DesktopServer: How to Set Up the Easiest Development Environment for WordPress

DesktopServer: How to Set Up the Easiest Development Environment for WordPress

Setting up WordPress in a localhost environment can save you a ton of time if you frequently test new designs and go bug hunting, but with its super easy 5 minute setup, DesktopServer definitely tops that.

Its quick setup time makes it a winner for seasoned developers who want to get a new site up and running quickly, but it’s also perfect for beginners thanks to its intuitive user experience.

I don’t always test locally, but when I do, I use DesktopServer. Even if you prefer using XAMPP, WAMP or MAMP or testing on a live site, DesktopServer could become your new go-to for local development.

Today, I’ll show you how you can quickly set up DesktopServer for the local development of single installs of WordPress. I’ll also show you how to upgrade to the premium version and install a Multisite network, import your live site, then deploy your site lickety-split.

What is DesktopServer?

DesktopServer is a program created by ServerPress that you can install on your Mac or PC to create WordPress websites on your computer without online website hosting.

When you create a new installation of WordPress with this software, a virtual server is created on your computer. The new site you create operates without requiring access to the internet and can only be accessed from your computer.

You can develop and test your site privately without having to worry about interrupting your visitors with downtime should an error occur.

The best part is that setting up the software takes mere minutes and it takes even less time to install a new WordPress site. In a few clicks, it’s all set up and you can access it through your browser with a custom, fictional domain and .dev TLD such as your-site.dev

The free version lets you create up to three new single installations of WordPress in a few clicks, while the premium version includes Multisite and supports importing your site, direct deployment to your live server and many more features. You can also create as many WordPress sites or networks as your computer’s storage space permits.

Installing Desktop Server

To get started with DesktopServer, go to the ServerPress website and click Download at the top of the page or the Get Started for Free button.

The ServerPress website
Download DesktopPress from the ServerPress website.

On the next page, scroll down toward the bottom and choose either a premium or free license. If you choose the premium option, you can check out and download the software with all the bells and whistles included.

I’m going to choose the free license for now and upgrade later.

DesktopServer download page
Choose your license and download DesktopServer onto your computer.

After clicking the Free – Add to Cart button, checkout. Keep in mind that you won’t be charged anything and you also aren’t going to need to enter any payment information. All you need to enter is your basic information such as your name and email so that you can access your free account later to download DesktopServer again in case you reformatted your computer or replaced it altogether.

Finish by clicking the Purchase button and you can download a copy of DesktopServer from there by clicking on the link for the latest version that correlates to the operating software you use.

After you download a copy to your computer, DesktopServer installs just like any other program. For Windows, be sure to uncompress the ZIP file and run the installer that’s included in the unpacked folder.

Once you start going through the installation wizard, you’re asked to choose the type of installation you want. Choose New DesktopServer Installation, then click Continue.

The installation wizard
Choose the free version of DesktopServer and continue the installation.

The installation process continues after that and when it’s done, click Finish.

Creating a Local a WordPress Site

Locate DesktopServer on your computer and open it to create your first virtual server and WordPress site. You can find DesktopServer in the Applications > XAMPP folder for Macs and the xampplite folder in your Program Files for Windows.

On the first screen, be sure to keep the Yes. Restart DesktopServer with privileges option selected, then click Next. DesktopServer needs to run with administrator permissions in order to create a virtual server.

Wizard screen to start DesktopServer
Start DesktopServer with administrator privileges to create a WordPress installation.

On a Mac, you need to confirm this by entering your computer’s password. On Windows, you should see a prompt asking you if you meant to give administrator privileges and you can click Yes to continue.

On the next screen, start Apache and MySQL by leaving the default setting selected once again. Click Next to continue to the final stretch of the WordPress installation process.

Keep in mind that if you’re using a public or unsecured WiFi connection, you should turn on your computer’s firewall if it’s not already enabled. This helps ensure privacy and security while you work on your site.

DesktopServer setup wizard
Select the option to start Apache and MySQL.

It takes a minute for the virtual server to be created, but when it’s complete, click Next.

You should see a familiar screen, but instead of choosing the first option this time around, choose Create a new development website, then click – you guessed it – the Next button.

Wizard screen to create new site
Click the Next button to create a new WordPress installation.

Enter a name for your site. It can be anything, but it does help to choose something descriptive so you can easily distinguish each of your test sites.

If you decide you don’t want to install WordPress, you can click the WordPress version field to select a blank site. I’m going to choose a WordPress installation. If you don’t see the latest version in the field, don’t worry because you can update your site once the installation is complete.

You can optionally click browse to choose another location for your site on your computer. Otherwise, click Create.

Wizard screen to install WordPress
Enter a fictional domain for your site along with a path on your computer.

After about a minute, your site should be created and you can click the Next button when you see “Done!” displayed.

Click the link that appears. It directs to the WordPress install script for your new local site.

The wizard displaying the WordPress installation script link.
Finish by running through the WordPress install script.

Your site should load in your browser where you can finish the WordPress installation as you normally would. Choose a language, click Continue, then enter your site’s name, username, password and email. Click Install WordPress to finish creating your local site.

WordPress install script
Install WordPress and you’re set to start testing locally.

The setup is complete. Log in if you’re not already redirected to your admin dashboard and start testing on your local site.

Upgrading for Multisite

Since the free version of DesktopServer doesn’t come with Multisite support, I’m going to upgrade to premium so I can create a network.

To upgrade, go back to the ServerPress website and click the Download button toward the top of the page as described earlier. Select the premium licence option and checkout.

Enter your information and when the process has completed, go to Account > Your Account in the menu. Click on the Downloads tab and find DesktopServer Premium on the list. Click on the latest version for the operating software you have and download it to your computer.

Download page
Download DesktopServer premium and run the installer.

For Windows, uncompress the ZIP folder and run the installer. The upgrade process is the same as outlined above, except for one difference.

Close DesktopServer if it’s open and when you’re asked to choose your type of installation, choose the Upgrade DesktopServer option, then click Continue.

Install wizard
Choose the upgrade option and finish the installation process.

When the upgrade has completed, click Finish.

Installing a Multisite Network

Open DesktopServer and run through the site setup wizard as described above. You may notice there are a few more options available once you start Apache and MySQL.

Select Create a new development website, then click Next.

DesktopServer install wizard
Choose the option to create a new development website.

The options here are similar to the free version. Fill in the fields as described earlier and also be sure to select the Allow Multisite Network option, then click Create.

Keep in mind that if you want a sub-domain install, you should omit the www. portion of the domain in the configuration.Otherwise, your site URLs would look similar to site1.www.example.dev and site2.www.example.dev. If you’re okay with that, then you can leave the domain as is in the settings.

Install wizard
Choose to allow Multisite and click Create.

When you see the “Done!” message, click Next. On the next screen, click the link to open your browser to run the WordPress install script. Follow the same steps as outlined above for a single installation of WordPress.

Once you reach the admin dashboard of your new local development site, go to Tools > Network Setup and choose a sub-domain or sub-directory install, enter a title and administrator email for your network, then click Install.

The Network Setup page
Install the Multisite Network as you normally would.

When the next page is displayed that includes code to add to your wp-config.php and .htaccess files, go to your computer files and locate your site in the directory that’s displayed on the Multisite network setup page.

Edit your wp.config.php and .htaccess files as described, then save the files.

If you don’t see your .htaccess file in the indicated folder, you need to dig into your computer’s settings so that all file types appear.

Network setup page after installing Multisite
You can locate the files you need to edit by looking in the path displayed on the Enabling the Network page.

Once your files are edited, you can go back to your local Multisite, refresh the page and log in.

Now, your new local Multisite network is all set up and ready to go.

Accessing All Your Sites and Database

You can access a list of all your sites, their admin dashboards and databases through DesktopServer. Start it up and choose the Yes. Restart DesktopServer with privileges option, then click Next.

Choose Yes. Restart Apache and MySQL services and click Next on the next screen. Click the Sites button on the bottom left-hand corner of the window.

DesktopServer window
Click on Sites to access all your local WordPress websites that you previously created.

Your browser should open with a list of your sites and buttons you can click to access your admin dashboard, database and front end for each of your sites.

Every time you need to access your local WordPress site to continue working on it, this is how you can find them. You won’t be able to access them in your browser without running DesktopServer first.

You can access a list of your local sites through DesktopServer.

Importing your Live Site

If you have a premium DesktopServer license, you’re able to import your live site to your local one. If you have a free license, you can use Snapshot Pro to import your site by creating a backup of your live site, then restoring it on your local WordPress installation. This also works if you have a premium DesktopServer license as well.

With the premium version of DesktopServer, you can import your live site by first exporting it with plugins such as:

Once a ZIP file has been generated by one of these plugins, you can fire up DesktopServer to start importing.

After restarting DesktopServer with privileges and starting Apache and MySQL as described earlier on, choose the Export, import or share a website option on the screen that follows, then click Next.

DesktopServer wizard
Choose the last option to import your local site.

On the next screen, select Import an existing WordPress website archive and click Next once again.

You include the backup you made of your live site on the next screen. Browse for the ZIP archive of your site on your computer and select it, then enter a fictitious domain you want to use for your local test site.

You can also optionally choose a different path for your site’s root folder on your computer if you want. When you’re ready to start the import, click Next.

Importing screen
Browse for a ZIP archive of your site, choose a destination and start the import.

When you see the importing process has completed, click – say it with me – Next.

On the screen that follows, you should see a link to your new test site. Click on it to open it up in your browser to make sure it all works as it should.

You may need to update your permalinks by going Settings > Permalinks in your admin dashboard, then clicking on Save Changes.

You may also need to update your site’s .htaccess file if you customized it, especially if you added rules to limit access to your site. You can check out A Comprehensive Guide to Editing .htaccess for WordPress Security for details.

If all is well with your imported site or you need to try again, click Next one more time to access the importing options once again.

Exporting Your Local Site to Live

You can also deploy your local site to your live server through the same steps outlined above, though, with one twist.

Once you have started DesktopServer with privileges, along with Apache and MySQL, select the Export, import or share a website option. Then, on the next screen, instead of choosing to import a site, select the Export or deploy a WordPress website option and click Next.

Select the local site you want to export from the drop down box, then enter the domain of the live site that’s your destination. Choose the Export to a website archive (.zip file) option, then click Next.

This is the option I’m going to choose, but if you want to run an automatic deployment, you can select Direct deploy to an existing server and click Next. Keep in mind that this option requires you to have DesktopServer’s WordPress plugin installed, which is included with your premium licence.

Exporting screen
Choose a local site from the list and enter the domain of the live destination.

Enter the database details of your live site. You can find this information in your wp-config.php file on your live server. If you skip this step, you won’t be able to import the ZIP file that DesktopServer creates and your site won’t work.

When you have filled out all the fields, if you have cottoned on by now, you know you need to click Next.

Screen to enter database details
Enter the database details of your live site, which is your exporting destination.

On the next screen, you can enter a customized name for your ZIP file and choose where that file should be stored on your computer once it has finished compressing.

You can also keep the Encourage search engine visibility option checked if you want search engines to index your live site once it has been imported to your live server. If you deselect it, search engines are discouraged from indexing your site.

You can also choose to leave the Purge post and page revisions option checked if you want to clean up your database a bit from all the scrap revisions for pages and posts that you may not need anymore.

By default, your site settings are changed before DesktopServer finishes exporting your local site so that references to your fictitious your-site.dev domain are changed to the one you entered earlier on in exporting configuration. That way, you site works once you have imported it to your live site.

If you want to customize the references that are changed, you can check the Customize scrubbing options box.

Exporting configuration screen
Enter a name for your ZIP archive and choose a destination on your computer.

When you’re happy with your selections, click Next.

When the exporting process has completed, you can click Next to see a path listed where your exported site is located on your computer. You can click Next one final time to return to the main options screen to export another local site or perform a different action.

Once you have your exported site compressed as a ZIP file, you can return to your live site and import the file with one of the backup plugins listed earlier on in this post.

Wrapping Up

Now you know how to create a local environment for WordPress with DesktopServer and you can get it setup and configured in five minutes, to boot! Now, how’s that for quick!

The only real limitations DesktopServer has for importing or exporting your site is how much storage space you have on your computer and on your live server if you’re exporting your local site to a live one.

Hopefully, now you can understand why I prefer DesktopServer for creating local test environments. If you decide to give it a try, you may end up agreeing with me.

Jenni McKinnon
Have you created a local WordPress site with DesktopServer? What did you think? What's your preferred way to create a local test environment? Share your thoughts in the comments below.