WordPress offers a lot of control over your website's code. But one downside of that freedom is that it becomes easy to break a part of your site while tinkering.
You never want that to affect your live website, so what should you do? In the past, I've discussed creating a WordPress staging site to address this issue.
But there's an even easier way - a WordPress development environment. This will give you a completely safe zone to mess around with themes or plugins. In this article, I'll present you with the five best services to create a WordPress test site with:
- Flywheel Local (User-friendly local WordPress environment)
- XAMPP (Open source and free to use)
- MAMP (Comes with lots of extra features)
- DesktopServer (Simple WordPress setup)
- WP Sandbox (Ideal for quick personal WordPress testing)
Recommended for: users looking for an accessible WordPress development environment.
Price from: free
It includes 1-click WordPress installation and sites come with pre-installed SSL certificates.
Although it's easy to use, Flywheel Local is still advanced enough for pro developers thanks to SSH access and the ability to swap between Apache and NGINX server architectures.
This service's best feature is that it allows you to create 'test URLs'. These are live links to your development websites which will let clients view your work remotely.
This is especially useful for streamlining the review process of a new website. It's much better than getting caught up with granting access to the back-end for each and every pair of eyes (bad in both development and real life).
Flywheel Local is available as a free, community supported package. However, the affordability of Flywheel Local does come with some compromises. For example, this version doesn't include any technical assistance or staging environment support. These are only available in Local's 'Team' package which costs $50/month.
- 1-Click WordPress installation
- Included SSL certificates
- Test URLs
- SSH access
- Free version doesn't include technical support
- Not as advanced as competitors
Recommended for: users who want a standalone WordPress installer.
Price: completely free
It can run on Windows, Linux and Mac OsX and is entirely free to use.
Thanks to its 1-click multi-package installer, installing WordPress with XAMPP is simpler than with competing tools like MAMP.
This is a real advantage to using XAMPP, particularly for audiences that would much rather avoid the technical side of WordPress testing.
One issue with using XAMPP is that, if something goes wrong, no professional customer support is available. XAMPP is an extremely popular open source software stack though, so you'll be able to find the answers to most problems on its bustling forums.
Another problem is that XAMPP can only emulate an Apache server environment. That means you can't check if the WordPress plugins or themes you're working on function properly on NGINX based servers.
Of course, if something is wrong, it will become more difficult to discover this.
- Compatible with multiple operating systems
- 1-Click installation
- Active development community
- Harder to use than Flywheel Local
- Only supports Apache server environments
Recommended for: users looking for WordPress development with extra features.
Price from: free
Previously, I've discussed how to use MAMP to install WordPress locally on Mac OS computers. It's available for Windows too, but sadly Linux is not supported.
When I'm asked about MAMP vs XAMPP, a key difference I point to is that they don't come with the same software packages. Many users will prefer MAMP's MySQL database management system over the MariaDB package included with XAMPP.
Another difference is that MAMP isn't open source. Although a free version is available, there are numerous benefits to using MAMP PRO, which costs $59.
MAMP Pro allows you to host your test WordPress site in the cloud, to preview how pages will appear on mobile browsers, and to install WordPress in 1-click. Installing WordPress with the free version of MAMP isn't easy, so I highly advise you to read my guide before attempting to do so.
- MySQL and NGINX included
- A free version is available
- Mobile page previews and cloud storage
- Not all features included for free
- Harder to install WordPress
Recommended for: users who want a simple WordPress set up.
Price from: free
DesktopServer isn't a software stack like MAMP or XAMPP. It's much closer to Flywheel Local, as both operate as standalone applications. It's extremely easy to set up and use. The installer walks you through the entire process of creating a WordPress test site.
Once added, all you need to do to enter your WordPress test environment is to launch the DesktoServer program.
This program can be installed on both Windows and Mac machines, no Linux version is currently available.
Compared to alternatives, the free 'Limited' version of DesktopServer doesn't offer much by way of extra features to enhance your WordPress development experience.
However, if you are willing to pay for it, the $99.95 DesktopServer 'Premium' edition adds SSL support, the ability to push your environment to a live website and reduced support response time.
- Simple to use and install
- Multisite support with premium version
- More limiting than alternatives
- No Linux variant available
5. WP Sandbox
Recommended for: users who want to create a WordPress test site in the cloud.
Price from: free
Built by the same developers behind the well-known WP All Import plugin, this service allows you to create an unlimited number of test WordPress installations directly from your browser.
You don't have to install any software to use it, and your WordPress files aren't stored on your local computer. Instead, they're kept on WP Sandbox's cloud servers.
The big advantage of this setup is that you can share your demo WordPress sites, plugins and themes with colleagues or clients by sending them a test URL.
In fact, WP Sandbox actually allows you to sell your WordPress creations directly to customers. It can be configured to generate a custom WP installation folder when purchases are made.
WP Sandbox is fairly expensive at $49/month. However, a free to use version is available at Poopy.Life. The silly name was intentionally chosen to discourage professional use of the free version. It's an effective tactic; I don't recommend using it in any business setting.
- Doesn't require any software installation
- Sell directly to clients
- Instant set up
- Less control over your test site
- Sites expire after a week
Finding the Right WordPress Test Site Service For You
I recommend that you consider your unique WordPress development needs when picking a service:
- Flywheel Local is great for beginners.
- XAMPP is best for developers on a budget.
- MAMP offers cloud storage for your test sites.
- DesktopServer allows you to get started quickly.
- WP Sandbox is great for selling your WordPress creations.
What do you think of these WordPress test site services? Have you used any of them already? And if you have others to recommend, comment below!
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