How to (easily) Sandbox WordPress and Kick back with Plugins, Themes And Hacks

Materials Needed

  • Webhost that allows you to create subdomains and an extra mysql database
  • WordPress (of course)
  • Technosailor’s WordPress-to-Wordpress package

When I set out to redesign this site a few weeks back, I, naturally, didn’t want to work on the files controlling my live site. Of course, I didn’t want you, loyal viewer, to drop by and see a sidebar floating in the middle of the page or find all my text covered by an image or (worst of all) run into an incompetence-induced php error.

At the same time, I didn’t exactly relish the idea of perfecting a design of static HTML+CSS pages then have to translate that design to WordPress template files. So, I kept putting off the work, hoping for a magic fairy to give me a way to emulate the functionality of the site without the risking a total kludge-up.

Then, like lightning or a side-swipe, I was struck by an idea: what if I set up a subdomain with which to stage my new design, complete with an autonomous, duplicate copy of my entire WordPress database? To my surprise, it turned out to be much more simple than I had assumed it would be. A couple plug-ins was all I needed to replicate my site in a snap. I was quickly able to populate the staging site with all my existing content: posts, comments, images… everything needed to make sure that the new design would work.

This method was very efficient. It allowed me to design and deploy the updated WordPress theme in my spare time over the course of a week.

Even though that project is complete, the staging environment is still active, so I’m free to experiment with future layout/design changes, try out new plugins, or play with hacks to core WordPress files without endangering the usefulness of the main site. In fact, since this article is a little more elaborate than usual, I posted there before posting it here so I could make sure all the formatting was proper.

Here’s how to do it:

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