Using a Local Development Environment

When it comes to creating new features for a website, it’s important to be able to test as much, as often, and as fast as possible. Being able to quickly alter database content, update functions, and change styles can significantly speed up the development process. One of the best ways to achieve this is by using a local development environment. A local development environment is simply a copy of your web servers and site on your local computer.

What are the benefits of developing locally

Developing a site locally on your computer allows you freedom and control that you might not have otherwise. Since your computer works as the server for your website, any changes you make can happen almost instantly by refreshing the page. This allows you to make rapid changes and test the results without the restriction of a slow internet connection or server performance issues. Your site will simply depend upon your local machine performance. You do not need to be connected to the internet as long as your site isn’t requesting any external resources.

This also allows you to work more securely and free from prying eyes, as no one else can access your local site without setting up external access to it. This high level of security while testing your site lets you ensure that you are not inadvertently exposing any of your site’s sensitive information or releasing bugs/issues to your users.

There is also a lot of freedom that comes with developing locally, as it is your machine—you can set it up as you like. It is generally a best practice to set up your local server to match the production server that hosts your website to make sure that changes will be compatible when they go live. This allows you the opportunity to test for a wider range of server configurations. This can also help you debug and reverse engineer issues you may be having as you can set up and test different scenarios and uses cases.

How do you set up a local development environment

There are thousands of existing tutorials for all different server types and configurations. Primarily, you need four components: an operating system, web server software, database software, and a script language. These four components are generally known as a server stack. At Hall we predominantly work with WordPress and will go over the stack used in that process.

  1. The Operating System most commonly used is Linux, which is open source and used for its comparability and low overhead. As this is for a local development, whatever operating system your computer is using should work perfectly fine.
  2. The Web Server Software most commonly used is Apache or Nginx. These are used to manage and process incoming network requests to the computer. This is what lets you make the request for the website from your browser.
  3. The Database is what maintains the content of your site. This is generally done using MySQL or MariaDB. When you are working locally, you will generally have to keep your database up-to-date with the production site. You will need to copy it from the live product server to your local server. Once this is done, it allows you a lot of freedom to add, edit, and remove content and data from your site without affecting the production site.
  4. The Script Language allows you to pull the information from your database as it is needed, based on what the client requested through your web server. In our case, this is PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). This is an open source general-purpose programming language designed for web development. It is what’s used to build WordPress and its many plugins.

Once you have all the components installed and configured on your local computer, you should be ready to start developing. Here at Hall, our development team always tries to work locally, as it allows for all the benefits above. It also allows multiple developers to work on different parts of the same site. This helps save us time and our clients’ money. Hopefully, after reading this article, you are inspired to investigate local development and make it a part of your process.