If website design and development is not your business, then you probably don’t give much thought to whether most of the work is done online or offline.
If you were to stop and consider the matter you might think that because it’s a website and websites work online, they have to be designed online. Or, you might think that all of the code writing and other assorted backend details are best perfected in some offline capacity and then, somehow, magically transferred online. Both can be right.
Many professional website developers choose to use offline tools to build websites. They get the look and feel and basic functionality right and then test it online to see what needs to be tweaked, reworked, or completely overhauled. On the other hand, some people (for example, freelance writers who only need a small, simple website to advertise their services) choose to use online website creation platforms (like WordPress) because they’re straightforward and don’t require much technical knowledge.
But, there are also offline tools that are simple and easy to use and which are favored by amateur website creators (WordPress has offline building functionality), and many professional developers like to use online platforms because they have reliable foundations that can be easily customized and which are inherently user-friendly.
There are pros and cons to each approach; we’re going to focus on the benefits of designing websites offline.
Pros of Offline Web Development
According to Iron Spider’s Robert Darrell, the best thing you can do is create your website offline before putting it online. Darrell says there are three important reasons why you need to work offline first:
1) Offline is a Safe Testing Ground
By working offline, you don’t run the risk of opportunistic hackers or sneaky online malware or viruses that do the rounds. Darrell also says that you save yourself bandwidth, which is important if you’re on a capped system (as you might be if you were a freelancer just starting out, for instance) or if your internet speed is not the best in the world.
The important thing, according to Darrell, is that you use relative addressing in your HTML source code, otherwise, you won’t be able to test the site properly. You won’t be able to see the site displayed as it would be on the web, and you won’t be able to test all of your links.
2) It’s Easier to Stay Organized and Keep Track of the Project
It’s also easier not to make silly mistakes like accidentally overwriting a live version of your website when all you meant to do was make a small tweak to the title size. If your practice is to work offline first, test it offline second, and then upload it, your online site is as safe as it’s possible to be from well-intentioned meddling.
This also means that your online and offline versions always match – one is always a backup of the other in case something goes wrong somewhere.
3) Offline Designs are Naturally Backups of the Online Version
This follows from the previous point. If you’re disciplined about your work practices, and ensure that you first make any and all changes offline before implementing them online, then you will always have two versions of the same site. Barring major disaster, you’ll be covered no matter where the problem lies.
(Of course, you should still backup your site regularly to protect yourself against data loss, but that is another subject for another time.)
John D. Carmack adds a few more benefits to designing websites offline before moving them online:
4) Offline Designs are Easily Portable
Some online website builders are proprietary, which makes it difficult to move your site, should you ever want to. Even if it’s not proprietary, a site that has been designed specifically to fit a certain platform may not work as well on a different platform. If your site has been designed uniquely offline, then you save yourself a lot of this hassle.
5) Offline Designs Allow for More Features
While many online platforms allow for a variety of different features via customizable design options and plug-ins, they don’t quite match up to the flexibility and creativity of designing your side offline.
Building websites offline is not all roses, of course. There are times when building a site online makes more sense (especially if you’ve got no experience and don’t really know what you’re doing). Ultimately, it comes down to what your needs are and what you’re comfortable with.