Setting Up a WordPress Development Environment

code on macbook screen

Beginning development on a new website requires a lot of careful planning. For example, you’ll want to decide how to approach the ‘under construction’ stage of the project. You’ll likely need to shield potential visitors from seeing your website when it’s still in progress. 

This is where development environments can come in handy. This kind of environment gives you a place to do all the design and programming work on your new site, without anyone accidentally seeing it. Then, you can push it live when it’s fully ready.

In this article, we’ll take a look at two different kinds of development environments. We’ll also show you how to get started with both options. If you’re ready, let’s dive right in! 

Local Versus Remote Development Environments

There are two main kinds of development environments that you might want to explore when creating a WordPress website. Keep in mind that whether you choose to use a local or remote environment for development, however, both will require all the software WordPress needs to function properly. This includes database applications and code libraries, for example. 

Developing locally means that all of your WordPress plugin and theme files will be stored on your own machine, along with the WordPress core files. You’ll be able to view your development work in a browser, just as if you were accessing a website on the internet. However, the files will be called in from your computer, instead of your site’s hosting server. 

A remote development environment is essentially the same thing, but all of those important website files will be stored and retrieved from a remote location. This means you’ll need to set up or purchase storage space. In contrast to regular website hosting, however, this remote file location will only be accessible to you or your team. 

One of the primary benefits of using local development for WordPress is that you don’t need to be connected to the internet in order to work on your website. While remote development does require a connection, however, it’s the better choice if you want the option to access your work from any computer. 

Advantages of a Remote Development Environment

As we mentioned, a remote development environment enables you to access your projects from anywhere. You don’t even have to use a specific computer to do your work – all you need is a connection to the internet and your login information.

Additionally, you may be able to implement version control features, depending on which remote environment application you decide to use. This means you’re less likely to run into issues when developing with a team. 

How to Set Up a Remote Development Environment

Setting up a remote development environment can be a little more involved than creating a local environment. With that being said, it’s not out of reach by any means. There are several options when it comes to remote environments, and many come with all the tools you’ll need right out of the box. 

Step 1: Choose and Configure a Remote Development Application

There are a number of remote development tools you can use. What you’re looking for is a virtual storage space where you can store all of your website’s files and applications, as well as the software needed to make your website run. This is where you can work through each of your development stages, without pushing the site to a live, production status until you’re ready.

To do this, you can use a product like DigitalOcean or Visual Studio

Visual Studio by Digital Ocean

These differ in what they offer, but ultimately accomplish the same task. For example, with Visual Studio Code you’re getting a sophisticated code editor that becomes a development environment through your choice of remote extensions

You can also use Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) for remote development: 

Amazon EC2

Alternatively, you can look at our own dedicated development environments. Once you’ve selected your virtual environment or cloud-based solution, you’ll need to make sure it’s configured for supporting WordPress development. 

Step 2: Install Any Necessary Tools and Plugins

Regardless of the remote development environment you choose, there is a specific stack of applications you’ll need in order to set up WordPress. These include: 

  • Linux. This the Operating System (OS) that is ideally needed to run WordPress. We’ll get into the specifics later when we talk about local development environments, but suffice it to say that if the following three items are in place, they can work with other OSs like Mac and Windows just as well. 
  • Apache. With a live website, the web server layer is where browser requests are fulfilled and returned to your website’s users. In a development environment, this is also true. The only difference is that your server is not pointing to a live domain. 
  • MySQL. MySQL is the most popular and free database solution. This is essential to your WordPress development environment, since it’s where all the data your website needs is stored. 
  • PHP. All of the other elements in the stack need a ‘voice’, and that’s where PHP comes in. Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP) is a language that is needed for WordPress to function. 

These applications are referred to as the ‘LAMP stack’, and they can be added to remote development environments in a number of ways. For example, if you’re using DigitalOcean, you’ll work with Droplets to create the LAMP stack for WordPress: 

Droplets

If you’re using Amazon EC2, the setup for WordPress development is a bit more manual, but can still be done in around five minutes.

Regardless of the environment you choose, you’ll need the LAMP stack in order to get your WordPress development started. Fortunately, many remote development options come with LAMP as an easy installation option, saving you a lot of time and trouble.

Step 3: Access Your Environment

The most common way to access your development environment is through a Secure Shell (SSH). This is how you can connect to your server from any computer, and leverage the ‘remote’ aspect of this approach to WordPress development. 

The specifics of how you connect will depend on the product you choose. For example, here at WP Engine, we have an SSH Gateway option for developers.

Advantages of a Local Development Environment

One of the biggest advantages of using a local development environment is that you don’t have to be connected to the internet to access it. You can work on your site from anywhere, and you won’t be held back by connectivity issues.

Additionally, local development enables you to work in a more secure environment. You’ll be able to keep your projects truly under wraps until you’re ready to go live.

Setting Up a Local WordPress Environment

Setting up a local WordPress environment is fairly simple. There are several local development applications, such as Local by Flywheel, that make the setup process incredibly easy: 

Local

Keep in mind that local development for WordPress still requires a LAMP stack. However, some solutions will use terms such as WAMP or MAMP instead, as they are designed for use with Windows or Mac OS rather than Linux.

Step 1: Choose and Configure Your Local Development Application

There are several excellent local development applications to choose from. We’ve mentioned Local by Flywheel already, but Varying Vagrant Vagrants (VVV) is another WordPress-recommended local development tool to consider. If you already have a plan here at WP Engine, you can also check out Local for a local development solution. 

Once you’ve set up your chosen solution, you’ll be able to start development from scratch or import an existing website to work on. For example, with Local by Flywheel, you can use a .zip file of your downloaded website to get started. If you’re starting from scratch and designing a new website, most local applications have one-click installation solutions for setting up the environment for use with WordPress. 

Step 2: Select a Text Editor

Once your local environment is set up, you’ll need to pick a text editor. This is where you’ll edit and debug your WordPress code. These solutions range from simple text applications, to enhanced interfaces with built-in tools for optimizing your workflow. 

WordPress has some recommended text editors for development that include Atom, Sublime Text, and PhpStorm. There are other options as well, so you’ll want to work with what is most comfortable and suited to your existing workflow. 

Step 3: Choose a Developer-Friendly Web Browser

Since you’ll still be viewing your locally-developed projects in a web browser, it’s good practice to use a browser that’s oriented to developers. Both Chrome and Firefox are incredibly popular browsers that come with useful developer toolkits. This can help you debug problems more easily, and optimize your web development.  

Develop Something Amazing With WP Engine

Web development can take many shapes and forms. Whether you’re working with a local or remote environment, having the best developer resources on hand can help you streamline your workflow. 

Check out our WordPress plans and development solutions, and let us help you create something amazing! 

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