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Be Brave – Break Your Blog

Problogger Brave IntroThe 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.

Problogger Brave1For 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.

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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

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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?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Esvl – Sounds handy. :)

    Jen – Haha – “Clear”? If it all goes wrong because I miswrote something, I’m taking no responsability though. :P

  2. Already says:

    I’ve break my blog two times, first time just upgrading but it failed. And the second time I try to change a new theme and and it failed again.
    So, I don’t think that I will touch it again if not neccessary. Sometime I forgot that I’m not a programmer

  3. Fred Soto says:

    I’m going to jot up a response to this post, I have a lot of ideas and suggestions for you and your audience based on my experience over the last year. It’ll take some time to draft, but I’ll pop in tomorrow with the article and you can publish it here if you like.

    Nice post.. thanks for the helpful tips, as always.

  4. Suzanne says:

    Are there any SEO benefits to using Blogger versus WordPress?

    We’re always looking for feedback on ways to improve our current blog:

    http://csnstoresblog.blogspot.com/

    Helpful post!

  5. 66tx says:

    I did it successfully, but I still am confused about it.

  6. Fred Soto says:

    Ok, here’s the article I promised. Feel free to use the content on this blog if you like, since I promised it for your users.

    Taking risks and “breaking” your site: How to become a professional blogger.

    I’ll follow up later this week, there is so much more to be said.. but the article is long enough to whet appetites.

  7. Already – If you set managed to set this up, that would no longer be a problem. :)

    Fred – I’ll read the post now, thanks.

    66tx – Congrats! Don’t worry about the confusion. There is just no need to care about most of the other parts of the webserver you installed. So long as you know how to install WordPress on it, you’re grand. :)

  8. Jason says:

    Thanks for the article. I was looking for a good way to test WP upgrades, I didn’t even think about installing locally. Great tip!

  9. kristarella says:

    Good call Michael (as always). I love my MAMP installation. It’s especially good when developing a theme, you can work on it without even being connected to the internet and it’s much quicker.

    As mentioned, Browsershots is great for checking your site on browsers or OS that you might not have access to.

    Re: IE usage (Sly and Michael), I have this theory that most IE users use IE because it’s the default browser. If they cared about updating, they might as well download Firefox or another browser that works properly. Am I wrong? Are there lots of people that really like IE?

  10. pamQ says:

    Yup, I’d rather have MAMP instead of XAMPP for Mac. MAMP won’t affect your existing Apache installation [which is pretty much just a matter of enabling site sharing] which is great. :D

    As for the IE love… Institutions like IE. I’ve heard of several schools who prohibit students from installing or using Firefox. With IE6, the school’s IT department can restrict some stuff, like hide the Tools menu [via system policies]. They can’t do that with Firefox or other browsers [or so I was told].