WordPress is built using PHP and MySQL, this means you need some type of server environment to run it. Many hosts offer some kind of WordPress specific hosting or tools that will install and get WordPress up and running for you. If you want to get your hands dirty developing with WordPress you’re better off working locally on your own computer. Here are some tools that will help you do just that.
When I first got started in WordPress I was working on a PC and was introduced to XAMPP. A couple of years later when I switched to a Mac I was then introduced to MAMP. XAMPP and MAMP now both offer PC and Mac versions and both do relatively the same thing. They allow to set up a local server running php and MySQL, the things you need to run an install of WordPress. MAMP offers a pro version that allows you to do things such as running multiple versions of php, setting up dynamic dns, and virtual hosts and more. MAMP pro does cost about $60 though. For the most part the free version of MAMP and XAMPP will be all you will need.
To get WordPress up and running on MAMP or XAMPP you will need to download a copy of WordPress from wordpress.org, install it manually, set up a database manually, and go through the “famous 5 minute install” of WordPress. Once this is done you are now working with WordPress locally!
DesktopServer is the go to tool for many WordPress developers. It gives you an environment in which you can work with WordPress just like MAMP and XAMPP, but it takes it a step further. Desktop server with just a few clicks will automatically install an up and running WordPress site locally, no setting up a database, no downloading a copy of core, its all automatically done for you which is great!
The downside though to using Desktop server is you can only manage up to three WordPress installs on the free version of the platform, if you want to run more copies you have to buy their premium version which is $99.95. You get some cool extra features after buying premium like running multiple WordPress installs, premium import and export tools, editor plugins for tools like coda and dreamweaver, and blueprints.
Blueprints allow you to save a set of standard WordPress install configurations like which plugins to use and have every WordPress start-up be the same. Once you get to working with WordPress you will find there is usually a set of the same plugins you will use on nearly every build. Having a WordPress build blueprint will save you time as you begin new projects by not having to download “10” plugins separately on every fresh install.
If you enjoy working with the command line VVV may be the environment for you. According to their website,
VVV can be found on github, is free to use, and allows you to set up an unlimited amount of WordPress sites all from the command line. An entire post can be written in the set up and use of VVV, but we’ll save that for another time. There are a couple of downsides to VVV, one being its built for use on a Mac, but can run on a PC with some extra steps. Also VVV has no GUI, but if you like using the command line, no issue there.
Local by Flywheel
In my experience of being a web developer my tools of choice are constantly evolving. I’ve used each of the above tools to test and develop WordPress sites, and I enjoyed using each of them and would recommend all of them. Currently though my tool of choice for local WordPress development has to be Local by Flywheel. Local by Flywheel is 100% free and offers features that you can only get when you purchase a premium version of some of the above tools. It allows blueprints, sets up WordPress multisites, allows you to send out live links, and one of the coolest features has to be its deployment feature. If you host your website on Flywheel you can push and pull your site from production to local and vice versa. Another cool feature is it allows you to SSH into your local sites and use command line tools like WP CLI. It really is like bundling the best of all the tools above into one great free tool for working with WordPress.
If you’re looking at just getting into developing WordPress sites locally on your own computer any of the above tools will do the job. Some things just come down to preference. If you’re looking though just to get up a test version of WordPress to click around and see if it’s the right tool for you, you can set up a free copy on many hosting platforms. If you want to test out WordPress though without having to set up any kind of account or installing software on your computer, you can set one up on poopy.life. Poopy.life has a weird name but its fast and works well to just spin up a quick test WordPress site.
Hope this helps, leave a comment or drop us a line if you have any questions