How to Test a WordPress Theme Without Going Live

Posted on

Website administrators are always tinkering with their sites to try and improve them. Adding new plug-ins, changing the look and feel, or adding tweaks to improve the page loading speeds. A well-managed website is always in flux. Best practices advise that you always test these changes out on a local machine or a dummy site before applying them to a live one. But not everyone has the kind of technical know-how to set up a clone site on a subdomain or have the entire development environment installed on their local machine. So how do you test out a new theme without going live? Fortunately a simple plug-in provides the answer.

Theme Test Drive

The Theme Test Drive plug-in offers WordPress bloggers an easy way to test out themes without exposing their site’s users to any embarrassing mistakes or ghastly colors! Install the plug-in from the link and head over to the “Appearances” section of the WordPress dashboard. Over here, you will see the Theme Test Drive option as shown in the screenshot below.

Theme Test Drive

As you can make out, there are two options for demoing a theme so that only the administrator can see it. Either you can upload a zip file, or choose from an already installed one. In the test scenario for this article, my live theme is Atahualpa and the new one I’m going to test out is called NewLife. Here’s what my website looked to me before activating the plug-in options.


Select the theme you want to test out from the drop-down box and hit Enable Theme Drive.

New Theme

That’s pretty much it! When you as the logged in administrator visit your site again, It will display the new theme instead of the old one – and only to you. As you can see in the screenshot below, this is exactly what I myself see when I visit my homepage.

Admin view

Quickly Previewing a Theme

The Theme Test Drive plugin offers a nifty feature allowing you to rapidly preview any theme even when you don’t have access to the administration console. Actually, I’m worried about this being a security risk as well as a feature because any unauthorized user can simply change the URL to display a new theme.

Basically, all you have to do is change the blog URL and append the following to it:


Where “xxx” refers to your theme name. However, this doesn’t refer to the displayed theme name. If you think about it, many themes have spaces in their names – take the example of Twenty Thirteen. If you just replace the “xxx” with a phrase that has a space in it, your browser won’t take into consideration anything after the space. What you need to do is to use the internal one instead. To do this, you have to know the name of the theme folder. So open up an FTP program, and navigate to the /wp-content/themes folder. Over here, you will see all of the themes with their internal names. As you can make out in the screenshot below, none of these have spaces and so this is what you have to use.

Theme names

To preview the Twenty Thirteen team for example you have to use the name “twentythirteen” like so:


Access Control

If you’re collaborating with a lot of individuals on testing out your new theme, you can set the access level in the plug-in options to reflect the logged in user roles who will be able to preview it. This is a number from 10 to 1 with 10 being administrative privileges and 1 being a contributor. But like I said above, anyone can preview the theme using the URL structure I described and while I can understand it being incredibly useful, I’m also concerned about the security implications since it bypasses the access restrictions.

But overall, this is an excellent plug-in for seamlessly test driving new themes and enabling administrators to make detailed changes while maintaining a flawless user experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *