While you can easily save your posts as drafts and preview them before publishing, there is no “preview” function when you make changes to your theme and widgets or install new plugins. Having a sandbox to test out changes sounds awfully good if you have been through the experience of inadvertently breaking your wordpress website. Plus, I prefer using a “real” editor on larger files than editing files through the wordpress appearance editor, but this gets tedious quickly as you have to be continually ftping files to your server to see the results. The big shops have staging servers to test out changes, why can you?
You can. All you need is a webserver and mySQL database running locally with a local wordpress installation. And these days that is easier than you think. For MACs there is MAMP and those of you using Windows, there is WAMP Server or XAMPP. These are all variants on the most common configuration on the Internet for web servers: LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySql, PHP) and are available as downloads.
I had no problems with the MAMP download and install. It helps if you are familiar with PHPmyAdmin to get access to the database. And the wordpress install itself is 2 steps, download and the famous 1 click install. For a guide, wpmods step by step tutorial on installing wordpress locally is an excellent resource. However in my case the database and wp-config.php file was set up automatically by the wordpress install so the create database step appears unnecessary (at least on the Mac).
A local wordpress installation is really useful for the initial build of a wordpress website and plugin installation. It’s so much easier to have multiple windows open as I am changing the files of the theme. I usually don’t create the data (posts, pages and categories) on my local machine, when I am ready for that I move to the target server and continue on. However if this is a need for you, you will need to export the data out of your local database and the import it into the target server. The WordPress Codex on Backups may be useful reading if you are going this route.
Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.