require, but they aren’t quite as complex as they may sound.
On my personal computer, I have an awesome (FREE) program called XAMPP –http://www.apachefriends.org/en/xampp.html. It’s a bit of a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing, so I won’t go into a huge amount of detail about the actual installation here. Basically, this sets up a section of my computer so it works just like a standard Linux server. I can take the website file backup, as well as loading in the mySQL database back-up, and I can run the entire website right from inside my computer. Basically, I do everything exactly like I would online, and then when I’ve got everything just how I want it, I can re-upload everything back over the existing site. The only limiting thing here is that if you are collaborating, you’ll both have to sit at the same computer (or screen share) to make and review changes.
Here’s another idea for testing. I have a complete copy of WordPress hosted online, which I use exclusively for installing and testing new plugins and themes. I have a basic site set-up with a fairly standard set of plugins, content, etc. and it is blocked from search engines. When I add a new plugin I can tell fairly quickly if it is causing any problems, or if it will do what I need for the live site I am working on. You could do something similar by setting up a second copy of WordPress inside a password-protected folder on your own site.
There are tons of other solutions, as well as some great high-end ones which are more automated (and more expensive), but these two are fairly straight-forward for occasional use.
I’d be surprised if you’re leaving this post to go get a production server started, but you may want to keep this in mind if you’re ever considering any kind of major overhaul, especially if you’re doing anything you’re not 100% comfortable with, AWEBthatWORKS would be happy to work with you to create a development space which you can use, and then take care of making everything live once you’re happy with your changes.