May 30, 2012, 1:31 PM — There are two places where I do software development for the Web. The first is "out there," on the Web server for which I pay my monthly hosting fee. The second is "in here," right on my own desktop, where I have a stand-alone Web development stack running side by side with everything else.
A stand-alone Web stack is a self-contained way to run the needed components for a Web application without requiring a separate machine or Web account, both of which typically mean extra dollars. Developers can prototype a project locally on such a stack, then deploy the results to a live remote server -- or even convert the local stack into a live server, if they're so inclined and the stack is designed for production use. If you're a novice Web programmer, a local stack is a handy way to learn the ins and outs of programming for the Web in a controlled environment.
Linux users have the advantage of the Web stack being a native part of their environment, since Linux distributions aren't as rigidly partitioned into "desktop" and "server" editions as Windows is -- except in the sense of which components are installed by default. Windows users, though, have to install the entire stack from scratch. The good news is that all the pieces they'd need -- Apache, MySQL, PHP, and so on -- are available in Windows editions.
In this article I review five environments -- AMPPS, BitNami WAMPStack, Microsoft Web Platform Installer, XAMPP, and WampServer -- you can use to set up a local Web development server on a Windows box. These stacks contain all of the above-mentioned components (with IIS and SQL Server Express taking the place of Apache and MySQL in Microsoft's offering) installed from a single executable or .MSI package, so each piece doesn't need to be downloaded, installed, and configured separately. These Web server stacks also contain management tools for each separate component and for the stack as a whole, so you're not stuck with the extra burden of having to manage the whole thing by hand. And they're all free for the downloading.