The Holy Grail of local web servers revisited

A few months ago I had presented one way of automatically assigning subdomains on a local testing web server, without having to edit your httpf.conf file all the time. For those who hadn’t been following this blog, I’m talking about my “Holy Grail of local web development servers” article, achieving subdomain names in the format myapp.local.web by simply creating the folder myapp on your local web server’s root. Even though the solution presented last time was elegant, it lacked that supernatural touch of a really great solution. I could never quite stomach those ugly URL rewriting rules. So, here it is: we revisit this issue and improve the solution!

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The Holy Grail of local web development servers

If you are a serious web developer, you might have already figured out that performing experiments and untested upgrades on production servers is a disaster waiting to happen, bringing down the live site with them. Staging live servers (in the form of dev.example.com) usually don’t cut it either, especially if you have a lot of file transferring or editing to do. However, local development is still a kludge, as you have to develop in a sub-directory, something like http://localhost/mysite. This has all sorts of implications, the most evident of which being that it breaks cross-content links if you try to pack it and deploy it back to the live site.

Ideally, you would need to develop in subdomains, something like http://mysite.localhost, which would mean that you have the flexibility of local development with the peace of mind of not having to develop in a sub-directory. But, face it. Setting up subdomains is an involving process, requiring hacking around your Apache configuration files. This is suboptimal if you want to do it regularly. Unless you come up with a way to turn http://mysite.localhost to automatically understand where it should find its files.

This article will explain you how to combine WampServer and BIND to create this kind of Holy Grail local web development server on Windows. You will configure a single DNS entry and a single virtual host in order to create a server which can handle infinite subdomains! The only pre-requisite is having a fixed IP address for your server. Well, even 127.0.0.1 will do if you can’t do anything better than that!

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