Note: this post was somehow saved as a Draft and never posted. It is also almost a year old – but posted for posterity, in case anyone has thoughts about WordPress development.
One of my ‘Long Term’ projects since starting work at Flight of Harmony was to re-launch the website. The version that I adopted had gone through a number of growing pains that I think are quite common with websites that migrate from a construction in ‘traditional HTML’ to a CMS. When I say ‘traditional HTML’, I mean hard-written code. No database back-end, not even using PHP for processing and presentation. I mean pages that are individual documents and coded as such.
For those of you who visited here before last January of 2011 – you might remember V1 of this site. It was all coded in HTML – written by hand in Notepad++ and it’s snazziest feature was the use of a cascading style sheet (or CSS – if you’re ‘in-the-know’). It worked – sure. But adding new content was an exercise in torment. I ended up settling on WordPress and re-designing the site. When I inherited flightofharmony.com, much of the code seemed to suggest it also started out hand-coded in HTML as well. There were errant tags and calls to classes that were redundant – signs that long ago, someone had painstakingly crafted and carried this website through prior iterations before it reached the condition it was in today. I felt kind of like a web archaeologist.
The first task I gave myself was to clean up unnecessary tags and generally get a feel for how the site functioned. Once that was completed, I set about reformatting many of the pages – giving them a cleaner feel. During all this time I had considered the option of doing a revision of the website – sketching down ideas and potential changes to the structure. That was put in the ‘eh – someday’ bin after I started a full-time job. And it remained there until a fire was placed under my proverbial rear.
Quickly – I had to figure out how I would actually go about doing such a task. First up – getting a development server started. First I tried running WAMP on the development machine – which proved to be more trouble than it was worth. After digging out an old MacBook, installing LAMP and deploying WordPress, I had something I could work with. The trusty old MacBook served as a test-bed where I could deploy plugins, add content and modify the theme of the site in a controlled (see: not internet accessible) environment.
The whole design procedure was very much hands-off, as Flight had pretty much given me his entire trust and I was allowed to just develop things using my best judgement. Occasionally I’d hold back on proceeding down a design path or drastically changing content unless I had received the ‘all clear’ – but for the most part I just stayed to myself, crouched over a keyboard and pounding on keys. I enjoyed having a clean-slate to work with again – the ability to just drop in code and change things until I felt they were ‘good’ was refreshing. I had forgotten how wonderful the offerings of WordPress can be – like the flexibility featured in many of the readily available plugins and themes. Things were progressing swimmingly but I had one major hurdle still on my mind: how I would deploy the site.
On the development server, I had attempted Exporting and Importing content a dozen times – and it worked fine every time. I had even attempted importing over an existing installation – figuring that perhaps that afforded me the best chance of making sure all the content would be preserved. “All right,” I muttered as I selected an exported file of WordPress content from the local server. I clicked the ‘Import’ button and held my breath – and I almost fainted. The WordPress dashboard on the live site reported an error, but gave little more information than that. I attempted to roll back the installation to a backup I made earlier that day, but somewhere along the lines a few unexpected wires had been crossed.
That is when I decided to ditch the old site entirely and start from a clean slate – which worked surprisingly well. The only hiccup I encountered was with the importing of the new content, but the Technical Support at GoDaddy was quite helpful and everything came alive after doing a manual database import. To that end, the entire process was quite painless and I was wholly impressed with the Technical Support I received. Though there were a few stressful moments during the process – by and large I was glad to have the opportunity and I’m quite proud of what we accomplished.