How to Make a Local Copy of a WordPress Site in 5 Minutes or Less Without Dealing with Code, Terminal, or PHPMyAdmin

WordPress 3.8 was released today. Maybe you’d love to give it a try, but you’re not sure how it might work on your own site. Will it break any features on your site? Will your favorite plugin turn out to be incompatible? Chances are slim that you’ll run into any problems, but of course, you want to be absolutely sure before you upgrade.

How can you be sure? By making a local copy of your site to use for testing. By ‘local copy’, I mean a copy of your site that lives on your own computer instead of on a server. You’ll be the only one who can view it. Local copies are also great for adding new features, coding child themes, making adjustments to an existing theme and more. Think about all the things you can do with a WordPress site that you don’t necessarily want your site visitors to see in an unfinished or half-baked version.

Ugh, but making a local copy is so much work. You have to install PHP and MySQL on your computer. You have to move the files. You have to move the database. But you can’t just move the database because that won’t work. You have to do a search and replace to change the site URL, but that involves changing serialized strings, and…yeah. It can be a hassle.

Unless you have a few tricks up your sleeve. Let me show you how I get a local copy of a WordPress site up and running in 5 minutes or less without having to deal with code, the terminal, PHPMyAdmin or any other scary things. And, okay, sure, that 5 minutes is a little subjective. If your WordPress site has lots and lots of posts and you’ve uploaded lots of images, then it’s going to take a tiny bit longer. But it’s still going to be pretty darn fast. And just three quick steps.

  1. Create a backup of your site. My favorite tool for this is the Backup Buddy plugin from iThemes. No, it’s not free, but it’s an excellent tool for backing up your site, restoring a backup when things have gone wrong, scheduling backups, and even moving WordPress. If you’ve got Backup Buddy installed on your blog, creating a complete backup is as simple as going to Backup Buddy > Backup and clicking the Complete Backup Button.
    Click the Complete Backup button
    Note that you can also use a free plugin to do your backup – I’ve had great luck with the Duplicator plugin which is frequently recommended by the fine people in the WordPress group on LinkedIn.
  2. Next, download your backup. From Backup Buddy, just hover your mouse over the backup you’d like to download and click Download file.
    Download a Backup Buddy backup
  3. For the final step, we’ll use one of the most useful bits of software since I don’t know what – Desktop Server from ServerPress. You will need the Premium version, but if you work with WordPress on a regular basis, it will more than pay for itself within the first couple of weeks that you own it. Open up Desktop Server and select the option to Export, import or share a website.
    Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.37.42 PMOn the next screen, select Import an existing WordPress website archive.
    Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.37.48 PMThen choose click the ellipsis () button to select the zip file of your backup, choose a name for your site, and select where you’d like the files for the site to live. Click Next.
    Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.39.08 PM

And that’s it. Now you just wait for the Desktop Server to work its magic. When it’s finished, it will tell you it’s Done! Click Next.
Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.41.47 PM

And you’ll be presented with a link to your new local copy of your website.
Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.41.53 PM

You can login with the same username and password you used on the live site. Then you can update WordPress to 3.8 and update your plugins, then test to see if the site is still working as it should. All without risking your live site.

Just in case you didn’t believe me that it’s that easy, I made a video to show you the steps:

In addition to the Backup Buddy plugin, Desktop Server can import backup archives created by Duplicator, BackWP Up, BackUp WordPress, InfiniteWP and ManageWP.

6 thoughts on “How to Make a Local Copy of a WordPress Site in 5 Minutes or Less Without Dealing with Code, Terminal, or PHPMyAdmin

  1. am in need of a little help. Here is what happened:I just backup and updated to 3.8 version of word press and the site looked like everything was still in its place, however the Display Buddy Carousel I use, pictures don’t show up. The shortcode is still on the pages and post pages but not thing shows up….. the site is

    1. I’m sorry to hear that you’re having troubles. I’d recommend contacting the developer of the Display Buddy Carousel plugin that you’re using to see if he or she can help you troubleshoot what the issue is.

    1. Desktop Server makes creating a new site on your own local computer easy too. That’s how I start all of my sites.

  2. Followed these instructions to the tee…and it worked perfectly. I’m able to view and test my site locally now.

    So…Now that I’ve made my changes to the local site, I want to upload those changes to the web server. Do I use Backup Buddy to upload my changes?

    Oh, and thanks for these instructions.

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