How to Test New WordPress, WPMU or BuddyPress Themes in a Live Environment

In case you’re likely to be doing any theme testing and debugging in the coming days, this plugin will come in handy. Theme Test Drive offers you a way to test out and work on new themes without having to duplicate your installation to test it live. I found this guide over at Inspect Element to be extremely helpful if you’re wanting to build your test environment for your themes from scratch without using a plugin. However, time is the most valuable commodity for most of our readers, so we’re going to go the plugin route. The plugin makes it really easy to set up a live environment for theme testing using your current installation, while maintaining its current live theme for users who are not the administrator. After you are satisfied with the changes you make in your testing environment, you can copy them over to the current theme with the confidence that everything looks good, without interrupting the live site and possibly breaking it in the process. I tested the plugin and can confirm it to be compatible with WordPress, WPMU, and BuddyPress.

Step 1: Install the Theme Test Drive plugin.

Plugins >> Add New >> Search for and Install “Theme Test Drive”

Step 2: Duplicate Your Current Theme

This is assuming that you want to make theming changes to your current operating theme. If you are testing a new theme, skip this step and move to the next. Make a copy of your theme folder and then rename it, so you know the difference. Also change the name of the theme in the style.css file:

{code type=html}
Theme Name: Untame – Dev Theme
Theme URI:
Description: Untame 2010
Version: 1.1.7
Author: Sarah Gooding
Author URI:

Step 3: Upload the New Theme to Your Themes Directory

Or, if you have it zipped up, you can upload it directly on the options page for the Theme Test Drive plugin.


Step 4: Enable Theme Test Driving

Select your theme from the dropdown menu on the plugin’s option page. Set the Access Level. Then click Enable Theme Drive.

One thing to note is that these instructions are only for use in simple theme changes. If you’re going to be making changes to your database or upgrading your installation, you’ll want to have a regular development server set up. One great use for this plugin is if you’re using WordPress single user and you want to install BuddyPress but continue to keep your regular blog theme while customizing your BuddyPress theme as you have time. You can easily switch to the BuddyPress-enabled theme for the admin and leave all other users with your current theme. Hopefully this will save you quite a bit of hassle when debugging and updating your themes. Happy theming!