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A WordPress “sandbox” lets you to fearlessly “play” with your website design and content.

Want to save yourself a lot of headache and potential grief? Test changes first in your “sandbox” before making them on your live website.

What’s a website “sandbox?”

A “sandbox” is just what I call a second installation of WordPress used for development, testing, and, in general, experimenting with new design, plugins, settings, and other changes to our websites. By testing things out in our sandbox first, we can avoid the stress of doing damage to our “live” website, the one our visitors are viewing right now.

How do I set up a website “sandbox?”

Creating a WordPress sandbox is quite simple for most of us. Most WordPress-friendly hosting services today allow us to install as many copies of WordPress as we wish; so that’s what we are going to do — create another installation of WordPress in a subdirectory of our public site.

  1. Using our hosting service control panel, we install another WordPress installation in a subdirectory called “Sandbox,” “dev,” “frodo,” or whatever we want. We can then access it by typing in http://[OurDomainName.]/sandbox [or whatever we called our subdirectory]. For example, http://CarolynECooper.com/sandbox
  2. Now we log into our WordPress Administration in our new sandbox installation as usual, and install our theme, our current plugins, and do all of our settings to match our live site — except turn OFF indexing by search engines and turn OFF allow comments in our Settings.
  3. Finally, we log into our live site WP-Administration and use the Tools >Export feature to export all of our site content.
  4. Next, we log into the WP-Administration of our fresh, new sandbox and use the Tools>Import feature to import all of our WordPress content from the live site into our new sandbox.

We now have some genuine content to view and work with, and we can “play” or test changes to our hearts content safely, knowing anything we break or make hideously ugly won’t be seen by our site visitors.

If you reach a point where you’ve seriously broken your sandbox installation or just mucked it up too much, you can delete it and create a new sandbox.

No worries!

A WordPress sandbox installation is also a great place to try out new themes or practice learning more complex themes. For recommendations on solid, trustworthy theme sources, check out this post on WordPress Theme Sources You Can Trust.