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How to Install WordPress Locally and Start Developing a WordPress Website

Local WP WordPress development on your local computer

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Let’s Get Started

In the course that is part of the Studio Plus and Studio Pro memberships, Mike goes over the process of installing WordPress (WP). In this post we describe the ways to start a WordPress site using a local development tool.

Typically if you want to build a website there are a wide variety of platforms and hosts that you can choose from. We recommend using WordPress and the NameCheap web hosting service.

There are two ways to develop a site using WordPress: on a web host server or locally on your own computer. The advantage of development on the live site is that you get started immediately, beginning with a “Welcome” page (some detail about your business) however developing a local site on your laptop or desktop allows you to completely build out your site before publishing.

It may not seem obvious to everyone but we also recommend using a third party tool for writing and organizing your content, prior to publishing. Microsoft Word, Google Drive and other tools are perfect for this purpose. Backup your creative work, including during development!

The setup of a WordPress site on a web server at your host is fairly simple. Usually you locate the cPanel or admin area, and find Softaculous software or the WordPress installer. You can also manually install WP.

What are the advantages or reasons for using WordPress locally?

For one, this is cheaper and easier than using web hosting. You can use it to try out themes or plugins. You can use it to demonstrate WordPress software for tutorials. It’s a great way to experiment without risking a real site. If you already have a live website, this solution offers a way to test plugin updates to see if they may break your site.

It is worth noting, in case you are new to websites and WordPress, that a local website will only be visible to you on your computer. If you want to make a live website, then you’ll need a domain name and WordPress hosting.

My Pick: “Local” is the best local WordPress software

Some local development tools:

  • Local (my recommendation)
  • Desktop Server (not recommended)
  • DevKinsta (only for Kinsta customers)

All the software mentioned in this article can be installed across different platforms such as Mac and PC, however Desktop Server does not seem to cover Linux/Ubuntu.

Local is the champ

Right now I find that Local, also known as localwp.com, is my tool of choice. It’s very handy to set up new sites and begin development on your own computer. When you are ready to publish you can make a copy and upload to your web host.

If you are in a hurry and don’t want to read this article, just head over to localwp.com and get started.

Though I tried both of them, I cannot recommend either Desktop Server or DevKinsta. I’ll explain why, though the drawbacks I mention may not be the limiting factor for you.

How local WordPress development software works

All of the software mentioned in this article works by recreating server setups on your local computer. A local software may, for example make use of a technology like XAMPP to simulate web server tech on your computer.

This tech stack is composed of:

  • Web server software (usually Apache or NGINX)
  • A programming language like PHP or Perl
  • Database management software like MySQL or MariaDB

For example, the website Apache Friends says “XAMPP is an easy to install Apache distribution containing MariaDB, PHP, and Perl.” The key elements are the following: a database (DB), PHP (code language) and Perl (code language).

Some of the software mentioned in this article uses either NGINX (pronounced “engine x”) or Apache, whereas some software offers you the choice.

Working with Local (by WP Engine)

This tool is pretty sweet. I use it in the Tdot Studio course “Create and Design Websites with WordPress.”

The software is easy to use. Though it is designed to integrate with WP Engine web hosting it isn’t necessary to have an account with them. as I’ve mentioned I use a different web host.

I most often deploy the default settings but it is interesting to note you can choose different web servers (Apache or NGINX), different versions of PHP and MySQL. Those settings would be most useful to professional developers. You can also use the default and it should work fine.

I found at least one small issue. In one case I could not recover my password, even while using the built in mail tool (Mailhog), so I recommend you note your username and password as you might with any other site.

Developing Sites with Desktop Server

While I used the free version of Desktop Server to develop sites a few years ago. I was happy using this software. It was a revelation to me that I could create sites on my laptop, without connecting to web hosting, and without even having an Internet connection.

While researching this article I discovered that Desktop Server may not be actively maintained anymore, as it appears that it has not been modified since mid 2019.

Regarding the Desktop Server software, though I was initially excited about it, I found one default setting was a deal breaker for me. In the general settings where one can select whether to allow search engines to index your site, I discovered the default was set to “discourage search indexing.” I was disappointed with this and told the developers so. I discovered that setting was likely limiting my site’s exposure to Google search.

Working with DevKinsta

I tried DevKinsta 6 months ago and could not install the software on my Mac. Regretfully at that time I was unable to give it a test.

I really want to recommend Kinsta’s tool. They have an awesome blog that I’ve relied on for research into WP tools and techniques, but I was unable to install their DevKinsta software on my Mac because I could not install a required secondary software called “Docker.”

For this article I decided to try again. This time, after installing DevKinsta I was prompted to install a second software called “Docker.” I went through the prompts. I was astonished that it appeared that a program 1.6 GB was being installed! That is shocking! If you have limited hard drive space you will not be able to do this. You’d be better off with Local.

Eventually I was able to get to the create a site page. Options are more limited than with Local. Web server offered is NGINX. PHP options between 7.2 to 8.0.

I would only recommend using this software if you are a customer of Kinsta, otherwise just go with Local and get hosting with NameCheap.

Advanced considerations

You may want to make sure your local development tools allows for:

  • Choice of server (Apache / NGINX)
  • PHP 7 compatibility
  • SSL support

In my 10+ years working with WordPress I have most often used web hosts that use Apache web servers. Apparently this year the NGINX (pronounced “Engine X”) took over the lead in terms of web server deployment. It’s my guess that WordPress works equally well in either environment.

SSL capability is not a required, but a “nice to have” feature. SSL may not be included in free versions of software. Expect it to be part of a paid, pro version. Some plugins or WordPress tools may not work properly if you do not have “https” or SSL installed.

In Summary

You can’t go wrong with using Local. It is a strong choice for local WordPress development and I would recommend it.

If you are still looking for hosting, I’d recommend considering checking out NameCheap. I’ve used them for more than two years and found the service fast and reliable. Their support is solid.

Good luck with your WordPress journey!

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