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WordPress Local Development For Beginners: From Setup To Deployment




WordPress Local Development For Beginners: From Setup To Deployment

Nick Schäferhoff



When first starting out with WordPress, it’s very common to make any changes directly on your live site. After all, where else would you do it? You only have that one site, so when something needs changing, you do it there.

However, this practice has several drawbacks. Most of all that it’s very public. So, when something goes seriously wrong, it’s quite noticeable for people on your site.

Preventing Common Mistakes

When creating free or premium WordPress themes, you’re bound to make mistakes. Find out how you can avoid them in order to save yourself time and focus on actually creating themes people will enjoy using. Read more →

It’s ok, don’t feel bad. Most WordPress beginners have done this at one point or another. However, in this article, we want to show you a better way: local WordPress development.

What that means is setting up a copy of your website on your local hard drive. Doing so is incredibly useful. So, below we will talk about the benefits of building a local WordPress development environment, how to set one up and how to move your local site to the web when it’s ready.

This is important, so stay tuned!

The Benefits Of Local WordPress Development

Before diving into the how, let’s have a look at the why. Using a local development version of WordPress offers many benefits.

We already mentioned that you no longer have to make changes to your live site with all the risks involved with that. However, there is more:

  • Test themes and plugins
    With a local copy of your site, you can try out as many themes and plugin combinations as you want without risking taking your live site out due to incompatibilities.
  • Update safely
    Another time when things are prone to go wrong are updates. With a local environment, you can update WordPress core and components to see if there are any problems before applying the updates to your live site.
  • Independent of an online connection
    With your WordPress site on your computer, you can work on it without being connected to the Internet. Thus, you can get work done even if there is no wifi.
  • High performance/low cost
    Because site performance is not limited by an online connection, local sites usually run much faster. This makes for a better workflow. Also, as you will see, you can set it all up with free software, eliminating the need for a paid staging area.

Sounds good? Then let’s see how to make it happen.

How To Set Up A Local Development Environment For WordPress

In this next part, we will show you how to set up your own local WordPress environment. First, we will go over what you need to do and then how to get it right.

Tools You’ll Need

In order to run, WordPress needs a server. That’s true for an online site as well as a local installation. So, we need to find a way to set one up on our computer.

That server also needs some software WordPress requires to work. Namely, that’s PHP (the platform’s main programming language) and MySQL for the database. Plus, it’s nice to have a MySQL user interface like phpMyAdmin to make handling the database more convenient.

In addition to that, need your favorite code editor or IDE (integrated development environment) for the coding part. My choice is Notepad++ but you might have your own preferences.

Finally, it’s useful to have some developer tools to analyze and debug your site, for example, to look at HTML and CSS. The easiest way is to use Chrome or Firefox (read our article on Firefox’s DevTools), which have extensive functionality like that built in.

Available Software

We have several options at our disposal to set up local server environments. Some of the most well known are DesktopServer, Vagrant, and Local by Flywheel. All of these contain the necessary components to set up a local server that WordPress can run on.

For this tutorial we will use XAMPP. The name is an acronym and stands for “cross platform, Apache, MySQL, PHP, Perl”. If you have been paying attention, you will notice that we earlier noted MySQL and PHP as essential to running a WordPress website. In addition, Apache is an open source solution for creating servers. So, the software contains everything we need in one neat package. Plus, as “cross platform” suggests, XAMPP is available for both Windows, Mac and Linux computers.

To continue, if you haven’t done so already, head over to the official XAMPP website and download a copy.

How To Use XAMPP

Installing XAMPP pretty much works like every other piece of software.

On Windows:

  1. Run the installer (note that you might get a warning about running unknown software, allow to continue).
  2. When asked which components to install, make sure that Apache, MySQL, PHP, and phpMyAdmin are active. The rest is usually unnecessary, deactivate it unless you have good reason not to.
  3. Choose the location to install. Make sure it’s easy to reach as that’s where your sites will be saved and you will probably access them often.
  4. You can disregard the information about Bitnami.
  5. Choose to start the control panel right away at the end.

On Mac:

  1. Open the .dmg file
  2. Double click on the XAMPP icon or drag it to applications folder
  3. That’s it, well done!

After the installation is complete, the control panel starts. Should your operating system ask for Firewall permissions, make sure to allow XAMPP for private networks, otherwise, it won’t work.


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From the panel, you can start Apache and MySQL by clicking the Start buttons on the respective rows. If you run into problems with programs that use the same ports as XAMPP, quit those programs and try to restart the XAMPP processes. If the problem is with Skype, there is a permanent solution by disabling the ports under ToolsOptionsAdvancedConnections.


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Under Config, you can also enable automatic start for the components you need.


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After that, it’s time to test your local server. For that, open your browser, and go to http://localhost.

If you see the following screen, everything works as it should. Well done!


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Installing WordPress Locally

Now that you have a local server, you can install WordPress in the same way that you do on a web server. The only difference: everything is done on your hard drive, not an FTP server or inside a hosting provider’s admin panel.

That means, to create a database for WordPress, you can simply go to http://localhost/phpmyadmin. Here, you find the same options as in the online version and can create a database, user and password for WordPress.


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Once that is done and you want to install WordPress, you can do so via the htdocs folder inside your installation of XAMPP. There, simply create a new directory, download the latest version of WordPress, unpack the files and copy them into the new folder. After that, you can start the installation by going to http://localhost/newdirectoryname.


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That’s basically it. Now that you have a running copy of WordPress on your website, you can install themes and plugins, set up a child theme, change styles, create custom page templates and do whatever your heart desires.

When you are satisfied, you can then move the website from a local installation to live environment. That’s what we will talk about next.

How To Deploy Your Site With A Plugin

Alright, once your local site is up to your liking, it’s time to get it online. Just a quick note: if you want to get a copy of your existing live site to your hard drive, you can use the same process as described below only in reverse. The overall principles stay the same.

Either way, we can do this manually or via plugin and there are several solutions available. For this tutorial, we will use Duplicator. I found it to be one of the most convenient free solutions and, as you will see, it makes things really easy.

1. Install Duplicator

Like every other WordPress plugin, you first need to install Duplicator in order to use it. For that, simply go to PluginsAdd New. In the search box, input the plugin name and hit enter, it should be the first search result.


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Click Install Now and activate once it’s done.

2. Export Site

When Duplicator is active on your site, it adds a new menu item in the WordPress dashboard. Clicking it gets you to this screen.


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Here, you can create a so-called package. In Duplicator that means a zipped up version of your site, database, and an installation file. To get started, simply click on Create New.

In the next step, you can enter a name for your package. However, it’s not really necessary unless you have a specific reason.


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Under Storage, Archive, and Installer are options to determine where to save the archive (works for the Pro version only), exclude files or database tables from the migration and input the updated database credentials and new URL.

In most cases you can just leave everything as is, especially because Duplicator will attempt to fill in the new credentials automatically later. So, for now just hit Next.

After that, Duplicator will run a test to see if there are any problems.


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Unless something major pops up, just click on Build to begin building the package. This will start the backup process.

At the end of it, you get the option to download the zip file and installer with the click on the respective buttons or with the help of the One-Click Download.


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Do so and you are done with this part of the process.

3. Upload And Deploy Files On Your Server

If all of this has gone down without a hitch, it’s now time to upload the generated files to their new home. For that, log into your FTP server and browse to your new site’s home directory. Then, start uploading the files we generated in the last step.

Once done, you can start the installation process by inputting http://yoursite.com/installer.php into the browser bar.


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In the first step, the plugin checks the archive’s integrity and whether it can deploy the site in the current environment. You also get some advanced options that you are welcome to ignore at the moment. However, make sure to check the box where it says “I have read and accept all terms and notices,” before clicking Next.

Your site is now being unpacked. After that, you get to the screen where it’s time to input the database information.


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The plugin can either create a new database (if your host allows it) or use an existing one. For the latter option, you need to set up the database manually beforehand. Either way, you need to input the database name, username, and password to continue. Duplicator will also use this information to update the wp-config.php file of your site so that it can talk to the new database. Click Test Database to see if the connection works. Hit Next to start the installation of the database.

Once Duplicator is done with that, the final step is to confirm the details of your old and new site.


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That way, Duplicator is able to replace all mentions of your old URL in the database with the new one. If you don’t, your site won’t work properly. If everything is fine, click the button that says Next.

4. Finishing Up

Now, there are just a few more things to do before you are finished. The first one is to check the last page of the setup for any problems encountered in the deployment.


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The second is to log into your new site (you can do so via the button). Doing so will land you in the Duplicator menu.


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Here, be sure to click on Remove Installation Files Now! at the top. This is important for security reasons.

And that’s it, your site should now be successfully migrated. Well done! You have just mastered the basics of local WordPress development.

Quick Note: Updating Your Database Information Manually

Should the Duplicator plugin for some reason be unable to update wp-config.php with the new database information, your site won’t work and you will see a warning that says “unable to establish database connection”.

In that case, you need to change the information manually. Do this by finding wp-config.php in your WordPress installation’s main folder. You can access it via FTP or a hosting backend like cPanel. Ask your provider for help if you find yourself unable to locate it on your own.

Edit the file (this might mean downloading, editing and re-uploading it) and find the following lines:

/** The name of the database for WordPress */
define('DB_NAME', 'database_name_here');

/** MySQL database username */
define('DB_USER', 'username_here');

/** MySQL database password */
define('DB_PASSWORD', 'password_here');

/** MySQL hostname */
define('DB_HOST', 'localhost');

Update the information here with that of your new host (by replacing the info between the ‘ ‘), save the file and move it back to your site’s main directory. Now everything should be fine.

WordPress Local Development In A Nutshell

Learning how to install WordPress locally is super useful. It enables you to make site changes, run updates, test themes and plugins and more in a risk-free environment. In addition to that, it’s free thanks to open source software.

Above, you have learned how to build a local WordPress environment with XAMPP. We have led you through the installation process and explained how to use the local server with WordPress. We have also covered how to get your local site online once it’s ready to see the light of day.

Hopefully, your takeaway is that all of this is pretty easy. It might feel overwhelming as a beginner at first, however, using WordPress locally will become second nature quickly. Plus, the benefits clearly outweigh the learning process and will help you take your WordPress skills to the next level.

What are your thoughts on local WordPress development? Any comments, software or tips to share? Please do so in the comments section below!

Smashing Editorial
(mc, ra, yk, il)


Excerpt from – 

WordPress Local Development For Beginners: From Setup To Deployment

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Graphic Design Crashcourse

Full-day workshop • April 19th In this workshop, Mark Boulton will guide you through the practical design techniques that make a difference. From learning how to crop a photograph to guide a viewers eyes, to being able to typeset a data table for optimum scanning by a reader. This is a very practical workshop. You’ll end the day with a design you are proud of and a new toolbox of design techniques to use tomorrow.

Source: 

Graphic Design Crashcourse

Art Directing For The Web With CSS Grid Template Areas




Art Directing For The Web With CSS Grid Template Areas

Andrew Clarke



(This article is kindly sponsored by CoffeeCup Software.) Alright, I’m going to get straight to the point. CSS Grid is important, really important, too important to be one of those “I’ll use it when all browsers support it” properties. That’s because, with CSS Grid, we can now be as creative with layout on the web as we can in print, without compromising accessibility, responsiveness, or usability.

If you’re at all serious about web design or development, you need to be serious about learning and using CSS Grid too. In this article I’m going to explain how to use one aspect, grid-template areas, a way of arranging elements that even a big, dumb mug like me can understand, and one that doesn’t get enough attention.

Now, you want to see some action and some code, I know that, but hold on one Goddam minute. Before you learn “how,” I want to teach you “why” it’s important to make the kind of layouts we’ve seen in other media for decades, but have mostly been absent from the web.

Feeling Frustrated

I guess you’ve seen those “which one of these two layouts are you designing today?” tweets, lamenting the current state of design on the web. Even I’ve spoken about how web design’s lost its “soul.” I bet you’ve also seen people use CSS Grid to recreate posters or pages from magazines. These technical demonstrations are cool, and they show how easy implementing complex layouts with CSS Grid can be when compared to other methods, but they don’t get to the bottom of why doing this stuff matters.

So what’s the reason? Why’s layout such an important part of design? Well, it all boils down to one thing, and that’s communication.

For what seems like forever, web designers have created templates, then filled them, with little consideration of the relationship between content and layout. I suppose that’s inevitable, given considerations for content management systems, our need to make designs responsive, and the limitations of the CSS properties we’ve used until now. Sure, we’ve made designs that are flexible, usable, but we’ve been missing a key piece of the puzzle, the role that layout plays in delivering a message.

If you’ve been around the block a few times, you’ll know the role color plays in setting the right tone for a design. I don’t need to tell you that type plays its part too. Pick the wrong typeface, and you run the risk of communicating ineffectively and leaving people feeling differently to how you intended.

Layout — closely linked to aspects of typography like the ’measure’ — plays an equally important role. Symmetry and asymmetry, harmony and tension. These principles draw people to your content, guide them, and help them understand it more easily. That’s why crafting the right layout is as important as choosing the most appropriate typeface. Print designers have known this for years.

Telling Stories Through Art Direction

Art direction matters as much on the web as it does in other media, including print, and what I’m going to cover applies as much to promoting digital products as it does to telling stories.

What do you think of when you hear the term ’art direction?’ Do you think about responsive images, presenting alternative crops, sizes or orientations to several screen sizes using the <picture> element or ’sizes’ in HTML? They’ve become useful responsive design and art direction tools, but there’s more to web design than tools.

Do you think of those designers like Jason Santa Maria and Trent Walton who sometimes art direct their writing by giving an entry its own, distinctive image, layout and typography. This gets us closer to understanding art direction, but images, layout, and typography are only the result of art direction, not the meaning of it.

So if art direction isn’t exactly those things, what exactly is it? In a sentence, it’s the art of distilling an essential, precise meaning or purpose from a piece of content — be that magazine article or a list of reasons why to use the coolest app from the hottest start-up — and conveying that meaning or purpose better by using design. We don’t hear much about art direction on the web, but it’s well established in another medium, perhaps the most memorable being magazines and to some extent newspapers.

I’m not old enough to remember first hand Alexey Brodovitch’s work on Harpers Bazaar magazine from 1934 to 1958.


designs by Brodovitch


Fig.1. What I love about these designs — particularly his pencil sketches — is how Brodovitch placed his content to perfectly reflect the image that accompanies it.

I do remember Neville Brody’s artistic art direction for the Face magazine and I’m still inspired by it every day.


Brody’s pages from The Face magazine


Fig.2. Even twenty five years after he created them, Brody’s pages from The Face magazine are still remarkable designs.

Art direction is so rarely discussed in relation to the web that you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s not relevant. Perhaps you see art direction as an activity that’s more suited to the print world than it is to the web? Some people might think of art direction as elitist in some way.

I don’t think that any of that’s true. Stories are stories, no matter where they’re told or through what medium. They may be thought-provoking like the ones published on ProPublica, or they might be the story of your company and why people should do business with you. There’s the story of how your charity supports a good cause and why people should donate to it. Then there’s the story of your start-up’s new app and why someone should download it. With all of these stories, there’s a deeper message beyond just telling the facts about what you do or sell.

Art direction is about understanding those messages and deciding how best to communicate them through the organization and presentation of words and visuals. Is art direction relevant for the web? Of course. Art directors use design to help people better understand the significance of a piece of content, and that’s as important on the web as it is in print. In fact, the basic principles of art direction haven’t changed between print and digital.

I’d go further, by saying that art direction is essential to creating cohesive experiences across multiple channels, so that the meaning of a story isn’t lost in the gaps between devices and screen sizes.

David Hillman, formerly of The Guardian and New Statesman and designer of many other publications said:

“In its best form, (art direction) involves the art director having a full and in-depth understanding of what the magazine says, and through design, influencing how it is said.”

My friend Mark Porter, coincidentally the former Creative Director at The Guardian also said:

“Design is being in charge of the distribution of elements in space.”

CSS Grid makes being in charge of the distribution of elements more possible than ever before.

Art Directing A Hardboiled Story

I guess now is the time to get down to it, so I’m going to tell you how to put some of this to work in a series of Hardboiled examples. I’ll shine a flashlight on layout and how it helps storytelling and then give you the low down on how to develop one of these designs using CSS Grid.


several ’shots’ of a story in a Hardboiled book


Fig.3. When I conceived the covers for my Hardboiled books, I wanted the story to continue across several ’shots.’ (Left: Cover illustrations by Kevin Cornell. Right: Cover illustrations by Natalie Smith.) (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

First, the backstory. On the cover of my 2010 edition of Hardboiled Web Design (1), a mystery woman in a red dress (there’s always a woman in a red dress) is pointing a gun at our private dick. (Sheesh, I know that feeling.) By the Fifth Anniversary Edition in 2015 (2), the story’s moved on and a shadow moves ominously across the door of our detective’s office. The door flies open, two villains burst in (3), and a fist fight ensues (4). Our mystery woman sure knows how to throw a punch and before you can say “kiss me, deadly” one villain’s tied to a chair and ready to spill the beans (5).

Chapter Three

I’ll start telling that story at the explosive moment when those two villains bust open the door. Now, if you’ve read Scott McCloud’s book ‘Understanding Comics’ you’ll know that panel size affects how long people spend looking at an area, so I want to make the image of our bad guys as large as possible to maximise its impact (1). What the hoods don’t know is that our woman is waiting for them. I use layout to add tension by connecting their eye lines, (2) at the same time drawing a reader’s eyes to where the content starts.


Adding tension by connecting eye lines and maximise impact through large images.


Fig.4. Add tension by connecting eye lines and maximise impact through large images. (View project files on CodePen) (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

Chapter Four

As the first villain bursts onto the scene, I use the left edge of the page, without margins, to represent the open door (1). As most of the action takes place on the right, I create a large spacial zone using the majority of the height and width of the page (2).

Now, when fists fly in all directions, our layout needs to do the same, so my content comes from the top — where whitespace draws the eye down to the bold paragraph (3) — and from the left with the enormous headline (4). You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned that smaller image in the top-right, but I’ll get to that in a minute.


When fists fly, a layout needs to do the same.


Fig.5. When fists fly, a layout needs to do the same. (View project files on CodePen) (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

Chapter Five

The fight’s over, and our detective is back in control, so on this final page I use a more structured layout to reflect the order that’s returned. Solid columns of justified text (1) with plenty of whitespace around them add to the feeling of calm. At the same time, the right aligned caption (2) feels edgy and uncomfortable, like the gunpoint interrogation that’s taking place.


using layout to create order as well as disorder


Fig.6. We can use layout to create order as well as disorder. (View project files on CodePen) (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

Getting My Dands Dirty

It’s time for a confession. I’m not going to teach you everything you need to know about developing layouts using CSS Grid as there are plenty of smarter people who’ve done that before:

Instead, I’ll show you the inspiration for one grid, how I translated it into a (large screen) layout using columns and rows in CSS Grid, and then placed elements into the spacial zones created using the grid-template areas property. Finally, I’ll deconstruct and alter the design for smaller screen sizes.

The Perfect Beat

My inspiration for the layout I use came from this 1983 design by Neville Brody for The Face Magazine. I was drawn to how Brody cleverly created both horizontal and vertical axis and the large space occupied by the main image.


layout by Neville Brody for The Face Magazine


Fig.7. This layout by Neville Brody for The Face Magazine felt like the perfect starting point for my design. Look closely at Brody’s grid, and you should spot that he used five columns of equal width.

I did the same by applying the following CSS Grid properties to the margin-less <body> element of my page, where columns one fraction unit wide repeat five times with a 2vw gap between them:

body  
margin: 0;
padding : 0;
display: grid;
grid-column-gap : 2vw;
grid-template-columns: repeat(5, 1fr); 

combining five equal width columns


Fig.8. I combine five equal width columns in different ways to create spacial zones.

In CSS Grid we define a grid module by giving it a name, then we place an element into either a single module or multiple adjacent modules — known as spacial zones — with the grid-template-areas property. Sounds complicated huh? No, not really. It’s one of the easiest and most obvious ways of using CSS Grid, so let’s get to work.

First things, first. I have five elements to position, and they are my “Kiss Me, Deadly” title, the largest ’banner’ image, main content, aside paragraph and two images, fig-1 and fig-2. My HTML looks like this:

<body>
<picture role="banner">…</picture>
<h1 class="title">…</h1>
<main>…</main>
<aside>…</aside>
<img class="fig-1">
<img class="fig-2">
</body>

I wrote that markup in the order that makes most sense, just as I would when constructing a narrative. It reads like a dream on small screens and even without styles. I give each element a grid-area value that in a moment I’ll use to place it on my grid:

[role="banner"]  grid-area: banner; 
.title  grid-area: title; 
main  grid-area: main; 
aside  grid-area: aside; 
.fig-1  grid-area: fig-1; 
.fig-2  grid-area: fig-2; 

Your grid area values don’t necessarily need to reflect your element types. In fact, you can use any values, even single letters like a, b, c, or d.

Back with the grid, I add three rows to the columns I created earlier. The height of each row is automatically defined by the height of the content inside it:

body 
grid-template-rows: repeat(3, auto); 

Here’s where the magic happens. I literally draw the grid in CSS using the grid-template-areas property, where each period (.) represents one empty module:

body 
grid-template-areas:
".  .  .  .  ."
".  .  .  .  ."
".  .  .  .  ."; 

Now it’s time to position elements on that grid using the grid-area values I created earlier. I place each elements’ value into a module on the grid and if I repeat that value across multiple adjacent modules — either across columns or row, that element will expand across them to create a spacial zone. Leaving a period (.) will create an empty space:

body 
grid-template-areas:
".  aside  .  fig-2  fig-2"
"title  title  banner  banner  banner"
"fig-2  main  banner  banner  banner"; 

One more small detail before I finish the layout CSS. I want the content of the aside element to sit at the bottom — close to the title and leaving ample white space above it to draw someone’s eye down — so I use an align-self property that might be familiar from learning Flexbox, but with a new value of ’end.‘

aside  
align-self: end; 

CSS Grid layout for larger screens


Fig.9. That’s it, my CSS Grid layout for larger screens is done. (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

All that remains is to add a few other styles to bring the design to life, including a striking inverse color scheme and a bright, red accent that ties the word “Deadly” in the title to the color of our woman’s dress:

<h1 class="title">Kiss Me, <em>Deadly</em></h1>

.title em 
font-style: normal;
color : #fe3d6b; 

Going Up In Smoke

Now, I know you’ve been wondering about that smaller fight image, and I need to admit something. Natalie Smith made only one finished fists flying illustration for my Hardboiled Shot covers, but her sketches were too good to waste. I used CSS Grid to position an inverted version of one pencil sketch above the gun and rotated it with a CSS transform to form a cloud of smoke.


CSS Grid and transforms turn this sketch into a cloud of smoke.


Fig.10. CSS Grid and transforms turn this sketch into a cloud of smoke. (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

Breaking It Down

In this article, I’ve shown how to create a layout for large screens, but in reality, I start with a small one and then work up, using breakpoints to add or change styles. With CSS Grid, adapting a layout to various screen sizes is as easy as positioning elements into different grid-template areas. There are two ways that I can do this, first by changing the grid itself:

body  
grid-template-columns: 50px repeat(2, 1fr); 

@media screen and (min-width : 48em) 
body  
grid-template-columns: repeat(5, 1fr); 
}

The second, by positioning elements into different grid-template areas on the same grid:

body  
grid-template-areas:
"fig-1  aside  aside  aside  aside"
"fig-1  title  title  title  title"
"banner  banner  banner  banner  banner"
"....  main  main  main  main"; 

@media screen and (min-width : 64em) 
body 
grid-template-areas:
"....  aside  ....  fig-2  fig-2"
"title  title  banner  banner  banner"
"fig-1  main  banner  banner  banner"; 
}

adapting layout to various screen sizes


Fig.11. Adapting my layout to various screen sizes is as easy as positioning elements into different grid-template areas. Small screen (left) Medium screen (right). (Copyright: Stuff & Nonsense)

Using CSS Grid Builder

Grid template areas make developing art directed layouts so easy that even a flat-foot like me can do it, but if you’re the type that likes tools to do the dirty work, CSS Grid Builder from CoffeeCup Software might be just the thing for you. You may have used WYSIWYG editors before, so you might be remembering how lousy the code they spat out was. Let me stop you there. CSS Grid Builder outputs clean CSS and accessible markup. Maybe not as clean as you write yourself, but pretty damn close, and the small team who developed it plan to make it even better. My handwritten HTML looks like this:

<picture role="banner">
    <source srcset="banner.png" media="(min-width: 64em)">
    <img src="banner-small.png" alt="Kiss Me, Deadly">
</picture>

The CSS Grid Builder <picture> element comes wrapped in an extra division, with a few other elements thrown in for good measure:

<div class="responsive-picture banner" role="banner">
    <picture>
    <!--[if IE 9]><video style="display: none;"><![endif]-->
    <source srcset="banner.png" media="(min-width: 64em)">
    <!--[if IE 9]></video><![endif]-->
    <img alt="Kiss Me, Deadly" src="banner-small.png">
    </picture>
</div>

Like I said, close enough, and if you don’t believe me, download a set of exported files from my Hardboiled example. Maybe that’ll convince you.

Browsers’ developer tools are getting better at inspecting grids, but CSS Grid Builder helps you build them. Obviously. At its core, CSS Grid Builder is a Chromium-based browser wrapped in a user-interface, and it runs on macOS and Windows. That means that if the browser can render it, the UI tools can write it, with one or two notable exceptions including CSS Shapes.

In fact, CSS Grid Builder builds more than grids, and you can use it to create styles for backgrounds — including gradients, which is very handy — borders, and typography. It even handles Flexbox and multi-column layouts, but you’re here because you want to learn about CSS Grid.

Looking Around The Interface

The interface in CSS Grid Builder, is pretty much as you’d expect it, with a wide area for the design you’re making on the left and controls over on the right. Those controls include common elements; text, images, interactive buttons and form controls, and layout containers. If you need one of those elements, drag and drop it into your work area.


Drag and drop common elements including text, images, and layout containers.


Drag and drop common elements including text, images, and layout containers.

Press to reveal the Styles tab, and you’ll find controls for naming class and ID attributes, applying styles at specific breakpoints and in particular states. All very useful, but it’s the layout section — somewhat inconveniently tucked away at the bottom of the pane — that’s the most interesting.


Styles layout section contains grid controls.


Styles layout section contains grid controls.

In this section you can design a grid. Setting up columns and rows to form a layout without visual representation can be one of the hardest parts of learning how ‘grid’ works. The app’s ability to visually define the grid structure is a handy feature, especially when you’re new to CSS Grid. This is the section I’m going to explain.


The Grid Editor contains tools for building a grid visually.


The Grid Editor contains tools for building a grid visually.

Using CSS Grid Builder I added a container division. When selecting that in the work area, I get access to the Grid Editor. Activate that, and all the tools needed to visually build a grid are there:

  • Add columns and rows
  • Align and justify content and items within each module
  • Size columns and rows using every type of unit including fr and minmax
  • Specify gaps
  • Name grid-template-areas
  • Specify breakpoints

When I’m happy with those settings, “OK” the changes and they’re applied to the design in the work area. Back there, use sliders to preview the results at various breakpoints, and if you’re one of those people who’s worried about the shrinking percentage of people using incapable browsers, CSS Grid Builder also offers settings where you can figure fallbacks. Then just copy and paste CSS styles to somewhere else in your project or export the whole kit and caboodle.


preview results at various breakpoints


Preview results at various breakpoints, save the project to edit later or export the files.

CSS Grid Builder is currently free while CoffeeCup develops it and if you like what they’re doing, you can throw a few dollars their way to help fund its development.

Cleaning Up

I’m finding it hard to contain my excitement about CSS Grid. Yes, I know I should get out more, but I really do think that it offers us the best chance yet of learning lessons from other media to make the websites we create better at communicating what we aim to convey to our audiences. Whether we make websites for businesses who want to sell more, charities who need to raise more money through donations to good causes, or news outlets who want to tell stories more effectively, CSS Grid plus thoughtful, art directed content makes that all possible.

Now that’s Hardboiled.

I hope you enjoyed this article, now view the project files on CodePen or download the example files.

Art Direction for the Web‘Art Direction for the Web’ by Andy Clarke, the first Hardboiled Web Design ‘shot.’ Shots are a series of short books on ‘Art Directing for the web, ’ ‘Designing with a Browser,’ and ‘Selling Creative Ideas’ to be published throughout 2018.

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Art Directing For The Web With CSS Grid Template Areas

Why Web Application Maintenance Should Be More Of A Thing

Traditional software developers have been hiding a secret from us in plain sight. It’s not even a disputed fact. It’s part of their business model.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about high-end enterprise software vendors or smaller software houses that write the tools that we all use day to day in our jobs or businesses. It’s right there front and center. Additional costs that they don’t hide and that we’ve become accustomed paying.

So what is this secret?

Well, a lot of traditional software vendors make more money from maintaining the software that they write than they do in the initial sale.

Not convinced?

A quick search on the term “Total Cost of Ownership” will provide you with lots of similar definitions like this one from Gartner (emphasis mine):

[TCO is] the cost to implement, operate, support & maintain or extend, and decommission an application.

Furthermore, this paper by Stanford university asserts that maintenance normally amounts to 60% to 90% of the TCO of a software product.

It’s worth letting that sink in for a minute. They make well over the initial purchase price by selling ongoing support and maintenance plans.

We Don’t Push Maintenance

The problem as I see it is that in the web development industry, web application maintenance isn’t something that we focus on. We might put it in our proposals because we like the idea of a monthly retainer, but they will likely cover simple housekeeping tasks or new feature requests.

It is not unheard of to hide essential upgrades and optimizations within our quotes for later iterations because we‘re not confident that the client will want to pay for the things that we see as essential improvements. We try and get them in through the back door. Or in other words, we are not open and transparent that, just like more traditional software, these applications need maintaining.

Regardless of the reasons why, it is becoming clear that we are storing up problems for the future. The software applications we’re building are here for the long-term. We need to be thinking like traditional software vendors. Our software will still be running for 10 or 15 years from now, and it should be kept well maintained.

So, how can we change this? How do we all as an industry ensure that our clients are protected so that things stay secure and up to date? Equally, how do we get to take a share of the maintenance pie?

What Is Maintenance?

In their 2012 paper Effective Application Maintenance, Heather Smith and James McKeen define maintenance as (emphasis is mine):

Porting an application to a new server, interfacing with a different operating system, upgrading to a newer release, altering a tax table, or complying with new regulations—all necessitate application — maintenance. As a result, maintenance is focused on upgrading an application to ensure it remains productive and/or cost effective. The definition of application maintenance preferred by the focus group is — any modification of an application to correct faults; to improve performance; or to adapt the application to a changed environment or changed requirements. Thus, adding new functionality to an existing application (i.e., enhancement) is not, strictly speaking, considered maintenance.

In other words, maintenance is essential work that needs to be carried out on a software application so it can continue to reliably and securely function.

It is not adding new features. It is not checking log files or ensuring backups have ran (these are housekeeping tasks). It is working on the code and the underlying platform to ensure that things are up to date, that it performs as its users would expect and that the lights stay on.

Here are a few examples:

  • Technology and Platform Changes
    Third-party libraries need updating. The underlying language requires an update, e.g. PHP 5.6 to PHP 7.1 Modern operating systems send out updates regularly. Keeping on top of this is maintenance and at times will also require changes to the code base as the old ways of doing certain things become deprecated.

  • Scaling
    As the application grows, there will be resource issues. Routines within the code that worked fine with 10,000 transactions per day struggle with 10,000 per hour. The application needs to be monitored, but also action needs to be taken when alerts are triggered.

  • Bug Fixing
    Obvious but worth making explicit. The software has bugs, and they need fixing. Even if you include a small period of free bug fixes after shipping a project, at some point the client will need to start paying for these.

Hard To Sell?

Interestingly, when I discuss this with my peers, they feel that it is difficult to convince clients that they need maintenance. They are concerned that their clients don’t have the budget and they don’t want to come across as too expensive.

Well, here’s the thing: it’s actually a pretty easy sell. We’re dealing with business people, and we simply need to be talking to them about maintenance in commercial terms. Business people understand that assets require maintenance or they’ll become liabilities. It’s just another standard ongoing monthly overhead. A cost of doing business. We just need to be putting this in our proposals and making sure that we follow up on it.

An extremely effective method is to offer a retainer that incorporates maintenance at its core but also bundles a lot of extra value for the client, things like:

  • Reporting on progress vs. KPIs (e.g. traffic, conversions, search volumes)
  • Limited ‘free’ time each month for small tweaks to the site
  • Reporting on downtime, server updates or development work completed
  • Access to you or specific members of your team by phone to answer questions

Indeed, you can make the retainer save the client money and pay for itself. A good example of this would be a client’s requirement to get a simple report or export from the database each month for offline processing.

You could quote for a number of development days to build out a — probably more complex than initially assumed — reporting user interface or alternatively point the client to your retainer. Include within it a task each month for a developer to manually run a pre-set SQL query to manually provide the same data.

A trivial task for you or your team; lots of value to your client.

A Practical Example

You’ll, of course, have your own way of writing proposals but here are a couple of snippets from an example pitch.

In the section of your proposal where you might paint your vision for the future, you can add something about maintenance. Use this as an opportunity to plant the seed about forming a long-term relationship.

You are looking to minimize long-term risk.

You want to ensure that your application performs well, that it remains secure and that it is easy to work on.

You also understand how important maintenance is for any business asset.

Later on, in the deliverables section, you can add a part about maintenance either as a stand-alone option or bundled in with an ongoing retainer.

In the following example, we keep it simple and bundle it in with a pre-paid development retainer:

We strongly advocate that all clients consider maintenance to be an essential overhead for their website. Modern web applications require maintenance and just like your house or your car; you keep your asset maintained to reduce the tangible risk that they become liabilities later on.

As a client who is sensibly keen to keep on top of the application’s maintenance as well as getting new features added, we’d suggest N days per month (as a starting point) for general maintenance and development retainer.

We’d spread things out so that a developer is working on your system at least [some period per week/month] giving you the distinct advantage of having a developer able to switch to something more important should issues arise during the [same period]. Depending upon your priorities that time could all be spent on new feature work or divided with maintenance, it’s your call. We normally suggest a 75%/25% split between new features and important maintenance.

As previously mentioned, this is also a great opportunity to lump maintenance in with other value-added ongoing services like performance reporting, conducting housekeeping tasks like checking backups and maybe a monthly call to discuss progress and priorities.

What you’ll probably find is that after you land the work, the retainer is then not mentioned again. This is understandable as there is lots for you and your client to be considering at the beginning of a project, but as the project is wrapping up is a great time to re-introduce it as part of your project offboarding process.

Whether this is talking about phase 2 or simply introducing final invoices and handing over, remind them about maintenance. Remind them of ongoing training, reporting, and being available for support. Make the push for a retainer, remembering to talk in those same commercial terms: their new asset needs maintaining to stay shiny.

Can Maintenance Be Annoying?

A common misconception is that maintenance retainers can become an additional burden. The concern is that clients will be constantly ringing you up and asking for small tweaks as part of your retainer. This is a particular concern for smaller teams or solo consultants.

It is not usually the case, though. Maybe at the beginning, the client will have a list of snags that need working through, but this is par for the course; if you’re experienced, then you’re expecting it. These are easily managed by improving communication channels (use an issue tracker) and lumping all requests together, i.e, working on them in a single hit.

As the application matures, you’ll drop into a tick-over mode. This is where the retainer becomes particularly valuable to both parties. It obviously depends on how you’ve structured the retainer but from your perspective, you are striving to remind the client each month how valuable you are. You can send them your monthly report, tell them how you fixed a slowdown in that routine and that the server was patched for this week’s global OS exploit.

You were, of course, also available to work on a number of new requested features that were additionally chargeable. From your client’s perspective, they see that you are there, they see progress, and they get to remove “worry about the website” from their list. Clearly, ‘those clients’ do exist, though, so the most important thing is to get your retainer wording right and manage expectations accordingly.

If your client is expecting the moon on the stick for a low monthly fee, push back or renegotiate. Paying you to do — say — two hours maintenance and housekeeping per month in amongst providing a monthly report and other ancillary tasks is exactly that; it’s not a blank cheque to make lots of ad-hoc changes. Remind them what is included and what isn’t.

How Do We Make Maintenance Easier?

Finally, to ensure the best value for your clients and to make your life easier, use some of these tactics when building your applications.

Long-Term Support (LTS)

  • Use technology platforms with well documented LTS releases and upgrade paths.
  • Ongoing OS, language, framework and CMS upgrades should be expected and factored in for all projects so tracking an LTS version is a no-brainer.
  • Everything should be running on a supported version. Big alarm bells should be ringing if this is not the case.

Good Project Hygiene

  • Have maintenance tasks publicly in your feature backlog or issue tracking system and agree on priorities with your client. Don’t hide the maintenance tasks away.
  • Code level and functional tests allow you to keep an eye on particularly problematic code and will help when pulling modules out for refactoring.
  • Monitor the application and understand where the bottlenecks and errors are. Any issues can get added to the development backlog and prioritized accordingly.
  • Monitor support requests. Are end users providing you with useful feedback that could indicate maintenance requirements?

The Application Should Be Portable

  • Any developer should be able to get the system up and running easily locally — not just you! Use virtual servers or containers to ensure that development versions of the applications are identical to production.
  • The application should be well documented. At a minimum, the provisioning and deployment workflows and any special incantations required to deploy to live should be written down.

Maintenance Is A Genuine Win-Win

Maintenance is the work we need to do on an application so it can safely stand still. It is a standard business cost. On average 75% of the total cost of ownership over a software application’s lifetime.

As professionals, we have a duty of care to be educating our clients about maintenance from the outset. There is a huge opportunity here for additional income while providing tangible value to your clients. You get to keep an ongoing commercial relationship and will be the first person they turn to when they have new requirements.

Continuing to provide value through your retainer will build up trust with the client. You’ll get a platform to suggest enhancements or new features. Work that you have a great chance of winning. Your client reduces their lifetime costs, they reduce their risk, and they get to stop worrying about performance or security.

Do yourself, your client and our entire industry a favor: help make web application maintenance become more of a thing.

Smashing Editorial
(rb, ra, hj, il)

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Why Web Application Maintenance Should Be More Of A Thing

Mobile App With Facial Recognition Feature: How To Make It Real

Imagine an application that can, in real time, analyze a user’s emotional response while they’re interacting with an app or website. Or imagine a home device that recognizes you and tunes in to your favorite TV channel.
Yes, today’s article is all about facial recognition technology. We’re going to share our first experience of dealing with this technology and the findings we’ve made.
Why Is Facial Recognition On The Rise?

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Mobile App With Facial Recognition Feature: How To Make It Real

Breaking The Rules: Using SQLite To Demo Web Apps

Most potential users will want to try out the software or service before committing any time and money. Some products work great by just giving users a free trial, while other apps are best experienced with sample data already in place. Often this is where the age-old demo account comes into play.
However, anyone who has ever implemented a demo account can attest to the problems associated. You know how things run on the Internet: Anyone can enter data (whether it makes sense or not to the product) and there is a good chance that the content added by anonymous users or bots could be offensive to others.

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Breaking The Rules: Using SQLite To Demo Web Apps

How Do I Know If Venture Capital Fits My Business?

There is a popular image in the world of software which many young and inexperienced entrepreneurs are becoming infatuated with. It’s the idea that when you come up with an awesome idea, the highest peak to strive for — the ultimate goal — is getting in front of a venture capitalist and receiving a huge lump sum to propel your business to unimaginable heights and bring tremendous personal wealth. Well then, let’s explore what it really means to fund your business with equity capital.

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How Do I Know If Venture Capital Fits My Business?

Copyright Law Essentials All Designers Should Know

As software designers or developers, you have the important task of ensuring that a program works the way it is supposed to while being efficient, user-friendly, and unique. After all the creativity that is poured into making a program work just right, it’s fair to say that a well-designed software program is a work of art.
From a legal perspective, a software program is a complex work that includes both functional and artistic elements.

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Copyright Law Essentials All Designers Should Know

15 Steps To Creating a Successful Event Marketing Campaign

event marketing

We know what events are. We know what marketing is. But when these two words come together, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Event marketing is a versatile and impactful marketing channel that is increasingly becoming more critical across various industries. According to Forrester research, events make up for 24% of the average CMO’s B2B marketing budget. This trend only seems to be growing with projections showing that 3.2 million global professional events will be taking place annually by 2020. Statistics like these should come as no surprise. In a digital age where consumers are inundated…

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15 Steps To Creating a Successful Event Marketing Campaign

7 Ways To Accelerate Product Adoption (Without Spamming Your User Base)

speed up product adoption

We tend to make a big deal about leads in the marketing space, and not without good reason. Everything starts with leads. However, for software companies, the real goal is product adoption. We need people actively and consistently using our product. Regardless of our business model, success occurs when users experience that “aha” moment that takes our product from an experiment to a core part of their day-to-day work. So how do we move people from lead to product adopter? How to we give them that “aha” moment? Two words: Strategic Repetition Repetition is a POWERFUL psychological force. Studies have…

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7 Ways To Accelerate Product Adoption (Without Spamming Your User Base)