I have been designing and building WordPress websites for a few years now. I run a small creative studio in Canterbury, Kent, building custom WordPress websites for individuals and small to medium sized businesses. Initially, when I started out, like many new developers, I built sites on my own server using a live install (although hidden away until completed). My process involved setting up a new install every time, uploading WordPress via ftp, then building the site using vanilla CSS and uploading changes as they were made. I soon realised that this was not an efficient way of working!
While a step better than designing directly onto a client’s live server, it still carries many issues working this way. Uploading via ftp every time you make a change to a file is time-consuming. Files don’t always upload correctly, changes aren’t always seen straight away in the browser, so you need to refresh several times.
Furthermore you can’t take advantage of new technologies such as Sass or Lessor minimise on the fly.
Moving to Local Development
I started researching into better development workflows, but at first I felt completely overwhelmed by the processes others were using. While I could certainly see the advantage of working locally and with Sass, as a small business I didn’t feel I had time to invest in what I saw as a steep learning curve and a lot of wasted research time learning the process. How wrong I was!
Initial investigations into working locally had not proved very successful. I work on a PC (I just prefer them to Macs) so I experimented with XAMMP which works perfectly well, but seemed rather cumbersome and long winded – I was looking for a quick, default solution that would set a perfect environment up for me in just a few minutes every time. That’s when I came across DesktopServer by ServerPress. Coming highly recommended by a number of people I thought it was worth looking into.
How I Incorporated DesktopServer into my Workflow
I was immediately taken with how straightforward the process was. I work exclusively with WordPress, so the opportunity to not only set up a local environment, but a WordPress install at the same time with just a few clicks, was exactly the development kick starter I had been looking for.
The majority of my sites aren’t that large, so a more involved solutions such as Vagrant seemed overkill for my needs, and too steep a learning curve to be easily fitted into my busy schedule at that time. DesktopServer not only sets up a local server for you and installs WordPress, but it allows you to create your own blueprint install, complete with starter theme (I have developed my own based on_Underscores ), plugins, settings and anything else you need.
Adding a Bit of Sass
So now I had a new streamlined workflow allowing me to create starter sites at the click of a button. I still felt overwhelmed by learning the range of different news skills I wanted to add to my workflow, but on the great advice from a good friend and fellow developer, I concentrated on the essentials first. Moving away from ‘cowboy’ coding can seem daunting at first, but, like so many people had told me before, once I had made the leap, I never looked back.
What is Git and Why Do You Need Source Control?
So now I felt I was really getting somewhere, the last piece of the puzzle (for now at least) was to include source control. I knew this was important, the idea of being able to just roll back to any previous time if things went wrong or changed direction was clearly a vital step in the development of my processes.
Not yet feeling confident enough to launch into the command line, I found the excellent program Source Tree which links with Bit Bucket to create straightforward source control. In a nutshell you create a free account on Bit Bucket which allows you to have private Git repositories (useful for my clients), create a repository (a place to store your website files as a backup) and then use Source Tree to push file updates from your local site folder to the online storage.
You can then use that repository to link your local files to an online version, making it easy to link your local development to a staging site and eventually the live site.
What Changing my WordPress Workflow did for my Business
In just a few days I completely changed my workflow from amateur cowboy to streamlined professional development. I am still learning (I always will be) but the addition of DesktopServer and other useful tools made the switch to efficient local development a breeze. My development process refined and sped up, meaning I could spend more time on the important details rather than rep-eating the same steps every time. Plus working locally means I can test everything out first before pushing it live, an essential step in website development.
If like me, you are nervous about taking the first steps to improving your workflow, my best advice is that you don’t need to try and do everything at once. Work out the most important steps and look at ways you can achieve those first. Then build on your experience as you go.