Studio by WordPress.com is a game changer

Studio by WordPress.com is available for Windows and Mac and claims to be a fast, free way to develop WordPress sites, themes and plugins locally.

How does Studio by WordPress.com on Windows compare with two other local development server options XAMPP and Laragon?

XAMPP by Apache Friends

For years, I have been using XAMPP from Apache Friends which provides a pre-configured suite of Apache httpd web server, MariaDB (a fork of MySQL), PHP, phpMyAdmin (database client) and optionally Perl, Tomcat and Mercury Mail.

XAMPP is solid and has always done exactly what I have needed (except when I absent-mindedly updated it and wiped my databases). As full versions of each application, it has given me a lot of experience understanding how they work together and where to go to configure things out in the wild.

While developing WordPress sites, I have found XAMPP to be a great solution. That it is so close to a ‘raw’ Apache server is really helpful too.

9/10

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Laragon

Recently, I have been trying out Laragon which markets itself as a modern and powerful alternative to XAMPP that offers pretty URLs (e.g. app.test rather than localhost/app), full portability (so you can easily move the Laragon folder around your system … do people regularly do that?), and a system that is isolated from your operating system to improve security.

To be honest, I rather like the idea of pretty URLs but as it turns out I’ve not used them enough to justify moving from XAMPP to Laragon permanently.

I also find the main user interface too look particularly retro and ugly. The non-standard main menu also confuses me no matter how often I use it.

In terms of features, while it has many similar features as XAMPP and is in many ways simplier, I still find it clunky and a little frustrating to use, which is reflected in my score.

6/10

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Studio by WordPress.com

In contrast, Studio by WordPress.com looks great. Its interface is clean, simple, uncluttered and modern, which makes it very intuitive to use.

In the left hand navigation is a list of all the WordPress sites created using Studio and whether they are running or not.

Within each site are three tabs:

  • Overview which previews the theme and gives options to customise the site, styles, patterns, navigation, templates and pages, as well as the ability to open the site in File Explorer, Visual Studo Code or the terminal.
  • Share which enables you to demo a site to clients for feedback; more on that below.
  • Settings which gives a summary of site and username details, as well as the option to the delete the site.

Studio uses a localhost URL with a different port for each site to view and interact with each site. For example, the first site created would use localhost:8881, the second would use localhost:8882, etc.

Creating a new site

If you want to create a new site, no more downloading files from wordpress.org, and unzipping them into a new folder under C:\xampp\htdocs, firing up phpMyAdmin to create a new database (and optionally a new database user), editing the wp-config.php file, then running through the famous WordPress five-minute install.

No, you just click the “Add site” button, give your new site a name, click the Add site button and around 15 seconds later, you have a new site.

This is a game changer.

Files and database

All files are stored in subfolders beneath C:\Users\<username>\Studio. This makes it very easy to back up all development sites.

This includes the databases too because Studio uses SQLite which stores everything in a single file within each site at \wp-content\database\.ht.sqlite

This means that if you want to view or edit the database, you will need to use a standalone SQLite client such as SQLite3 (command line) or SQLiteStudio (graphic user interface), both free.

Share

What do you do once you’ve developed your site locally, how can you show it to a client? With XAMPP and Laragon you would need to make your local web server accessible by the public outwith your local network; there are security concerns in doing this.

With Studio, connect your WordPress.com account and you can share a hosted clone of your local site, making updates to your demo site at any time, and the demo site is available until 7 days after the final update.

Conclusion

While this option doesn’t have the same level of features as a fully integrated Apache/MySQL/PHP system, if all you are concerned with is WordPress development this is a perfect solution, especially if you are only just getting into web development and don’t want the potential steep learning curve of learning an Apache server.

9/10

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Former Scrum master at Safeguard Global, Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

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