The Ultimate Guide to WordPress Multisite Setup

WordPress Multisite

WordPress is the only powerful CMS that offers a simple enough environment to set up and run a website. Due to the security, people are moving their websites on to WordPress. Another main reason behind this migration that it lets users manage multiple websites from a single platform. This features is known as WordPress Multisite.

In this article we’ll give you the ultimate guide on how to setup WordPress multisite.

WordPress Multisite

What is WordPress Multisite?

WordPress multisite is a WordPress feratures which allows users to create a network of sites on a single WordPress installation. In 2010, this feature was introduced within WordPress that allowed users to create more than 1000 sites from one WordPress installation. This feature is available since WordPress version 3.0 and is a continuation of WPMU or WordPress Multiuser project.

The most charming thing about WordPress multisite is that the admin panel is almost exactly the same as a normal WordPress installation. Thus, you can manage content, design, and functionality of every WordPress website you own from a single dashboard.

In a word, a single WordPress server manages all your WordPress websites. You can login in different WordPress websites to manage a particular website.

WordPress Multisite Network Features

WordPress multisite has the following features:

  • You can run multiple WordPress blogs and websites from a single WordPress installation.
  • You can have a network of wordpress multisite subdomains like http://multivendor.example.com or directories like http://www.example.com/multivendor/.
  • Open up your WordPress Multisite for other users to create an account and get their own WordPress blogs.
  • As a Super Admin you can install wordpress multisite themes and wordpress multisite plugins and make them available to all other sites on the network. However, other site admins on the network will not have the access to install themes and plugins
  • As Super Admin you can make changes to themes for all websites. Website Admins can not make changes to their themes.

Pros of Using a WordPress Multisite Network

In many cases, a WordPress multisite network can be more useful than managing multiple standalone WordPress websites. Here are some of the main advantages of using a WordPress multisite network:

  1. As the network super administrator, you can easily manage multiple sites from a single dashboard.
  2. Each site on the network can have its own admins. The site admins will have the access to manage only their own website.
  3. You can install wordpress multisite plugins / themes and activate them for multiple sites with one download.
  4. WordPress multisite network also makes it easier for you to manage the updates. You just need to update your WordPress, plugins, or themes on one “master” install.

Cons of Using a WordPress Multisite Network

WordPress multisite network is not always helpful to manage multiple sites. Here are some of the disadvantages that you should keep in mind before setting up a wordpress multisite network.

  1. All websites on the multisite network share the same resources. This means that when your network is down, all other websites go down as well.
  2. It’s not easy to manage traffic and server resources for the beginner. If one of your websites gets unexpected traffic, then it will affect all other websites on the network.
  3. If one website gets hacked, then you can assume all sites on your network will be hacked.
  4. Some WordPress plugins may not run smoothly on a multisite network.
  5. WordPress multisite network is not properly supported by all web hosting providers. It can limits your options.

Difference Between WordPress and WordPress Multisite?

Though, both the WordPress installation are the same, there some slight differences between the two. There are three main distinctions between a normal WordPress installation and a WordPress Multisite setup:

  • Admin Screens
  • Multisite Files
  • Database

Admin Screens

When you will install Multisite, some extra screens will be added to your admin panel, for managing the network. If you look at the below screenshot, you’ll find there’s a special dashboard for managing the network.

WordPress Multisite Admin Panel

These options are accessible only to the Super Admin who manages the network and will let you install themes / plugins and create or manage sites.

The admin screens that each site admin can access are similar to a normal WordPress site, but a couple are missing: site admins can’t install themes or plugins rather can only activate those that have been installed on the network.

But apart from that, the screens will be very familiar to anyone who are the regular user of WordPress.

Multisite Files

There are two files differences between a WordPress and WordPress Multisite:

wp-config.php and
wp-uploads

The wp-config.php file contains some extra lines added which activate Multisite. These lines also indicate how it is running.

The wp-uploads folder will contain a subfolder of all WordPress sites on the network. These sites are added and sorted according to the site’s numerical ID and its name. Any update made to that site is uploaded on that site’s folder, in the same structure.

The good news is that WordPress manages these files and folders for you, so you don’t need to worry about it!

WordPress Database

The final difference is one you really don’t have to worry is database tables. The database for a standard WordPress installation contains 11 database tables for storing your site’s content and settings.

In a Multisite network, 9 of these 11 are duplicated for each site, that you add to network. This keeps the content for each website separate.

Uses for WordPress Multisite

WordPress multisite has a lots of application. The uses for wordpress multisite fall under three main categories:

  • A privately run websites or blogs for an individual or business
  • A network of client sites installed and administered by a developer
  • A network which people can add their own websites to, either for free or by paying a subscription.

Here are some of the best use cases of a wordpress multisite network.

Education

An educational institute or training center might have a number of websites running under a single network. For example, a university that has a portal which obviously has different faculty portal. Faculty members can upload their departmental syllabuses, grades, and attendance of students on that portal. That mean that portal is specially dedicated to students. Students can see their results, academic calendar, syllabus, and other necessary resources. Another web entity could be the official website of that university.

All of these are owned by the university and can be run smoothly through a WordPress multisite network.

Media

Media have a lot of content that they share through different websites. They can use WordPress multisite network for their news channels, sports websites, and regional websites. These websites can be easily managed through a multisite network.

For example, BBC currently operates on a WordPress multisite network. The British news outlet has a separate website for each of its programs and is managed through a WordPress multisite network.

Agencies

WordPress multisite network is very popular among agencies. Usually, agencies have multiple sub-sites running under their same name. All of those websites can be managed through a single wordpress multisite network.

Hotels

WordPress multisite network is at best for hotel industry. Hotels with branches all over the world create regional specific websites with content that caters to people of that particular region. These regional websites offer localized information whereas, the main website is for hospitality, features and other generic information.

Just like a university website, hotel management website can create two different portals, one for internal management and the other for external management. The internal management can keep a record of data like housekeeping, staff roster, and training on the other hand, external management can keep a record of a number of guests, services, etc.

When Not to Use WordPress Multisite

Although Multisite network is great and has plenty of uses, it’s not always going to be the perfect tool that you need. Here are some examples of when you don’t need Multisite network:

You Don’t Plan To Create More Than One WordPress Website

If you’re working with just a single site, you don’t need a multisite network.

Websites in Your Network Want to be Hosted Separately on Different Hosting Providers

If multiple websites are hosted on different providers, you can’t run WordPress multisite.

Websites in your multisite network would need a separate database for security reason

Say, you are running eCommerce websites in your network which is sensitive about its customers’ information. Credit card numbers, home addresses, telephone numbers are all examples of data that need security.

These websites would need a separate database with more security and that is not possible in a WordPress multisite network.

Your web hosting provider is not suitable for WordPress multisite

A good hosting provider is essential to run a WordPress multisite network. So if your hosting provider is not reputable, then you should either switch to a better web host or shouldn’t use WordPress multisite network.

Site administrators in your network needs to control over websites

As mentioned earlier, the super admin has the supreme power to control all the websites in the multisite network. Only super admin can add or remove plugins and the site owners can only activate or deactivate plugins on their respective sites.

If the site owners demand more control over their websites, then you should move them to separate WordPress installations and in that case not use a multisite network.

Some More Reasons Why WordPress Multisite is Not For You

  • You’ll need to move your WordPress sites to another server (which can be done but is more involved than  for a standard site, and can be avoided completely if all you need is separate domains).
  • You don’t have the full access to the files on your server for editing.
  • Each site will need its own IP address.

Requirements for a WordPress Multisite

All websites on a WordPress multisite share the same server resources. That means you will need a good WordPress hosting.

If you are planning to run a couple of websites with low traffic, then you can probably get away with shared hosting.

However, due to the nature of multisite network, you may need VPS hosting or a dedicated server as your sites grow.

Choosing a Domain Structure for Multisite Network

On a WordPress multisite network, you can add new websites using either subdomains or sub-directories.

Example of subdomain:
http://site1.example.com

Example of sub-directory:
http://example.com/site1/

If you choose subdomains, then you have to configure wildcard subdomains on your server.

On the other hand, if you choose wordpress multisite sub-directory or path based on URLs for sites on your network, then the only thing you have to do is enable permalinks on your root site.

Setting Up cPanel Wildcard Subdomains

If you want to use subdomains for websites on your multisite network, then you have to setup cpanel wildcard subdomains for your multisite network.

To do that, first you have to login to your WordPress hosting account’s cPanel dashboard. And then you have to scroll down to the ‘Domains’ section and then click on ‘Subdomains’.

Depending on web hosting service provider cPanel dashboard may look different.

On the next page, you have to enter the * sign in the subdomain field and select your main domain from the drop-down menu.

Wildcard Subdomain

cPanel will automatically detect the document root and will display it in the immediate field below. Now hit on the ‘Create’ button to add your wildcard subdomain.

Activating Multisite on a Fresh WordPress Installation

Activating Multisite when you install a fresh WordPress requires some steps. Firstly, you have to install WordPress and allowing a network.

1. Download WordPress and install on your server or local machine.

2. Now open your wp-config.php file. You’ll find the file in the folder where you installed WordPress. Find the line:

/* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */

3. Immediately above that line, create a new line like the following:

define( ‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true );

4. Now save the wp-config.php file.

Now go to the WordPress admin screens and install Multisite.

1. In WordPress admin panel, go to Tools >Network Setup. You’ll be prompted to choose subdomains or subdirectories for your multisite installation: choose the one that works for your network.

2. Edit the title of your network and email address of the network administrator when prompted, or leave them as it is.

3. Now click on the Install button.

The last step is to copy some code provided by WordPress into your wp-config.php and .htaccess files.

1. You will be taken to the Network Install screen like the following:

Installing WordPress Multisite Network Install-1

2. Open each of your wp-config.php and.htaccess files and edit them in line with the text provided on the screenshot. If you can’t find .htaccess on your server, just from the view option, enable the show hidden files option.

3. Now save both files.

WordPress multisite installation complete. Now log in again, and you’ll see the Multisite dashboard.

Now you are able to add sites, install plugins, themes and more.

Activating Multisite on an Existing WordPress Installation

If you’re converting your existing WordPress site to a Multisite network, you have to follow the same above steps with one exception. You will not get the option to select subdomains or subdirectories. If your site is running for more than a month, you’ll be forced to use subdomains.

Managing Multisite Network

Now your multisite network is in place and running just one site, which is the main site for the whole network. This site is not different from the other sites which will be added to your network. It has the same admin screens and permissions.

Managing multisite network will consist of:

  • Creating and managing websites
  • Installing and activating themes and plugins
  • Installing updates

Let’s start first by creating a site.

Creating a Website

You can create websites manually or you can install a plugin that lets users to create their own. Here’s how to create it manually.

  1.  First, go to the network admin screens by clicking on My Sites > Network Admin in the admin menu.
  2. Now, go to Sites > Add New.
  3. Type in the “Site address (URL)” box (i.e. the subdomain or subdirectory), the site title, site language and the Admin email address just like the screenshot:
Multisite Add New Site-1

By following above steps you can create new site. If you use your own email address for the site admin, you’ll be able to see it by clicking on the My Sites link in the admin menu. If you’re not the admin, you can still see it from your network admin screens. Click on Sites > All Sites to view all of your sites. 

Installing and Activating Themes

Only the super administrator of a network can install themes and make them available for all sites to use. It can be done in two ways:

– you can allow them for individual sites or

– you can use network to activate them.

Here’s how you can install a theme and network enable it:

  1. In the Network admin screens, go to Themes > Add New and install the theme in the same way as you do for a standard WordPress site.
  2. When the ‘Installing Theme’ screen option appears, click on the Network Enable link.

Alternatively, to network enable a theme that are already installed, go to the Themes screen and click on Themes. Then click the Network Enable link below the theme that you want to enable.

You can also enable a theme only for one site. To do this, follow the following steps:

  1. In the Network admin screens, click on Sites to view all of your sites.
  2. Hover over the site name you want to enable the theme and click on the Edit link that appears.
  3. Click on the Themes tab to view the themes settings screen for the site.
  4. Under the theme that you want to enable, click on the Enable link.
Enabling Theme Multisite

Now go to the site administration screens for that site and click on Appearance > Themes, you’ll see the theme you’ve enabled including the available themes for activation.

Change Site Theme Multisite

Installing and Activating Plugins

Just like the similar way of Themes, super admin can install Plugins also. Only difference is that you can’t enable a plugin for an individual site. Instead, you can network activate it and individual sites can choose to activate it.

Network activating plugins is useful if you’ve written or downloaded a plugin to provide features which you want all of your sites to have. Here’s how to install and network activate a plugin.

  1. In the network admin screens, just got to Plugins > Add New and search for the plugin and install as you do in a normal WordPress site.
  2. In the Installing Plugin screen, click on the Network Activate link.

That’s it!

The plugin will now run on all the sites in your network and individual site admins won’t be able to disable it.

To just activate the plugin on one site follow the below steps:

  1. In the network admin screens, go to Plugins > Add New and install the plugin as you do in a normal WordPress site.
  2. In the Installing Plugin screen, click on the Return to Plugin Installer link.
  3. Visit the site admin screens for the site you want to activate the plugin for and click on the Plugins link in the admin menu.
  4. Under the plugin you want to activate, click on the Activate link as you do in a normal WordPress site.

You’ll find that in the Plugins screen for a site admin, there’s only option to activate or deactivate plugins, not to delete or update them.

Enabling Site Plugins

Managing Sites

There are other screens you can use to manage the sites on your network. They are accessible via the “Sites screen” in the network admin. These are:

  • Info
  • Users
  • Themes
  • Settings

The Info screen contains basic information of the site. Here you can change the domain for the site if needed, or update its status.

The Users screen lists all of the users for this site, who can also users on your network. You can use this screen to remove users from a site or to add a new user to a site. You can also change roles of user from here. Site admins can also add users from the Users section of their own admin as you do in a normal WordPress site.

The Settings screen gives you access to all of the settings for the site. This includes everything in the site’s options table in the database, including the site title, description, theme, plugin and more.

Managing Multisite Network: Updates, Users, and Settings

As well as managing the individual sites in your network, you have to manage the network itself. This include:

  • Updating WordPress
  • Updating themes and plugins
  • Managing users
  • Customizing the settings.

Let’s take a look at each of these.

Updates

Updating WordPress, themes and plugins itself via the network admin screens is straightforward.

You’ll get a notification if any update is available in the same way as you do for a normal WordPress site. Updating WordPress is a two-step process. First, you need to install the update and then update the network of sites. This is just of clicking a couple of extra links which WordPress will guide you through.

Users

The Users screen works in the same way as like the standard WordPress site. It can list all of the users on your network and let you edit and delete them.

The main difference is that the Users screen tells you which sites a user has access to. If you want to add a user to a site, you do so via the Users tab in the website settings.

Multisite Network Users

Settings

You can use the Network Settings screen to customize the way your network is used.

Multisite Network Settings-1

Following settings you can customize:

  • The title of your multisite network
  • The multisite network admin’s email address
  • Registration settings like whether users can register on accounts and/or sites, whether site admins can add new users, and email domains and banned site names.
Registration Settings
Register Options
  • New site settings like the content of the welcome email for site admins and users and the first page, post and comment created on new sites.
New Site Settings
  • Upload settings like file types permitted and maximum file size
Upload Settings
  • Language settings such as the default language
  • Menu settings like enable or disable the plugins menu item for the site admins. If you disable this they won’t be able to activate or deactivate plugins.
Plugin Menu

WordPress Multisite Plugins Can Make it Even Better

Multisite is great but if you want to get some more, you’ll need to install one or more plugins. A plugin will help you do things like allow site registration from the front end, map domains to the sites in your network, and monetize your multisite network.

Here are some of the plugins that are the most invaluable and some free ones that you can download from the WordPress plugin repository.

Domain Mapping

WordPress Multisite Domain Mapping

WordPress Multisite Domain Mapping plugin lets you give each site in your network its own domain name. It also lets you buy and sell domains to your site admins, which can help you monetize your multisite network.

Snapshot

Snapshot

Snapshot is the best backup plugin for WordPress, and for Multisite it is best as its. It lets you take regular backups of your entire multisite network and restore them quickly and easily. There are some premium backup plugins that don’t support Multisite, but this one does.

Pro Sites

Pro sites

Pro Sites lets you convert your network into a profitable business by offering paid upgrades, advertising and many more. It provides you with a front end interface that people can use to create a site on your multisite network, and lets you limit features for free sites, to encourage your users to upgrade.

Support System

Support System

Support System plugin will help you to make it easy for your site admins or users to raise support tickets or see the answers to frequently asked questions. With this plugin you can add a page in your main site’s front end and in the admin screens where users can raise support tickets and ask questions, and you can manage and respond to those tickets.

Secure your WordPress Multisite Login From Brute Force Attack

WordPress sites are always targeted for malware and brute force attacker. Make sure that you have secured the WordPress login against brute force attacks because a single breach can compromise all of the websites in the network.

Wrapping It Up

WordPress multisite is a popular WordPress feature that has not only made managing multiple websites easier but also easy to set up. It is even easier when you set up WordPress multisite on a WordPress managed cloud hosting solution.

Resource 1, Resource 2

You may also like: How to Create an Online Marketplace Like Etsy with WordPress

Leave a Reply