When your website is live online you want it to always be perfect. In order to keep it that way you might consider making changes first on an offline version of your website. This gives you the opportunity to try out new things and not be overly concerned about breaking anything. When you make mistakes or really mess things up on your live website your stress level can go through the roof.
Having a sandbox copy of your website is a great way to work
Having a sandbox copy of your website to use for editing and trying out new things is a great way to work. A sandbox site is simply a copy of your website somewhere that is not accessible by the public. You can have this on your live server in a password protected directory. Another way of working offline is by using a virtual server environment on your computer.
If you want to work on a copy of your website on your computer there are software packages that make it really easy to set up a virtual server. There's simply no need to go through the pains of setting up a web server from scratch on your computer. For Apple computers there is a package called "MAMP" that you can use. MAMP is an acronym for Macintosh, Apache, mySQL & PHP. These are the main server side resources that are needed to run database driven websites like Joomla. On a PC there are virtual server packages with names such as XAMPP, and WAMP.
Virtual server environments on your computer are known as localmachine workspaces
Using these virtual server environments on your computer is known as working on your localmachine. To get set up on your localmachine is easy. You download the MAMP or XAMPP packages, follow their instructions for setting them up on your computer and then put a copy of your website and database into it. To duplicate your Joomla! website you can use Akeeba backup. Akeeba backup will copy all your files including your database so you can restore your site in this new location.
Working offline doesn't always guarantee that you won't have problems
Working offline doesn't guarantee that you won't have any problems when you upload your new content to your live server. I ran into an interesting problem with regards to using the Disqus commenting system with my live website. Disqus comments do not store your article or blog comments in your local Joomla! database. It connects the comments to your Joomla! content using your domain URL and the path to the content. If you use Disqus for your article or blog commenting system and you create your article first on a localmachine copy of your website, Disqus picks up the URL of the first instance of any new article you create and stores it in their database for the links to your comments. Then when you upload your new article to the live site the comment linkbacks will be incorrect. It will carry the URL of your localmachine or the sandbox version of your site instead of the correct URL to your content. The way to get around this is to make sure that on your localmachine or sandbox version of your website that you do not have Disqus running on that site. I have an expanded blog post about this here that you can read about.
Versioning also makes it easy to create, preview, and rollback your content
Perhaps a future version of Joomla! will include versioning which will make it easier to create, preview, and rollback to previous versions of new items before you publish them on your website. There are versioning plugins that you can install and use with Joomla or you can simply implement a workflow that makes it easy to create articles and blog posts for your Joomla! site without disrupting the live production site.
If you have questions regarding working in a sandbox environment of your website or on a localmachine environment on your computer don't hesitate to leave a comment for us. We'll help you through the process.