WordPress is a fantastic web publishing platform for blogs and even complete websites. However, in order to run, WordPress must be installed on a Web server. This is not a problem for using WordPress, because most web-hosting companies offer free installation of WordPress. However, it can be a problem if you are looking for an offline or private way to learn WordPress, test out new themes and plug-ins, or design a new WordPress site to replace an existing site.

There are various ways to test drive WordPress outside of public view. The WordPress site describes several. All of these are bit cumbersome, requiring you either to manipulate files on your Web server or install server and database programs directly on your own computer.

Looking for an easier way to test and develop WordPress sites on my own computer, I was thrilled to discover Instant WordPress. This free program installs a full, working version of WordPress on your local computer or even on a USB stick. The installation includes the server files WordPress requires — Apache, MySQL and PHP.

The installation is painless. You simply run the download file and Instant WordPress is installed to the location you designate. I installed it to a USB drive, just because I was skeptical about installing it on my primary PC. I did not need to be.

When you launch the program, it opens a simple menu giving you access to your WordPress front page (the page as it would look on the Web) and to your WordPress admin panel, where you control the design and create new posts and pages. It comes with three common themes installed and you can download and install other themes, just as you can with a live WordPress site.

Let me be clear that this is not a tool for hosting a WordPress website. No one will be able to see your Instant WordPress site except on the computer where it is running.

Also, there is no automatic way to migrate a site created in Instant WordPress to the Web. The developers of Instant WordPress sell a book that describes how to use it to develop a site and then move that site to the Web. For a simple site, it is fairly easy to simply copy and paste pages created in Instant WordPress to a live site and duplicate other settings from your admin panel.

So far, I’ve used this program to play around with page designs and layouts, try out different themes, test self-designed header images for size and appearance, and try out various plug-ins. I like that I can do all this on my laptop, without having to tinker with any of my live WordPress sites.

I would think this would be particularly useful to anyone who is new to WordPress and wants a safe environment in which to learn how to use it.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.