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03Jun2016

To “localhost” or not to “localhost”, that is the question

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1208 hits Updated: 06 December 2016

Building your website in a PC-hosted environment:  is it the best idea?

Perhaps you may want to re-think your strategy.

I confess that I’m a forum junkie but I get frustrated with requests for help from others with their I-have-a-problem-with-my-Joomla-on-a-PC-hosted-website problems that I encounter on an almost-daily basis.  Discussion forums are great places to obtain assistance or vent one’s personal opinion but, although the more seasoned members of such communities offer their support, assisting people with problems that exist in their own private universe is an incredibly difficult thing to do via a forum.

Wherever I travel—whether my local JUG or attending Joomla events around the country or the world—our community seems to be divided on the necessity of designing, developing, building and testing websites on a PC-hosted platform before deploying it on the “real” server.  I meet people who are more than passionate about their use of PC-hosted sites; they’re almost obsessive-compulsive about it.  Whenever I challenge their beliefs—sometimes bordering on fanaticism—about the requirement to undertake their craft in a one-person “world” (usually one solitary personal computer that’s not networked to others), I’m met with the resolute response, “This is the only way and you can’t tell me otherwise!”

Having worked in this industry for nearly forty years before I retired and invested my time in Joomla as a way of retaining my skills, I am aware of the utility of prototyping—establishing a proof-of-concept—to test new ideas.  Before I built my first Joomla website, I purchased a book—my library has grown a lot since that time—and that book recommended installing XAMPP (or some other equivalent software) as a means of helping people get a leg-up to adopt this great CMS software used by millions of people today.

So I installed XAMPP, created my first [no-frills] Joomla website and then I ran into some big problems:  networking XAMPP across your own private LAN; dealing with the vagaries of Microsoft’s firewall; problems that were entirely unrelated to Joomla.  Still, I persevered for a few weeks learning as I went about Apache, MySQL and PHP (and wonderful tools like myPhpAdmin), FTP and all the other things we require.  I couldn’t believe the liberation when I saw my first site appear on a “real” server on the internet.  It was almost like witnessing your first [two-page] novel going into print!

Undoubtedly there are benefits to using a localhost-served proving ground (e.g. to recalibrate some arcane internal mechanism within your live site without taking it offline for a few days) but how often do most of us really require this contingency?  I suspect that there will be people reading this essay who will say “You’re wrong: xAMPx is a ‘must-have’ to build/test/fix Joomla websites.”

In eight [plus] years of using Joomla, I don’t think I’ve revisited XAMPP once.  These days I build my websites[1] exclusively within an internet-hosted environment.  I can usually get a “real” site up and running within a day or two … and, if I have problems with it, I can share it with others instantaneously over the “WWW”. Perhaps I’m the odd-man-in-the-room?

When I browse topics in Joomla-related forums, people struggle with questions like “my localhost site works but the copy of it on the internet site doesn’t” or “my internet site works but my localhost copy doesn’t”.  Other “experts” then throw themselves headlong into those topics with all kinds of advice—that has nothing to do with Joomla—about how to use “brand-X” software.  There’s really not much more one can do in these cases except to watch the inevitable train-wreck as the experts argue among themselves and the helpless victim is still none-the-wiser.

As I say, I am aware of some usefulness in a localhost-based testbed but its usefulness is limited.  In many cases[2] the localhost environment is quite different to its “real” counterpart: the hardware is [invariably] different, the software may be different and the whole UX is different.  That’s why I wonder why we spend as much time as we do helping people work through their difficulties in their own private webiverse.  Perhaps I could sum it up this way:  if you must use “Brand-X” localhost software then, when you have problems with it, go to the “Brand-X” specialists—not http://forum.joomla.org.

Don’t get me wrong; internet forums are great ways to help to solve problems; however, internet forums can also be very frustrating[3].  We try our best to guide people when they encounter problems but, if their work habits are inflexibly entrenched in using localhost-based servers, there’s a big difference between advice and support.

Would I use a localhost platform if my site(s) was/were broken beyond all redemption? Perhaps—before I slit my wrists in total desperation—I would … but a bit of personal blood-letting isn’t necessarily a bad thing, sometimes.

This article is based on the author's previously published work posted at the Joomla forum.

Notes:

[1]  I must have built hundreds of test sites for establishing the proof-of-concept of a new idea.  Some of these sites lasted for less than an hour and some of them ultimately went on to go fully-functional operational ones.

[2]  Unless you can afford the luxury of having total control over the target environment where the site will ultimately be deployed.

[3]  It is frustrating, when trying to assist someone on a forum who has “Joomla site problems”, only to discover (several weeks later) that the person having the problems can’t share their experience with the world because their site does not reach beyond their office/bedroom/closet.

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.


Comments
# Jim McDonald 29-Sep-2016 06:15
Interesting! To tell the truth, it never occurred to me to develop on a hosted server. My first thought was that I don't want to be paying for hosting before I'm ready to launch something (or at least do some late-stage testing on it). I have a couple of linux boxes I use for development, and I can expose them to the world through port-forwarding if I need to. But, as you say, the problems I experience on them won't necessarily be the problems I'll face on a proper server. And it now occurs to me that hosting is pretty cheap, and, if doing my development out in the real world assists the development process, maybe that's the way to go--especially knowing that I don't have to expose my site to public view until I'm ready to, so . . . OK. I think I'll follow your advice.

Thanks.

Because I'm sure I'm going to need lots of help. Taking up Joomla development is like jumping on a moving train. The book about Joomla 2.5 that I bought six months ago is pretty well useless now--documentation never keeps up with the evolution of an application, and books become obsolete in less time than it takes to read them. So you and your colleagues will probably be hearing from me. Cheers!

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