How to run WordPress on your PC or Mac for testing and learning

How do you test WordPress plugins and themes? Many people don’t and go right ahead and install them. This can lead to problems, so here’s how to set up WordPress on a PC or Mac for testing.

WordPress, plugins and themes are regularly updated and new versions come out every month or two. Sometimes they are minor updates, but occasionally they are major ones that add new features or have new ways of working. It sounds exciting, but it is also risky. Updates to WordPress, plugins and themes can cause conflicts that stop a website from working or cause bugs to appear in the design, layout or functioning.

A problem with your website or blog can be catastrophic and every minute it is down or not working properly, you are losing visitors. If you earn an income from your site then it is even worse and you could be losing money.

Ideally you should test new versions of WordPress, plugins and themes before installing them on a live website. Even if the update presents no problems, running through the update procedure on a test site is a useful learning process.

So how do you set up a test website? One way is to use ServerPress, which I looked at not long ago. Here is an alternative and in some ways I prefer it.

InstantWP WordPress on your PC or Mac

InstantWP website

InstantWP (alternative download) is a free program for Windows PCs and Apple Macs that enables you to run WordPress locally on your own computer. It can only be accessed on your computer and it is not live on the web, which means it can be used for test purposes and learning. You can practise your WordPress skills in the safe environment of your own computer.

InstantWP has some great features and it downloads as a zip file. There is no installation and you just unzip it and run Start-InstantWP.

Run InstantWP in Windows

Keep the zip file you downloaded. If you ever screw up WordPress you can simply delete it and unzip a fresh copy and try again. Imagine the hassle if you messed up a live site on the web! Knowing that you can simply start again encourages you to experiment and try new things. After all, there is no risk.

Run InstantWP

InstantWP control panel in Windows

When InstantWP is run, it displays this control panel. Click WordPress Frontpage to see the website in a browser or click WordPress Admin to open a browser and show the login page. The username and password are ‘admin’ and ‘password’. These are obvious and guessable, but it does not matter because this WordPress website is on your computer and only you can access it. No-one else has access, so it is safe.

Update WordPress, plugins, themes

InstantWP running WordPress in Windows

InstantWP came with an old version of WordPress when I tried it. However, WordPress simply prompts you to update. It went from 4.7.x to 4.8.x to 4.9.x and in uder 15 minutes it was running the latest version. As new versions of WordPress are released, you can update it in the usual way. This enables you to test new versions before updating your real live website.

Install plugins and themes

You will probably want to install the plugins and the theme you use on your live website. Just go to Plugins or Appearance and install them in the usual way. It is also a good idea to copy the text and images from three or four posts on your website and create posts in the test site on your computer. You can then view posts and test things more easily.

If there are plugins you have always wanted to try, go ahead and install them. Learn how to use them before installing them on your real website.

InstantWP file manager

The InstantWP control center has buttons for Themes Folder and Plugins Folder. Click them and a file manager opens in a browser window. Some web hosts provide a file manager and some provide FTP access, which is basically a remote file manager. It lets you access files on the web server.

InstantWP file manager showing WordPress files

If an update for a plugin causes problems with a website and you cannot get into it, renaming the plugin folder on the server using a file manager or FTP program will often fix the problem. InstantWP file manager lets you try things like this. You can also browse the WordPress folders and files and get to know it. It is useful to know a little about WordPress’ structure when it comes to advanced topics and fault finding.

Some WordPress themes are updated using FTP or a file manager to upload the files direct to the server. You can practise this with InstantWP file manager before doing it on a live website.

Summing up

If you have your own WordPress website, InstantWP is an invaluable utility for testing updates, plugins, themes and other things in a safe environment. The worst that can happen is that you have to delete it and unzip a fresh copy. It is very simple to set up and use, and no technical knowledge is required.

You could even use it to create websites for customers if you are a developer, or want to be a developer. You could use it to learn how to create your own plugins or themes. It has lots of uses.