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Building and supporting your Joomla site on a PC-hosted platform (e.g XAMPP, MAMP, etc.)

1012 hits Updated: 06 December 2016

The problems with using local PC-hosted websites

Running a PC-hosted website and trying to diagnose problems that people might have with Kunena are always difficult. They’re difficult because no-one else can actually see the problems first-hand.

Running XAMPP on a Windows 7 64-bit system (for example) is particularly troublesome.  XAMPP or WAMP don’t like to work on 64-bit Windows systems.  This is the main reason that I abandoned my web development on Windows 7 (64-bit) but I occasionally do some experimentation in Windows 7 (32-bit). The bigger problem that I have—and still not fully resolved—concerns the Windows firewall which makes it virtually impossible—the response times are far too long—trying to access web pages across a Windows-based LAN.  Perhaps these issues don’t occur with UNIX-based servers but I really don’t have the time, energy or motivation to set up a webhosting environment on my LAN.

The problems don’t end there, either, and some problems may be unusual because different versions of this kind of software install unusual implementations of PHP—unusual in the sense that real web-hosted solutions don’t run into those issues.

When you create a website on your PC you can conduct a few proof-of-concept experiments.  You can probably establish that you know how to install Joomla and tweak the source code to your heart’s content without having to use an FTP application like FileZilla, for example.  Yes, I agree, that using a PC-hosted website can help you shorten the learning curve when you are first starting out on your webcraft journey.  This was the way that I started when I built my very first Joomla website.  This was the “recommended” learning method described in the first book that I read about Joomla (Beginning Joomla: From Novice to Professional, Dan Rahmel, Apress, 2007).  That was over 7 years ago and I have learnt a lot since then.

I agree that using a PC-hosted web server can be a useful training experience for the complete novice who wants to understand the basics.  The basics are:  build a site, install some software and test it for yourself.  The basics, however, do not cover real-life situations that you or other people may encounter with your website.  The basics do not cover things like site performance or usability in a multi-user environment.  This basic PC-hosted website is your own private playground and, perhaps, that is what many people forget.  If your “website” is quarantined within your own LAN, how can other people help you if they cannot access it?

This, therefore, is the key problem when it comes to seeking support from consultants.  If an external consultant cannot access your website (because it is protected by a firewall), how can you possibly expect the consultant to fully understand what is going on?  Further, because there are numerous PC-hosting platforms available for numerous different operating systems—all of which have their own peculiarities—it is next-to-impossible to know comprehend your specific problems.  But, even if you do resolve your problems on your XAMPP—or whatever—server, how do you know that these issues will not arise in a real hosted environment on the internet?  In fact, you may not encounter problems with a XAMPP test site if you created your site on a properly hosted internet platform in the first place.

Running a website on a PC-hosted server is a bit like learning to drive a car without ever leaving your driveway.  Yes, you can learn about where all the car’s controls are located; you can learn the fundamentals but you do not have the full “on-road” driving experience—what happens when there are other cars on the road, other road users (pedestrians, cyclists, cars and trucks) sharing the road with you?  It’s just not the same experience.  Anyway, after you have learnt the fundamentals, you soon get bored driving the car up and down the same driveway and you soon want to get out and mix with the rest of the traffic.

I am not saying that website development (and testing) on a PC-hosted environment is pointless.  It can save some time but your site may operate differently—sometimes unexpectedly differently—when it is operating on a different server.  In my opinion, you can save yourself far more problems if you begin your site testing in the same environment as where the site will operate when it goes live.

Although I try to do my best to help others who are developing their websites—and my primary focus is on resolving Kunena issues—when problems also involve PC-hosted issues this further complicates the analysis and solution.  I will not say that I will not try to help people who choose to run Kunena on a PC-hosted platform but, when you get right down to it, a PC-hosted platform is quite different to a web-hosted one where you are paying money for expert support assistance. What I can say, without fear of contradiction, is that Joomla was not designed to run “out of the box” on a PC-hosted platform without making a number of changes.  Unless you are knowledgeable in the art of knowing how to manage a web server, these things are often beyond the reach of novice users.  What I can also say is, because PC-hosted solutions generally do not demonstrate the full range of capabilities provided by internet-based web servers, these approaches may not prove that your ideas will translate into the finished solution that you have in mind.

Everyone has their own opinion about the “benefits” of using PC-hosted servers but, basically, when you use a personal, local/intranet/LAN-restricted server you are “own your own” because only you know how you have configured it.  I do not personally use and I do not recommend XAMPP or its variations (e.g. MAMP). When I am building a new website—either for myself or for a client—I use the environment where the live site will eventually run. Doing things this way means that I don’t run into the kinds of problems caused by testing a website in one environment (on an Apache server, say) and running the site on a different environment (for example, NGINX).  It’s entirely your choice, of course, how you go about building a website but, as I have written many times over the years, I prefer not to use XAMPP unless I am absolutely forced into doing things this way as the absolute last resort when nothing else is available.  Even then, I would not feel comfortable that testing on XAMPP would “solve” issues that might occur when moving the test site to the target server where the live site will run.

In summary, most PC-based servers are generally not configured to run Joomla or Kunena “out of the box”. Consequently, my ability to analyse, diagnose and “fix” any problems that people might encounter is considerably limited.  In effect, when you use a PC-based approach to web-development, you take the responsibility to set things up and to resolve any of these server support issues upon yourself.

Lastly, if you do resolve your problems on your local/intranet/LAN-restricted server you have only proven that you do not have problems in your local/intranet/LAN-restricted environment.  You have no guarantee that you will not encounter other issues when the site is moved to its production environment.

There is a simple solution:  if you are testing a new site, host it on the internet and perform your experimentation there.  It might take you a bit longer—copying files over the internet via FTP—but at least you have the confidence of knowing that whatever you prove in that test environment will probably port its way across to your production site.

About the author:

is a Joomla professional and former member of the Kunena project for more than 8 years—a substantial contributor to the original Kunena documentation project with over twenty thousand messages posted at the Kunena forum. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.

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