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How to Build a Blog With WordPress

Tired of toying with the puny tools that cookie-cutter blog services provide? Follow the steps in this easy guide to install a WordPress blog on your own domain and personalize your Web presence.

By Zack Stern

If blogging is all about self-expression, why do so many blogs look so blah?

Most beginner "blahgs," it seems, are generated using free services whose customization options are meager at best. But you can break the monotony and supercharge your Weblog by installing your own blogging software and customizing it as you like. You'll control how your site looks and functions--and when you're finished, you'll have a distinctive-looking blog that you can easily update to keep it fresh and functional.

Dozens of great blogging tools are available, and PC World has rated several of them. Among the most popular and versatile of these is WordPress. You can easily scale it to your needs, so it can handle a basic family blog or a professional blog or news site with equal aplomb. The latest version, WordPress 2.5, offers photo gallery support, powerful media management options, multiple file uploading, a new look, and more. And because it supports a host of plug-ins and widgets, you can quickly introduce additional features as needed.

I'll explain how to get started with the installation, how to customize your blog, and how to create posts. If you just want to dabble with a free, hosted WordPress site, visit WordPress.com; But if you want to take full control of WordPress's powerful content management and site design features, including your own personal domain name, you'll need the WordPress software (note that the free software is available at WordPress.org, not at WordPress.com) and a Web hosting account to install it on. Using the WordPress software, you'll be able to adjust a multitude of settings to craft your own unique, easy-to-manage site.

What You'll Need
To get started with your WordPress blog, you'll need four or five basic things.

A Web hosting account with PHP version 4.3 and MySQL version 4.0 or later enabled.

A MySQL database to store your blog's data in. You'll create this during the WordPress installation process.

A text editor, such as Notepad (on Windows) or Text Edit (on the Mac). A simple text editor produces better results than a full-blown word processor such as Microsoft Word.

An FTP client, such as FileZilla for Windows or CyberDuck for Mac, to simplify and accelerate the process of uploading the WordPress installation files to your hosting service.

An image editor, though optional, can be very helpful if you want to create your own custom themes. One good, free option is The GIMP (that is, the GNU Image Manipulation Program), which includes many features that rival Adobe Photoshop provides, minus the price tag.

Install WordPress
WordPress requires PHP version 4.3 or higher, and MySQL version 4.0 or higher. These tools allow WordPress to execute scripts and manage databases that instantly propagate your Web page. Check with your Web host to confirm that it supports these pieces and that they are installed successfully; the vast majority of hosting companies offer these features as part of their standard services.

At the heart of every WordPress blog is a MySQL database that contains all of its posts and settings. It's a good idea to set up this database on your host server before you start working with individual WordPress files. That way you can customize your configuration file before uploading it, which is a significant time saver.

To create the database, log into your hosting service's control panel--cPanel, phpMyAdmin, Plesk, or whatever the interface may be. Somewhere in the main control panel, you should see a listing for MySQL databases. My host uses cPanel, so I clicked the MySQL Databases icon, typed in a name for my new database--'wordpress'--and clicked Create Database. I also typed in a new user--'blog'--and password, and then clicked Create User. You can choose whatever names you like for your database and user, but your process should be similar to mine.

If you haven't already, you should download the free WordPress software to your computer and extract the files onto your desktop. All of them should be contained in a folder labeled 'wordpress'. Within the wordpress folder, locate the file named 'wp-config-sample.php' and rename it wp-config.php. Then open this file in a plain-text editor (such as Notepad on Windows or TextEdit on a Mac), and replace 'putyourdbnamehere', 'usernamehere', and 'yourpasswordhere' in the file with your database name, your user name, and your password, respectively. Leave the other formatting--such as spaces and single quotes--intact.

Now upload the WordPress files--excluding the outer wordpress folder itself--to the root directory of your host account. You'll probably want to use one of the FTP programs mentioned earlier under "What You'll Need" to move everything swiftly, instead of pursuing the click-heavy method of doing everything within a browser-based control panel.

The folder that you place all of your content in will determine where visitors go to see your blog. If you want the root page to contain the blog, put everything into a directory on your host. If you want to store the page at another URL, such as 'http://mywwebsite.com/blog', create a folder named 'blog' at that level, and put the WordPress files inside. The root directory for your hosted Web site will usually have a name like 'public_html' or 'http_docs'.

Finish the installation with your Web browser. Visit the directory where you made the installation, plus the extension 'wp-admin/install.php'. For example, if you put everything in a folder named 'blog', visit 'http://mywebsite.com/blog/wp-admin/install.php'. If the WordPress files are in your root Web directory, go to 'http://mywebsite.com/wp-admin/install.php'. Enter basic details such as the blog name and your e-mail address, and click Install WordPress.

That should complete the initial installation. Visit your blog URL in another window to see how the site looks to the outside world. If you notice a problem, consult the troubleshooting tips related to your specific situation at the WordPress Codex.

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