The following post on ‘breaking your blog’ and setting up test blogs was submitted by Michael Martin from Pro Blog Design.
One of the best kept secrets in design is that we don’t always know what we’re doing. Understanding design theory and color and all the rest of it is one thing, but when you’re backed into a corner, it’s your instinct that takes over.
You get a feeling that something might work, and you roll with it. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, try something else.
This works with designers because we can fix our mistakes. As a blogger however, you may not be so comfortable. What happens if you break your blog? The answer is to set up a blog that doesn’t matter if you break it.
Why Experiment With Your Design?
The best thing about designing on the internet is that nothing is ever quite finished. You can spend weeks building a fantastic design, but long after you release it, you can keep on making changes.
The internet gives us the ability to continually improve our blogs, and we should use that. Is every single aspect of your blog perfect? Not likely.
How would things look with a smaller header? The sidebar on the other side? A different color for links? By experimenting with every idea that takes you, you can decide which work and which don’t, landing you one step closer to perfection.
Setting Up A Test Blog
To safely experiment with your design, you set up a second blog. You copy your theme over to the second blog, and make all the changes there. If things go wrong, then no harm done. Just wipe the slate and start over.
On a free hosted blog, such as Blogger, all you have to do is register a second account.
With a self-hosted blog, such as WordPress, you can either install a second blog on your web server, or locally on your computer. The second option is very easy to do, and preferable because you can use your own text-editor on the files, and it’s much faster.
Installing WordPress on Your Computer
You need to install a web server (Apache), PHP and MySQL. Fortunately, a few nice guys have done all the hard work for you. All you need to do is download and install a single file (Windows, Mac, Linux).
When the installation is finished, you need to start your server, create a new database, and then install WordPress.
For Windows users: (Mac and Linux users may have to check their own documentation, though things will be pretty similar)
1. To start your server, select “Start WampServer” from the WampServer group in the startup menu.
2. In your system tray, you will see a new icon. Click it and a list of options will appear.
3. Choose the “phpMyAdmin” option. On that screen, there will be a “Create New Database” section. Fill the name “wordpress” into the box, then click “Create”. Now close phpMyAdmin.
4. Click the system tray icon again and choose the “www directory” option. It loads Windows Explorer with the folder where you will put your web files.
5. Create a new folder (Called “wordpress”) and copy over all of the WordPress files (Everything that you’d normally upload to a server). Also copy over your blog’s theme into /wp-content/themes/.
6. Open up wp-config-sample.php, and change the details (You can set up a password in phpMyAdmin if you want, but if you’re the only one at the computer, it’s not needed, and it’s one less password to remember!).
define(‘DB_NAME’, ‘wordpress’); // The name of the database
define(‘DB_USER’, ‘root’); // Your MySQL username
define(‘DB_PASSWORD’, ”); // …and password
define(‘DB_HOST’, ‘localhost’); // 99% chance you won’t need to change this value
7. Rename wp-config-sample.php to wp-config.php (The usual WordPress install).
8. Click the icon once again, and choose the “Localhost” option. This will load your web browser. Under the “My Projects” section of the sidebar, you’ll see a wordpress link. Click it and that’s you! Just finish up the WordPress install as normal.
With that done, all that remains is to fill in a few dummy categories, posts and comments. Your local WordPress is ready, and you’re free to experiment as much as you please. Just save a copy of the theme somewhere safe, so that if you break something, you can replace your files with the copies.
Checking That Your Theme Works
You don’t want to upload a design that works for you, but not for everyone else. It is easy to forget that we aren’t all using the same browser, so you should check how your changes look in the major browsers.
The good news is that small changes rarely cause trouble in different browsers. The problems tend to occur when you change the size/layout of certain parts of the page.
The browsers you should install, and test your theme with are:
- Internet Explorer 7.
- Internet Explorer 6 (To get this with IE7, XP users should use Multiple IEs, but Vista users need more).
- FireFox (I also recommended that you check in Opera and Safari, but for the changes you’ll be making, you can often assume that if it works in FireFox, it works in these 2 as well).
All of that may seem a little scary to some, but it’s not. Setting up WordPress doesn’t take long, and the confidence you get from knowing your mistakes don’t matter is unbeatable. You’ll have a better looking blog in no time.
So, what changes have you thought about making to your blog before, but haven’t tried to do yet?