Mimic your production Web environment, locally for free

Cara's Hotel in SanduskyIn January, Microsoft announced the WebMatrix tool at CodeMash in beautiful Sandusky, OH. Our own Cara Pluff left south Florida and headed up to Sandusky. Now, as you can imagine not many people leave south Florida in the middle of January for Sandusky but she did and was kind enough to send back photos of her balcony covered in a good foot of snow (I think I was sitting next to the pool, barbequing some steaks when I saw her email actually).

Well, her reason for traveling to the Great White North was to represent Applied Innovations at the Microsoft booth at the event, answer any questions people may have around WebMatrix and Hosting and also provide 3 Months of FREE WebMatrix hosting for those in attendance (we’ve posted some pictures on our facebook page from the event: http://www.facebook.com/appliedi).

Now you may be wondering, what does this have to do with me?  Well, I wanted to make sure you knew about WebMatrix and what you can do with it. Earlier today I created a video tutorial series on how to update a DotNetNuke site using WebMatrix.  What I actually do in the video is use WebMatrix to download the live site contents and the database. Then I run the DotNetNuke upgrade tool against the site on my local system and test it out to make sure everything is work.  Then I publish it back to the Internet overwriting the existing content and database with the version I just upgraded locally.

You see, WebMatrix will install the exact same version of IIS locally that we run on our Windows Server 2008 servers, it will also install ASP.NET, PHP, SQL Server and even MySQL if needed.  This allows you to exactly replicate your production environment locally on your development machine.  Then when you publish your site it will not only send up all the files for you but can also:

  • Publish databases
  • Set file permissions
  • set the ASP.NET version or PHP for your site
  • set your default page list
  • and manage other application settings for you

These are all things that before WebMatrix you’d have to log into a control panel to manage or have to call your web hosting company to update for you. 

How else could I use WebMatrix?

But WebMatrix isn’t just a one trick pony, here’s a few other ideas around how you could leverage WebMatrix:

  • You’re creating a new site using one of the applications in the Windows Web Application Gallery (like DotNetNuke, WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, nopCommerce, etc) and you want to develop locally first. You can completely build it and test it locally and then use WebMatrix to publish it for you. 
  • With most tools once you publish you can never work on it locally again. With WebMatrix and it’s “pull back” feature you can download all website content and database content at any time and test and debug as needed!
  • Let’s say you want to install a new theme or plugin to your blog site. You ‘pull back’ your website, install the theme on your local machine, dial it in and get it just the way you want it and then you publish it back up to the server, just as easily.  Plus since you know you’re using the same web server and database server locally that you’re using remotely, it’s going to work on the server EXACTLY as it did locally!
  • You need to migrate your site from one server to another. Since it manages file permissions, application settings, etc for you. WebMatrix makes a fantastic migration tool alleviating a lot of the headaches normally accompanying this type of migration.
  • You have a site coded in ASP.NET, PHP or Razor and you need a good code syntax aware editor (yes there’s finally a nice PHP editor for Windows that’s free!)

Where can I learn more?

We’ve really only scratched the surface of what you can do with WebMatrix but I wanted to make sure you knew just how powerful this tool really was it.  It’s not a ‘noob html editor’ as some have called it, It’s not ‘oh just another ASP.NET jump on the train’ tool either. It’s actually a pretty powerful development tool that helps to bridge the gap between dev and production.  I’d recommend you download and install it (it’s very lightweight) and also check out the application gallery that’s integrated with it.  However, if you’re still hosted on Windows Server 2003, I’m afraid this won’t work for you but you’re welcome to signup for your own 3 month free trial and give it a whirl: https://www.appliedi.net/webmatrix/

About the Author

Jess Coburn

It's Jess's responsibility as CEO and Founder of Applied Innovations to set the direction of Applied Innovations services to ensure that as a company we're consistently meeting the needs of our customers to help drive their success. In his spare time, Jess enjoys many of the things that made him a geek to begin with. That includes sexy new hardware, learning new technology and even a videogame or two! When you can’t find him at the office (which admittedly is rare), you’ll likely find him at the grill or in front of his smoker getting ready for some lip-smacking ribs to enjoy with his wife and two kids.

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