Tips for Test-Driving Layers on an Existing WordPress Site
So you want to try out Layers on your WordPress site, but are worried you won’t be able to revert back to how things were if you or your client decide they don’t like it.
Activating Layers, in most cases, will not cause you to lose any content or setup for your previous theme if it was coded properly – by default, WordPress stores all of the appearance and customizer data based on the active theme, allowing you to easily switch back to regain the look and setup of your original site. The exception to this rule is the content itself – which includes your menus and widgets. The three main things you need to be aware of when switching an existing site to Layers are:
- Page templates and styles that are part of your orignal site’s theme will be disabled, and Layers will take over. This means a page with a static layout, or which included custom shortcodes and widgets from your theme will probably look blank or broken.
- Fonts, colors and styles will revert to Layers defaults.
- Content typed into special templates, shortcodes or widgets may disappear when you switch to a different theme unless the theme provides some form of content integrity.
This means you have to consider preserving a few things before starting a new setup:
- Customizer settings
- Widget layout
- Page content
This document outlines a few ways to approach test-driving Layers with minimal risk to your existing site’s setup or content.
If you just want to see how the framework applies itself to your existing content to guage where you will need to tweak things or rebuild static pages from your old theme with the Layers widgets, you can preview Layers from the Appearance Themes page by clicking Preview. All changes, settings and tweaks you do here are held in a draft state until you choose Save and Activate or simply back out without saving. If you need 100% assurance or need to tweak outside of the preview, its time to think about backup strategies.
In cases where you need to play around with customizer settings or make changes to your WordPress admin or content to support a Layers conversion, we recommend using a backup tool to create a “snapshot” of your original site so you can quickly revert later if needed.
Most WordPress Hosting services provide a backup option in your hosting control panel where you can initiate a backup or restore one.
For Dreamhost, this under Domains > Manage Domains (you should see a Revert button next to your domain)
For Bluehost, it is under Hosting > cPanel > Files > Backup Wizard OR you can use ManageWP(recommended) accessedin the WordPress panel at the top. ManageWP is a free service with Bluehost WordPress accounts that allows you to create a copy of your site with the click of a button, will time stamp it for you, and allow you to quickly restore it.
With snapshots, your process looks like this:
- Create backup
- Activate Layers and customize to your heart’s content
- Need to revert? Restore the backup and you’ll be where you were before activating Layers.
Snapshots are backups of absolutely everything. If you wish, you can use a more targeted approach that focuses on only backing up Customizer settings, widgets or content so you have more control over reverting only specific things if needed.
Saving Customizer Data
As mentioned above, in most cases your customizer and theme options are stored in your WordPress database under the active theme, so when you switch to a new one and switch back, the settings can be restored automatically. This means you should be able to activate Layers, test-drive or customize it, then simply switch back to your old theme and not lose a step as long as you don’t change your pre-existing page content (see below for more on this). If you’re worried something might get lost, try the Customize Snapshot plugin (free) to create a new snapshot for your Layers tinkering. Plugins also exist to help you directly export your Customizer settings to a file that can be imported later – it is worth checking to see if your existing theme already has this functionality in the theme options or Customizer panels before installing a plugin to assist. Customizer snapshots are helpful if something goes wrong in the course of switching themes and settings and everything is back to default when activating your old theme, allowing you to revert the customizer without touching everything else on the site.
The best failsafe in WordPress, revisions are a built-in feature that allow you to go back to a previous version of a page or post as long as it hasn’t been saved too many times since. Most sites will store up to 10 revisions.
If your site previously used special page templates to present the content of certain pages, and those pages are now blank or without format, the best thing to do is to create copies before you begin to build them with Layers. This ensures these pages revert to their original state if the former theme is reactivated.
If this is not possible or you have already converted an existing page to a Layers page, switching themes and restoring the original template selection is often enough, but you can also restore a previous revision from before. See How to Restore Revisions in WordPress – this tip can also be applied to Layers pages, or any post that needs to be restored to an earlier state!
Saving Widget Configuration
The Widget Importer and Exporter plugin (free) gives you a simple interface for exporting your existing widget setup to a file that can be uploaded and imported later. While widget configuration is also normally stored in your database per theme, this can be helpful while testing a new theme, or even as a periodic backup for Layers site setups going forward. It is important to note that this plugin can only merge widget data – if the widget is found to be where it belongs, it will do nothing, if not, it will add the widgets in the backup to whatever is currently there.
Saving Site Content
WordPress provides a built-in content exporter under Tools Export. Click on WordPress, then leave the default All Content checked and save the file to a safe location. This produces an XML document that contains all of your posts, categories, tags, linked images, etc. It is important to note that images cannot be restored using this file if they no longer exist as only the path to the image is saved, not the image itself.
If you’re looking to see how a client’s site or your own high-traffic site works with Layers and plan a partial redesign, the safest and most professional approach is to stage it locally or on a development server/subdomain using a new WordPress site using a full backup of the live site.
Stage it Online
Creating a subdomain like staging.yourdomain.com with its own WordPress multisite install can save you hours that may otherwise be wasted on uploads, backups and troubleshooting when migrating a site from localhost to live.
Services like ManageWP can help you clone sites easily, if using an online development space, or free plugins like Duplicator or WPBackItUP can help you do it from within the WordPress admin of the site you want to copy.
Stage it Locally
While local installs of WordPress add an additional step to finally getting the results online, it does have the advantage of being available to you online or off, in an environment you have direct control over. This can help you test special case settings for increasing performance, for example. It does have a major downside though – you can’t easily share your progress with someone else by sending them a URL and you can’t test security.
Once you have a copy of the live site setup in a new place, you can safely activate Layers and reconfigure to your heart’s content.
See Torque’s excellent post on Moving WordPress from your localhost to live or use the same tools you used to clone to clone your updated copy back to live.