In the world of WordPress, there are two primary methods of developing and modifying sites: local development and staging. You can accomplish great results with either approach, yet each is entirely different. So which one should you use? And what exactly do we mean by local development and staging?
In today’s post, we’ll take a look at the options and examine the pros and cons of each. Finally, as a little bonus, we’ll look at some of the best tools available for each method.
Local development is the practice of installing WordPress on a PC or Mac rather than a web server. With local development, all of your WordPress files are on your computer and are not accessible from the internet.
The obvious advantage of local development is that you can work on WordPress sites when you’re not connected to the internet. For example, if you’re traveling and do not have internet access, you can still work on your website. Another big advantage is that no one else can access your site unless they’re sitting at your computer. This means your clients cannot see your work until you show them and the site is pretty much immune from malicious activity.
Another potential advantage of local development is that there’s no risk of experiencing downtime or slow server response due to issues with server performance or internet connectivity. You performance depends solely on your computer. This can give you helpful insights into potential issues before your site is launch your site.
The biggest disadvantage of local development is that you cannot access your site unless you are in front of your computer. So, if you install a site on your desktop at home, you cannot open it when you want to show off your latest WordPress creation at WordCamp. Another consideration is that some plugins will not test correctly in a local development environment.
A staging website is accessible on internet but is not available to the public. Staging sites are typically installed on a subdomain or even in a subdirectory of the primary domain of the parent site. For example, at Pressable, new sites are automatically staged on a subdomain like example.mystagingwebsite.com.
The biggest advantage to staging sites is their accessibility access. Because the WordPress site is installed on a live web server, it can be accessed anywhere, anytime, from any device. This is great if you travel gives you flexibility to work from multiple devices. Also, if you want to allow a client in a different state or country to preview you work, you can simply provide the URL and credentials to the site.
One of the best things developing on a staging site is that your site will constantly be tested in a real hosting environment. Of course, a major disadvantage of staging is that sites could potentially be accessed by malicious individuals. Essentially, you should take the same steps to secure your staging sites as you would to secure your productions sites.
Another disadvantage of staging sites is that, because the sites are hosted on a live server, they can be susceptible to performance-related problems. On the other hand, this can be an advantage if your WordPress host is fast and reliable.
It’s a good idea to keep your staging sites private in order to prevent the public from seeing an unfinished product. An easy way to do this is to use a “coming soon” plugin.
Which Method is Right for You?
The answer to this question is not black or white, and it depends on your goals and needs. If you are developing a WordPress site for a client that requires a high level of security, you may want to choose local development.
If you are developing themes and plugins, a local development environment can you job easier, especially when finding and fixing bugs.
On the other hand, if you are an agency or freelancer that works with clients whom are probably not local to you, a staging environment cannot be beat. It allows you to share your progress with your customers and have them preview the site before launch. It also enables you to see how the site will perform on a live server since the site is, in fact, on a live server.
Local Development Tools
Using and launching your local development environment can be a breeze with the right tools. Here are a few of our favorites.
XAMPP/BitNami may be the best tool for local WordPress development. It is fully open source, free to use support Windows, Mac, and Linux. Once you’ve installed XAMPP, you’ll have the option to install a plethora of software stacks, including WordPress. All of this can be accomplished using a simple wizard, making XAMPP/BitNami our pick for a “starter” local development environment.
This is another great application to use for local development. There is a free version that is quite similar to XAMPP in terms of features. If you want more features, you can pick up the paid version of Desktop Server. One of the best features of Desktop Server is “Direct Deploy to Live Site,” which essentially turns your local development site into a one-click staging environment. It supports Windows and Mac but, unfortunately, not Linux.
These environments are essentially three versions of the same thing. You can use WAMP for Windows, MAMP for Mac or LAMP for Linux. What do they do? WAMP, MAMP and LAMP are complete local environments for developing WordPress sites. These tools require some technical knowledge but they are not difficult to use for those with prior experience. In fact, the two previous options on our list are essentially just GUI (graphical user interface) versions of these utilities.
There are some pretty great tools out there for creating a staging environment quickly and easily. We’ve picked 3 of our favorites.
Pressable Cloning Tool
We’re not usually ones to toot our own horn but, we’ve got to say, cloning is great! Our cloning feature doesn’t provide literal one-click staging but it can very easily be used to stage your sites. All you have to do is clone the site and then start working on it. Once you are ready to push your changes to the live site, point the domain to the clone and you’re done.
Duplicator is a powerful plugin that allows you to backup, clone and stage WordPress sites quickly and easily. It shares some similarities with the Pressable cloning tool. Duplicator does not support one-click deployment, however, it makes is simple to take a development site live. The plugin walks you through a few steps and you’re good to go.
WP-Stagecoach is a premium plugin that enables true one-click-to-deploy staging. That functionality comes at a price. Plans start at $120/year, so it may be best-suited to freelancers and agencies. That said, it is one of the best staging tools out there.
We hope you’ll use the information in this article to select the right development environment for your site. Whether you choose to build your WordPress site in a local environment or staging, there are many tools available to help simplify your task. Your job now is to decide which approach best suits your needs. Good luck, and Press On!