Intro to WordPress Local Development

UPDATED 7/30/19

  • Converted this entire blog post to page; also updated the latest information about InstantWP.
  • All local environment servers are now required to support PHP 7.

Building Local WordPress-only Sites is Fun!

It’s been a long while since I presented the last OMAKE using your local environment. In general, I introduced the AMP Stacks in which you can turn your computer into a live development server that simulates your web host. Using a local environment stack is very helpful when you build and test your sites and apps without breaking anything while being live in the open web.

Just like every piece of technology that we would normally own, there are always limits. For example, my laptop with its very small and limited internal SSD, installing an AMP stack may be space consuming, especially with all the pre-installed scripts (if any) are included, as well as support for different server-side languages like PHP and others. You won’t have any more room to install other important stuff like Python support, Ruby support, PHP support, and everything else related.

For example, what if you want to just build WordPress-powered sites and not even bother with all the extra scripts included with the AMP stack that you have now? Rather than doing something somewhat careless by removing the rest of the pre-installed scripts manually, leaving a slew of errors and other weird things still lingering in your system, why not just uninstall your current AMP stack and settle for lighter, smaller local environments that only support WordPress and (limited) PHP-based scripts?

Let me introduce to three of these lighter AMP stacks that were created specifically for WordPress local development and testing: DesktopServerLocal by Flywheel, and InstantWP. They’re the lighter-sized local environment programs that you can use to develop and test your WordPress and/or PHP-based sites and apps without taking up so much space and memory with other installations you may probably need.

As an update some years after writing this original tutorial, I have been loyally using Local by Flywheel for my local WordPress site development. I also have a separate tutorial using specifically Local by Flywheel in different parts.

DesktopServer

A lot of professional WordPress web developers highly recommend DesktopServer. According to the site, it claims that this local environment bundle is the only AMP stack specifically optimized for WordPress development. That was back then, of course. Now we have new options to choose from.

There are two versions of DesktopServer: their free standard server and their premium version. I’m pretty sure that whenever you read or hear “standard” and “premium,” you’re very sure that there are more features and support for the premium version than that of the standard version. After all, premium versions usually mean you would have to pay for its entire bundle.

The free standard version enables you to do the following for your WordPress local development:

  • cross-platform for both Windows and Mac
  • includes Apache server
  • includes PHP 7 support
  • includes MySQL Server
  • WordPress software is automatically installed
  • includes domain mapping
  • includes Xdebug
  • virtual hosts are automatically installed
  • the ability to copy existing WordPress sites
  • you can use the standard version for 3 sites

That’s pretty much it. If you’re not as tech-savvy as a pro-WP developer, such as support for WordPress multisites, exporting and archiving, or if you want to use this bundle forever (as in more than 3 sites), then you would have to purchase their premium version, which costs almost $100 a year.

Take a look at all the other features included in the premium version, and if it has what you need for your projects, you might consider purchasing a yearly subscription. But, if you are a hobbyist or a student, DesktopServer may not be for you because of the costs.

Fortunately, you’ve got other options to check out. Keep reading.

Local by Flywheel

Some years ago, there was a potential WordPress-specific AMP stack that was gaining popularity among developers known as Pressmatic. I actually thought considering downloading (purchasing) a copy of Pressmatic for my upcoming local WordPress development projects at one point, but you know, I’m short of money. Then, sometime late of last year, I read that Pressmatic development had halted for business reasons.

Around December of 2016, news came that new WordPress-specific web hosting service, Flywheel, acquired the rights to Pressmatic. Some months later, it was re-released with a new name: Local by Flywheel. Because this AMP stack is refreshingly new from the past roots of Pressmatic, this means that it is currently going through something that I may call a test run.

So in short, there are plenty of features, much more features than the standard version of DesktopServer, such as multisite support, site cloning, import and export, mailcatcher, and many more. All of these goodies, plus your barebones local environment server, are all for free. Another bonus with Local by Flywheel is that you can also use this suite to develop sites and apps that are not powered by WordPress, so you won’t have to worry about installing another local environment suite like AMPPS to develop non-WP sites. 1

As of this update, the PRO version of Local by Flywheel (Local Pro) is finally available. As I mentioned from my original post, the PRO version benefits more towards users/developers whose WordPress sites are hosted by Flywheel. This means that if you want to have all these snazzy no-more-FTP features, you would also need to purchase hosting from Flywheel. This also means that if you are hosted somewhere else other than Flywheel, you won’t need the PRO version. This also means you won’t have to spend that much money also. 2

InstantWP

When I quickly included InstantWP to this post, the local environment suite was not being maintained and had remained outdated. As of this new update, InstantWP is back to business with its latest version. It now has the following features:

  • WordPress v. 4.7.1 3
  • Supports PHP 7.0.14
  • Supports mySQL, MariaDB, MariaDB Server
  • Apache/2.4.23 (Unix)
  • phpMyAdmin
  • PHP Composer and WP-CLI

You can check out their website for more information about their latest version.

Which is the best local environment bundle should I choose?

Once again, I’ve mentioned before, this all depends on the needs of your project. If your project only consists of a simple blog and nothing else, then it’s best for you to just use the standard version of DesktopServer. If it’s something huge, like a content-heavy site, for example, then Local by Flywheel or InstantWP may be your best bet. But once again, it’s all up to you.

But don’t forget about the other major AMP stacks too, like XAMPP, WAMP, and MAMP, especially if you would like to learn how to install WordPress manually without the clicking buttons. Let us know what you think if you do start using a WordPress-only local environment stack.

Till next time!

Some Extra Notes...

  1. For example, Joomla, phpBB, etc.
  2. It’s still cheaper than DesktopServer Premium…
  3. You’d have to upgrade it to WP 5.
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