If you want to learn how to build WordPress websites, test plugins to make sure they are useful and safe, try new themes and web builders, run WordPress on your Mac or PC for testing.
Running WordPress on your computer is a great way to learn about building websites and because only you can see it, it does not matter how good or bad it is and you can experiment with ideas, try things out and see how it works in a safe environment. If you mess it up, no-one will know and you won’t ruin a real site on the web.
There are several dangers when you have a website and one is updating WordPress itself. Usually it goes smoothly, but sometimes it can cause plugins and themes to break. Update a test site running on your PC or Mac and you can check that no problems arise before updating your real site on the web.
Installing plugins and updating them can cause all manner of problems. A common complaint in forums and groups is that someone updated one or more plugins on their site and now they cannot get into it. The site no longer works and they cannot fix it. A test site on your computer means you can try plugin updates and check they are OK before you do it on your live site.
If you see or hear about a plugin and think it might be useful for your site, don’t install it on your real site, install it on a test site running on your computer first. Get to know it, try all the features, configure it, and see if it really will be useful for your site.
These are just a few of the many reason why having a local WordPress site running on your computer is useful.
There are several ways to do it and Bitnami has virtual machines containing WordPress that can be downloaded and run in VirtualBox. Start the WordPress virtual machine and you can then access the website on your computer using a browser in the usual way. Read How to run WordPress on your PC using VirtualBox the easy way. (Come back here afterwards.)
Here I look at a different method and DesktopServer is an application available for Windows PC or Apple Mac that enables you to run test sites on your computer. There are free and paid versions and here I use the free one. It is fine for creating up to three websites.
Download DesktopServer software
Go to the ServerPress website and about half way down the page at the bottom of the feature comparison table is a button to get the free version of DesktopServer.
When the button is clicked, it takes you through the purchasing forms where you must fill in your name and email, agree to terms and so on. It is free, so just keep clicking through the buttons until you get to the download links.
Download the Apple Mac or Windows PC version by clicking the links. I will use the Mac version for this guide, but Windows is very similar, so you can probably work out how to do it.
Install DesktopServer software
On the Mac, double click the .dmg file you downloaded and then run the installer. Click through any permissions windows that appear – the app is safe. (On Windows, unzip it if it is a zip archive and run the installer).
Several windows appear during installation and I won’t show them because there is little to see. Just click the buttons to continue, agree and so on. There are no settings or options and it is straightforward. In a minute or two it will be ready to run.
Start the web server
Start DesktopServer from the Applications/XAMPP folder (on a PC it will be somewhere on the Start menu).
On the Mac it asks if you want to restart with administrator privileges. Just click Next to accept this. An odd thing happens on my Mac and sometimes the app just quits. On the second or third time I run it, it is fine.
This window appears and there is an option to start Apache and MySQL services. These are essential for running WordPress on your computer. Basically this is what a web server is.
I also selected the option to use Local SSL, an https connection. It is not necessary, but I enabled it just for fun and for the learning experience. After all, learning is one of the reasons for setting up WordPress on your computer.
When Next is clicked to start the server, you may see a message from the firewall about allowing or denying it. Allowing it makes it visible on the local network, which isn’t a problem unless you happen to be in coffee shop on public Wi-Fi where hackers are having a meeting. I allowed it.
Install WordPress using DesktopServer
So far only the web server and MySQL has been installed. Now we must add WordPress, which is an application designed to run on web servers and make website building easy. Select Create a new development website and keep clicking the Next button.
First you have to choose a URL for the website that will run on your computer. I chose www.rawinfpages and it added a .dev.cc automatically. Actually .dev.cc is compulsory, but it is unimportant because the site will only be accessible by you. It is basically a fake URL that redirects a browser back to the web server running on your computer.
The version of WordPress can be selected and the best one is the most recent. When WordPress updates are released, you will be able to install them in the usual way, as if the site was really on the web. Go ahead and create it.
If you chose to use SSL with your test site, you might see a prompt to enter your admin password. I found the Terminal window minimised in the Dock and had to open it and type my password so that SSL was installed. Watch out for that.
Keep clicking Next or Continue and eventually, it provides a link to a URL on your site to set up WordPress. Click it or type it into a browser if you want to do it the hard way.
Fill in the form to create the WordPress site by giving it a name, username, password and email. Click Install WordPress to finish.
When the site is set up, you are prompted to log in and from here on it is just like a regular WordPress website on the web, only it is on your computer and only you can access it.
Now that everything is set up, the DesktopServer app is much simpler. Use it to start the server when you want to work on your test site, and stop it when you have finished.
A Sites button appears in the bottom left corner of the DesktopServer app and this opens a browser with links visit your site, open the WordPress dashboard in the admin interface, or view the database settings (geeks only!).
This is not essential and you can simply type your URL into a browser to visit the site. Don’t forget to add /wp-admin/ to the URL to log in to the admin side. It is just like a regular website.
It is a bare bones installation, so your first tasks are to add a theme, plugins and so on. You could try something new or make it the same as your current site. Either way, copy a few posts, text and images, from your regular site to the test site so you have some content to play around with.