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Using a Host file to test your website without changing the DNS

Using the hosts file on your local computer can help you test a website by overriding a website’s DNS to point to a different server. This can be useful for various purposes, such as previewing a website before it goes live or accessing a development version of a site.

Windows only: Rather than manually editing your file, you can use Power Toys host editor.

Here’s how you can use the hosts file to test a website/domain:

Note: Modifying the hosts file requires administrative privileges on your computer. Be careful when editing system files, and make sure to back up your hosts file before making any changes.

  1. Locate the Hosts File: The location of the hosts file varies depending on your operating system:
    • Windows: C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts
    • macOS and Linux: /etc/hosts or/private/etc/hosts
  2. Backup the Hosts File: Before making any changes, create a backup of the hosts file in case anything goes wrong.
  3. Edit the Hosts File: Open the hosts file in a text editor with administrative privileges. On Windows, you might need to right click the text editor and select Run as administrator.
  4. Add an Entry: To test a website, you’ll need to add an entry in the following format: IP_ADDRESS DOMAIN
    Replace IP_ADDRESS with the IP address you want to point the domain to, and replace DOMAIN with the actual domain name of the website you want to test.
    For example, if you want to test the domain and point it to the IP address 123.456.789.10, your entry would look like:
  5. Save the Changes: After adding the entry, save the hosts file.
  6. Clear DNS Cache (Optional): To ensure that your changes take effect, you might need to clear your DNS cache. On Windows, you can do this by opening a Command Prompt (CMD) with administrative privileges and running the command:
    ipconfig /flushdns
    On macOS and Linux, you can typically achieve this by restarting the network service or rebooting the computer.
  7. Test the Website: Open a web browser and type the domain name you changes the DNS to in the hosts file. Your browser should now load the website from the IP address you specified.
  8. Reverting Changes: Once you’re done testing, you can remove the entry from the hosts file or comment it out by adding a # at the beginning of the line. Remember to save the hosts file after making any changes.

Please note that using the hosts file for testing is a local solution and will only affect your own computer. Others accessing the same domain will not be affected by these changes.

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