Podcast Episode

397 – Comparison of Five Local Development Tools


Is there a plugin for that?

With more than 50,000 plugins in the WordPress repository, it’s hard to find the perfect one. Each week, I will highlight an interesting plugin form the repository.

For more great plugins, download my 50 Most Useful Plugins eBook.

Tidy My Menus is a plugin that tidies up your menu and hides some of the custom menu items added by themes and plugins.

Comparison of Five Local Development Tools

The five options that I’ve used for creating local development sites are:

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Full Transcript

Business Transcription is provided by GMR Transcription.

Last week we talked about how to save ourselves some headaches by setting up a testing site. And today we’re going to talk about how we can do that and what we can do to set it up on our computer right here on Your Website Engineer podcast, Episode No. 397.

[Music plays]

Hello and welcome to another episode of Your Website Engineer podcast. My name is Dustin Hartzler and today we’re going to be talking about one of my favorite subjects and one of my favorite things about Wordpress – how we can run Wordpress locally on our computers.

That’s right. We don’t necessarily have to install Wordpress on a server. Well, we have to install it on a server for other people to see it, but if we want to do some work on our own, we can just install it on our computer. We can have a copy of our site right there on our computer, and from there, we can edit it. We can work on it on the fly and it’s really, really cool and I’m really excited to share the point of this episode with you. But first, I do have a few announcements – some things that are going on – and a plugin to share.

The first announcement that I want to share with you today is –Wordpress 4.9.7 – the security and maintenance release has been released. It has been out into the wild ever since July 5th and your website has probably already updated itself if you have that turned on and those features enabled. But basically, there were 17 bug fixes that were fixed in this version and some of the things are widgets, allowed basic HTML tags in the sidebar – some post types were – they’re cleared post password cookies when logging out. There’s some stuff with taxonomies. There are some privacy things that were changed. I just wanted to point out the release so you can update your site in the coming week.

The next thing I want to talk about is Wordpress 4.9.8. And this is going to introduce a Try Gutenberg callout. And so, this release is coming up soon. It was originally announced as 4.9.7. They decided to make 4.9.7 that maintenance release that we just talked about. And now, .8 is going to come out and it is targeted for the end of the month – July 31st – and there could be a beta as early as July 17th.

And the release will focus on introducing a Try Gutenberg – a big button at the top – or some sort of panel that helps people understand that Gutenberg is coming and how to install that and get that some testing and just to try it out and see what that’s like. And so, that’s something to look forward towards the end of month and I’m sure I will be reporting on that in a few weeks when that beta comes out and we can start looking at it.

The other piece of news that comes from WordPress is Jetpack – Version 6.3.2. This has a simple payment widget fix and this came out on July 4th. And so, if you haven’t updated to the latest version of Jetpack, you want to go ahead and do that as well.

I also want to note that I’ll be heading to Philadelphia just in a couple weeks. It’s in two weeks. The Podcast Movement Conference is happening and I will be heading there for just a couple of days. Wordpress.com is one of the sponsors for Podcast Movement. And so, I’ll be there and hanging out at the booth answering people’s questions about Wordpress or WooCommerce or Jetpack or any of those things along with talking about podcasting – and I mean I’ve been podcasting since 2010 so I’m like an eight-year veteran I guess and I’m just excited to be around that community

And if you are at the conference, make it a point to swing by the Wordpress.com booth and look for me. I probably won’t be wearing an orange shirt, but I will have my bright orange shoes on because we don’t have any Wordpress shirts that are orange. I think I need to talk to the marketing team about that. That would definitely sell some more Wordpress plans.

All right. Moving right along to the “Is there a plugin for that?” – this plugin is called Tidy My Menus. And this is one of those plugins – I’m like why would I need this? And then I started reading the description and I’m like, oh, that is really cool. So, this is a plugin that will help you clean up that sidebar – that left-hand sidebar with all those menus. And what this does is it – you know – say you install like Backup Buddy or Pretty Links or – there are a ton of plugins that add their own little area to the left, you know? And now you’ve got – right under Settings or above Settings – and they just kind of jam all their settings in there.

Now, with Tidy My Menus, you can go ahead and you can move those so they are tucked away underneath the Settings area, especially if there are ones that you don’t access very often like Yost settings – global settings. You probably set them up once and then you don’t need to see that on the left-hand sidebar every single time. So, Tidy My Menus – this is one that I recommend and I think you should check out. You can find it in the Wordpress repository or a link to it is in the show notes for Episode No. 397.

Okay, today, I want to talk about five of the best local WordPress development tools. And we’re going to talk about what they are and kind of how they compare to each other and whatnot. And I really like this topic. I don’t know why. I just love tools and the technology and I have used every single one of these tools – all five of them. I’ve just changed over the years and none of them are better or worse. It’s all about personal preference. They all will serve up and allow you to run Wordpress – a copy of your website locally on your computer. And some of them just have different features and whatnot. And so, we’ll talk about those in just a second.

Back in the day when I developed websites with just HTML and CSS, it was pretty easy to view what you were working on because you didn’t have a server to spin up or anything. You could just view the HTML file in a browser and you could see exactly what happened. And I loved that. It was the ability to just edit and then save and then refresh your browser and it just worked. I really, really enjoyed that.

And then come to find out, when I installed WordPress, I’m like, ah, where’s the – how do I view it – I was just so confused. And it took me a little while to figure out how to actually do this locally on my computer and then I found so many benefits with it. You know, the website runs much, much faster. You don’t necessarily need a solid internet connection. I find that, you know, if I say like, oh, I’m going to work on this website on the plane when I don’t have actual access, then invariably, I have to look up something or I have to look up a function or I have to do something that I need the internet for, but I can use a lot less internet juice, I guess.

If I’m on an airplane, I can google things, you know, and I can – you know – find the information on the slow internet on the airplane, but then I don’t have to wait for my webpage to reload every single time – you know – when I’m trying to do some testing or whatnot. So, I find that it is much, much faster – not necessarily for when you don’t have an internet connection. I, more personally, like it to be on my computer just so the speed of editing and then refreshing. I also like it so I have a duplicate copy of my website locally on my computer.

So, if something happened with my server and my backups, I would still have at least one copy on my computer. So, those are a couple reasons that I like developing locally. I do it a lot when we have customers for Woo Commerce and they come and they have a question or a problem, and you know, maybe it’s a problem with one of our extensions – maybe it’s not – and so, I just spend, you know, five minutes and set up – it’s not even five minutes – just a couple of minutes.

Set up a test environment with only the plugin – Woo Commerce and whatever plugin they have an issue with – and then I can do some tests and I don’t have to like turn off everything and just – I want to make sure that the plugins work by themselves correctly and then I can get some more information and just try to figure out where that troubleshooting happens. So, it works perfectly for that. It works perfectly for if you want to do some updates or some changes and you want to do it locally, then that way you can test things before it breaks your live site – just a lot of cool things that you can do when WordPress is on your computer.

So, the tools that we’re going to talk about today are a desktop server, XAMPP, MAMP, Valet Plus, and Local by Flywheel. Those are the ones that we’re going to talk through and just kind of uncover and figure out what is what. And so, you can do multiple Wordpress websites with all of these platforms. Most of them are easy to use or a couple of them are easy to use. There are a couple that will allow you to set up different test environments whether you want to use PHP 5.4 or if you want to use PHP 7.

You can run locally and install databases and you can have – some of them have desktop boards that you can use. Some of them are free. Some of them are premium. Most of them are free so you can get started pretty quickly out of the box without investing a lot of money. So, let’s first talk about Desktop Server has been a long favorite of mine and it goes all the way back to WordCamp Grand Rapids. I want to say it was 2013 – 2012 or 2013 – so, many years ago.

I just happened to be there and a couple of the guys from the company – Mark was there and he was just kind of demoing what the – Mark and Greg were there and they were just talking about it and I was like I’ve heard of Desktop Server – I’ve never seen it. Then they gave me a tour and then I interviewed them on a podcast years and years ago and just talked about how it works and the tools. And it’s really cool. It gives you a wizard. You can set up a new WordPress install like locally. It allows you to map domains to your local site.

So, when I was using Desktop Server, I was always using YWE – which stands for Your Website Engineer – dot dev. And then that would allow me to map to that specific domain name. So, I could go to YWE.dev and then I could take a look at my website that’s running locally. You can duplicate or delete your sites. It’s possible to manage three sites for free with Desktop Server. And what else can you do with Desktop Server? You can set a blueprint. I really like this feature.

A lot of these have the blueprint feature. And so, what that means is – you can create kind of this is going to be my template if you will. Maybe you always use the same theme. You use these same four plugins. You can create this as a blueprint. You set the site all up. You can delete posts. You know, you can get rid of that Hello World comment. You can get rid of the About Me page or, you know, kind of all the default stuff. Hello Dolly you can get rid of. You can add your plugins and then you can save that as a blueprint.

And then when it comes to installing – you know – creating a brand new site in Desktop Server, you call that blueprint and it’s going to install everything that you already specified. It’s really cool and super, super slick. The UI on Desktop Server is a little bit on the older side. It’s just a little bit more of an archaic-looking program and some of these programs aren’t the prettiest looking, but those are the – that’s one of the downfalls of Desktop Server. They have upgraded so it’s all now Retina-enabled. So, if you have a Retina display, it’s going to be much, much more crisper and cleaner – the text there.

But it’s pretty intuitive. You can add different plugs and features. One of the plugins that Desktop Server comes with is the ability to change the admin bar – or that black admin bar that’s on WordPress. You can change it to whatever color you like. So, of course, as an orange fanatic, mine is turned orange so that I know that when I’m looking at something with an orange bar, that is a local site and not my live site. A lot of times I used to update things on a local site, refresh on the live site, and nothing happened – well, because I was working on two different sites at the same time.

Like I said, Desktop Server is free for three sites. If you want any more than three sites, you’ll have to pony up a premium license which starts at $95.00 per year and you’ll get access to a few extra features like supporting multi-sites and you have the option for the blueprints. I guess the blueprints are included with the premium version. So, if you need blueprints – if you want to set up very, very quickly and easily and you need that blueprints feature, then you will need the premium version of Desktop Server.

The second one that I want to talk about is called XAMPP and it is an acronym that stands for Apache, MariaDB, Perl, and PHP. And you need to – it basically packs all the software that you need to run WordPress. It is a particular local development tool that comes in two flavors. There’s a regular XAMPP and there’s a XAMPP VM for virtual machine. And I’ve just used the standard version and basically what you do is you go to the website. It’s an open source platform.

So, you go to – there will be a link in the show notes for where to go – but you can download XAMPP. It’s available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS and it does have a little bit of a software – like a little bit of an installation feature as you go – but then it basically it lets you set up all the necessary pieces that you need for WordPress. It allows you to create or choose from multiple XAMPP versions depending on which PHP version that you want and you can have a simple dashboard to manage all of your services. It makes it possible to set up WordPress manually or use the stand-alone installer if you want to.

So, it gets – I mean your hands are going to get a lot more dirty. You’ve got a lot more technical things that you can do and to set up with XAMPP. And so, it is, like I said, a free version and this is probably on the low end of my list if I was to list these out from favorite to least favorite. I would say XAMPP is right there at the bottom just because it’s a little bit more tedious to set up and it doesn’t really have the best UI in order to interact with it.

The next one that I want to talk about is called MAMP and it stands for My Apache, MySQL, and PHP. It’s very similar to XAMPP. It’s a software stack that enables you to create WordPress websites and other types of sites. And the process of using the tool works just about the same as XAMPP. You set up the stack. You create the database. Then you go into the motions of setting WordPress up manually.

And so, like both of these are very, very manual processes. MAMP is offered only for Windows or Mac OS and you can choose multiple versions depending on your operating system and what version of PHP you want to install. So, again, it’s very similar. I think the user experience or the UI is just a little nice with MAMP. And I haven’t used MAMP in years, and so, I don’t know exactly like all the ins and outs, but there is a free version and then they have a premium option as well. And that premium option starts at $59.00 for both Mac OS and Windows.

The pro version includes more options like if you wanted to set up Nginx server, a mobile testing tool, and a built-in editor. If you need any of those things, you’ll need MAMP Pro for $59.00.

The next one that I want to talk about is Local by Flywheel. And this would have been the pick – this is the one that I would have recommended. I still recommend this one. And this is the one that I would be currently using today until about three or four weeks ago when I discovered the last one that we’ll talk about.

But we’ll talk about Local by Flywheel. This is the prettiest tool for sure. It is hands-down the best UI. It makes it the easiest to use. It is completely free from the team over at Flywheel and it is available for Windows and Mac OS. It’s the sleekest development tool around and it has an easy to use interface. That’s why I really like it. And when you are getting ready to set up a site, you can choose whether you want an Apache server or Ngnx server and then you can choose if you want PHP Version 5 or PHP Version 7. You get to test on different hardware stacks to see exactly what it looks like on the same server environment that you have configured for your site.

So, it’s easy to set up. It has the blueprints. It gives you the options to access dashboards and databases and local directories all from one click inside of Local. You can create live links. This is a really cool feature as well. So, you can be working locally on your computer, and if you want to show it to somebody else, you can generate a live link right inside of Local and you can send it to somebody else, and as long as your computer is on and Local is up and running, then somebody else can look at that URL and they can visit your website.

No more of this, oh, I’m ready for my client to look at it. You’ve got to upload it to the cloud, and then from the cloud, then – you know – like you’ve got it online somewhere, but then you have the privacy protected or put a construction site or like a landing page that nobody can see – this allows you – with a click – here’s a link. You can send it to your client and they can take a look at it. And then, like I said, you can also do blueprints so you can easily deploy WordPress websites using those settings that you prefer.

It’s probably the most – I don’t know – it’s tailored specifically – just like Desktop Server was – Local is specific to WordPress. You don’t really have to install WordPress. When you say go, it asks for your user name and your password. You can set up a default user name and password that’s already used and you can change those when you’re setting up a website. You pick where your site is going to be stored on your computer and it just basically installs WordPress for you. It installs it with 2017 theme and, you know, all of the basics of WordPress.

It is a free tool by Flywheel and they’re talking about some sort of premium version in the works, but they haven’t really said a whole lot about that or what that’s going to entail. So, that’s Local by Flywheel.

And the last tool that I want to talk about is called Valet Plus. There’s a link to this in the show notes, but Valet Plus is a development environment for Mac OS. It is not vagrant. There’s no Dockerfiles needed. You don’t need access to the host file to change things. It’s a third-party fork of Laravel Valet and it adds functionalities to Valet with the goal of making things simpler and faster.

And it is – probably one of the things that sticks out the most to me about Valet – and this is the one that I just installed about three weeks ago – two to three weeks ago – is it is fast. Like navigating the dashboard, viewing the website – like it is blasting fast and I love that. That’s something that I really look forward to – especially when I’m doing troubleshooting on Live Chat – I like to be able to look at something, click on a link, and it automatically redirects me very, very quickly.

Now, this has – there is no UI hardly. I guess there’s no UI. It’s basically all command line stuff. And so, you have to – there’s a link in the show notes about how to set this up, but you have to install Homebrew and then you install PHP and then Composer and then Valet Plus. You install all of that and then, once you get that set up, now you can target a folder. And then any folder that you put inside of that folder will have the name like with a .test at the end.

And so, like – for example – I have a folder that’s YWE. And so, if I go to my browser and I just go to YWE.test, it’s going to use an SSL certificate which is pretty nice. It’s all built in through Valet Plus. And so, it will serve up a SSL-required – or HTTPS:\\YWE.test and then I can start testing my website. It’s pretty cool. You do have to go in – you have to manually install WordPress. You have to install and activate things all via the command line, or once WordPress is up and running, then you can do things in the WordPress dashboard.

But a colleague of mine – and I’ll have a link to this in the show notes as well – created a little script. And so, the script goes in and it does a lot of the command line stuff so I don’t have to manually type it in. So, for me to create a Woo Commerce site, I basically go to the terminal. I can go anywhere in the terminal. I’ve defined where the files are going to be, but I can just type wc-site and then I give it a name – so, maybe like Woo Commerce or Woo Dev or Wood Test 1 – whatever that may look like – and then I hit enter.

And about 30 seconds to a minute later, I’ve got a site that has a storefront installed. It has taken out 2017 and it has gotten rid of the – I guess there’s no Hello Dolly plugin – and it has just got a few – you know – it’s got the things that I’m looking for – the things that I need – on my website. So, that’s what that looks like and that’s how that works. Really cool, but I would say that it’s on the high end of the technical scale – like there’s no UI. There is no like link to click to open the database.

You have to use the command line to open the database, but it’s something that is very fast, and if you want to feel more – I feel more like a programmer. I feel more like a hacker when I’m typing in the command line. And so, that’s maybe an option that you want to look into if you want to go that route, but any of these tools are going to be better than no WordPress websites on your computer themselves. And so, I recommend just spending a little time this week or next week trying to figure out which plugin may work for you, which one would be the best user experience, which one would be the easiest to get up and running, and then go ahead and start and create a clone of your website.

That’s what I wanted to share with you this week. Take care and we’ll talk again soon. Bye-bye.

    • RS Reply

      I’ve been looking for a XAMPP replacement after many years of use and this topic is very timely. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Any thoughts on AMPPS or WampServer?

      Jul 22, 2018
      • Dustin Hartzler Reply

        I haven’t tried either of those, sorry!

        Sep 3, 2018

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