DesktopServer Review: Easily Run Local Installations Of WordPress

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Review by: Lucy Beer

Every WordPress developer has his/her own stash of tools, plugins and processes that make their life easier and save them time when developing or managing sites. One that you will hear crop up time and time again is DesktopServer. In a nutshell DesktopServer creates a web server environment on your local computer and allows you to quickly and easily spin up WordPress sites that run locally. It was created by ServerPress, and is available for both Mac and PC in a free & premium version.

Get Desktop Server →

Prior to DesktopServer you would  have to install MAMP, WAMP or XAMPP and configure it yourself for each new site you wanted to run (edit host file, create database, etc). For non-developers especially, it’s not a very user-friendly process, particularly if you want to run multiple sites.  Even for developers that have no problem tinkering with Ports, databases and the like, DesktopServer is preferred because it makes the process so much faster. DS can create a new site with a couple of mouse clicks and a few seconds. It installs all the necessary WordPress files and creates the database for you. But that’s just where the awesome begins.

Why Run WordPress Locally?

desktop-server-local-sites

For non-developers, having a local version of your site provides a sandbox –  a safe area where you can play with your site.  You can test out plugins, change themes etc without disrupting your live site. You can try out the latest WordPress upgrade and preemptively see if it’s going to cause havoc with your site. You no longer have to fear the Update Button, because you will be prepared for what’s going to happen!

For developers, a local environment allows you to write and test your custom code before pushing it to a staging or live server. You can also get work done without needing to be connected to the internet.

A secondary advantage is having a local backup of all the sites you’ve worked on. This is handy when a client comes back with a problem or new task – you have your development and testing environment ready to go. Since these sites are not live on the internet you don’t have to worry about maintaining and updating them for security purposes.

Blueprints

desktop-server-blueprint

Chances are you have some favorite plugins or configurations that you like to use on almost every WordPress site you build. The blueprint feature of DesktopServer allows you to create this base configuration so that when you create a new site, it already has all the plugins you want ready to go, saving you extra time.

Import An Existing Site

Many times you’re not building a site totally from scratch – you’re working with a site that’s already live on the internet and you want to bring it into a local environment in order to play with it or do some modifications without ‘cowboy coding’. There are numerous plugins, such as Duplicator, BackWPUp and others that you can run on your live site to create a zip file of your entire site including the database. The import feature of DesktopServer is compatible with many of these, thus allowing you to easily bring your existing site into your local setup and get to work on it right away.

desktop-server-quick-deployDirect Deploy

After you’ve built your spiffy new local site you need to get it back up to the server. There are numerous ways to do that including using plugins and/or manual labor. But the premium version of DS comes with a Direct Deploy feature that simplifies the process. This is especially great for non-developers.

Support Awesome People

The DesktopServer team is straight up awesome. Stephen Carnam, the developer behind DesktopServer has been known to call people personally in order to help them out with problems (I know because when I was a new user he called me to assist, on a weekend no less) and provides wonderful support. These guys are active members of the WordPress community and simply rock. So not only do you get a great product, but you’re also supporting an awesome team.

That’s Not All

I haven’t covered all the features in detail here, but to give you an idea of what else DesktopServer can do – you can also:  make a copy of any of your existing local sites with the click of a button, share a local site over a LAN for testing on mobile devices, integrate DesktopServer with the live preview features of Dreamweaver and Coda2.

Try It For Free

DesktopServer comes in both free and premium flavors. The free version doesn’t have all the features, but it will be adequate for some users. Developers or people managing multiple sites will probably want to get the Premium version (which is currently priced at $99.95).

Download Desktop Server →

Lucy Beer
Post Author: Lucy Beer

Lucy Beer of WebTrainingWheels.com provides WordPress training to bloggers and businesses of all kinds. Don't forget to check out her site and follow her via social media!

Disclosure: This page contains external affiliate links that may result in us receiving a comission if you choose to purchase said product. The opinions on this page are our own. We do not receive payment for positive reviews.
Got something to say? Join the discussion.
  1. Adam W. Warner says:
    Great article Lucy. I've been toying with the idea of using DesktopServer for some time. Do you know, how is the direct deploy feature with WP Engine hosting?
  2. Aron (@aronwp) says:
    We recently started using desktop server in our dev process since migrate Db pro came out. i find running a python fab file or other script is the better way to start setting up a dev site on a dev server. Then use DS to setup a local site. And sync the dev site using migrate db pro and git with local. Our fab file sets up a new nginx dev site. Symlinks it. Clones the WordPress git repo. Creates the database and user. Gets WP salts. Set www-data groups and proper permissions. All under a minute or 2. If anybody is interested in a copy of the fab file just let me know. My only wish was that desktop server would use nginx too. I'm thinking of just using the script instead of DS but some of my guys prefer DS.
  3. Kevin Clark says:
    http://serverpress.com/news/deploying-to-wpengine/
  4. Jean-Jacques Schaeffer says:
    Hi Lucy, does Desktopserver also works on USB key, like instantWP ?
  5. Kevin Clark says:
    Hi Adam, There is video on the DesktopServer website showing how to deploy to WP Engine. I have tried including a link for you but the comment does not get approved.
    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer says:
      AJ Clarke | WPExplorer
      Sorry for the delay on approving your comment! I was out of town visiting family for the Holidays. Comment accepted!
      Admin
  6. Marc Benzakein says:
    Adam, direct deploy with WP Engine requires a couple of different steps because of the fact that it's not built upon an Apache platform. We have created a tutorial video on how to do it which can be found here: http://serverpress.com/news/deploying-to-wpengine/ And, of course, we always stand at the ready to help out if you find yourself in a bind!
  7. Tiyo Kamtiyono says:
    DesktopServer is really a good tool to start developing themes and plugins quickly, I using it sometimes. But at the other time I use XAMPP portable/Uniform server because it helps me develop anywhere. Great write up Kyla.
  8. Adam W. Warner says:
    Kevin and Marc, Just watched the video and read through the steps. Looks incredible! I've been hearing a lot about you guys in the AWP group and it was a real eye opener for me. We're currently planning a redesign of our WordPress + EDD + WP Engine business site and I have been looking for the most solid way to dev our new site locally instead of on WP Engine's staging area. I'll be adding and deleting plugins and their settings, etc. so I can't simply push from staging to live without some hiccups. Desktop Server seems to be the best answer. Do you plan to offer "live syncing" anytime in the future? From what I've read it's possible with various setups, but as you probably know, having this process be as simplified and hands free as possible is the holy grail of the WordPress dev community:)
  9. Marc Benzakein says:
    Hi Adam, I just saw this so I apologize for the late response. In answer to your question, it *is* on the docket to do something along those lines but it is a complicated proposition, especially with sites that are very active. We have talked through many scenarios at length (It really is one of those things that sounds simple on the surface until you start talking about the intricacies involved). Currently we are putting all of our time into the next major release which will be v4.0, which, while it might look the same, will be different in architecture, allowing us to do things like what you've requested. I'd look for something along the lines of what your asking to show up sometime around the middle of the year if all goes well. <----Notice the caveat. It IS software development, after all.
  10. James Fisher (@_James_Fisher) says:
    Desktop server does look like a decent option, however my worry would be the constant checks you need to do these days to ensure the site looks correct on multiple devices while constructing it. I've had numerous issues with themes working great on laptop and then awful on tablet. Also plugins don't always do as they are told on tablet either. Having said that my approach would be to test out a whole bunch of design ideas and plugins using desktop server and then send it live to check multiple devices. If anyone has any other ideas i'd like to hear them?
    • AJ Clarke says:
      AJ Clarke
      I personally use both CrossBrowserTesting.com and browserstack.com for this. I realize testing on a browser like this isn't 100% the same as actually using the device but it's really close.
      Admin
  11. I appreciate your thought-provoking article
  12. lefty777 says:
    Unfortunately it is not a one-time fee, I wish it was though, it's per year :(
    • Kyla
      Yes - I think they have updated pricing since this was written (nearly 3 years ago). Their current pricing is $99.95 for the first year which includes support and updates. But I do know that DesktopServer often runs promotions during Black Friday & Christmas, so you can significantly decrease your renewal (or initial) costs for the plugin.
      Admin
  13. DesktopServer is a customized version of xampplite. I tried to use it but it has a pretty annoying bug/issue which is that if your primary drive is not C it will not work. I tried working with their support about it and they were no help. They said I needed to install it on my primary drive which I did but which is not "C". I told them that and they never answered or offered any help or workaround.
    • AJ Clarke says:
      AJ Clarke
      That is a bit strange indeed, sorry to hear that. Do you want me to try and get in touch with someone from DesktopServer for you to see if they can assist further? From our experience and what people have told us their support staff has always been friendly and helpful so I would like to give them a chance to rectify this issue if possible.
      Admin
      • Hi AJ, Yes that would be very nice and helpful of you if you could. If indeed there was some sort of workaround then I could actually get it working and try it as I am looking for a simple solution to local desktop development. On the other hand if it is a bug, then they need to look into it and fix it. I had seen on their support forum which they no longer use, a number of other people complaining about what appeared to be the same problem or error. I found that on a google search to see if I could find an answer to the problem before I contacted them. I initially tried the executable to do the automatic installation but it just sat there and never worked. Now I am assuming because it was looking for a C drive and couldnt find one. Then I tried the manual install following their instructions. On attempting to run it from there, that is when it gave the error about: "DesktopServer must be run from c:\xampplite. Please name and move the folder to the required location." Thanks!
  14. AJ I replied to your message shortly after you posted it but now it does not appear to be here. Did you see it or do you know what happened to it? (not sure why the djw1 id got in there instead)
    • AJ Clarke says:
      AJ Clarke
      All comments are held for moderation to help catch spammers. I just accepted your comment and I will reach out to DesktopServer via Twitter and see what they say ;)
      Admin

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