A Complete Guide To WordPress Multisite

Getting Started

WordPress Multisite is a popular feature of WordPress, which enables you to create and run multiple websites using the same WordPress installation on your server. In other words, you can manage several different WordPress websites from a single dashboard. However, people are sometimes unsure of how to use this feature. This guide will help to clear up questions related to what WordPress Multisite is, who needs it, and how to install it.

1. What Is WordPress Multisite?

WordPress Multisite is a feature that allows you to create and run multiple WordPress websites from a single WordPress dashboard. It was previously called WordPress Multi-User or WPMU. WordPress Multisite is not a new feature. It is an advanced feature on the WordPress platform that has been around since the launch of WordPress 3.0. You can use it for a variety of purposes, such as updating all of your websites with a single click or charging your subscribers to create a website on your Multisite network.

2. Key Features Of WordPress Multisite

WordPress Multisite comes with various unique features. You can run a network of blogs and websites from a single WordPress installation. It enables you to create a network of subdomains like https://www.example.com/demo. Alternatively, you can also have a separate domain for each website on the network. It is also easier to replicate functionality across a network of websites. In WordPress Multisite, you can control the entire network as a Super Admin. As a regular website admin, you can control only one website on the network. As a Super Admin, you control the accessibility of users who want to create an account and set up WordPress blogs or websites of their own. A Super Admin can install new themes and plugins, make them available to the websites on the network, and also customize the themes for all websites. Another feature is the ability to create websites and online shops intended for specific languages, regions, and currencies. Both the Super Admin and the website admin can control content. While this control extends over the entire network for a Super Admin, the website admin has the right to choose which content from the main domain gets displayed on their respective website. Plugins are also under the control of a Super Admin. However, a website admin can activate and deactivate plugins on their website if required.

3. Who Should And Shouldn’t Use WordPress Multisite?

Although WordPress Multisite offers several features, it is not always the right choice. The main concern is that the websites on a Multisite network would share the same database. In other words, you can’t back up only a single website. That’s why all of the websites on a network must belong to the same principal domain. A university could use WordPress Multisite to build different websites for each department, for student and faculty member blogs, and forums. Because the websites would share their database with the university’s main domain, they would be easier to manage on a Multisite network. Banks and financial institutions with a national or global network of branches, digital publications with multiple content sections, government offices with multiple departments, hotel chains, stores with multiple outlets, e-commerce companies, and website design companies such as Wix could also use a Multisite network to their advantage. However, a web designer couldn’t use Multisite to manage several unrelated client projects. If one of the clients decided to move their website elsewhere, it would be a problem because the website would be sharing its database with others on the network. Multisite makes it difficult to back up an individual website on the network. You would be better off using a single installation in this case.

4. Pros And Cons Of WordPress Multisite

Now that we know who should and shouldn’t use WordPress Multisite, let’s look at the technical pros and cons. You’ll need to weigh them carefully before making a decision.

  • The main advantage is the ability to manage multiple websites from a single dashboard. This is useful if you are running multiple websites managed by different teams under one parent domain, such as an e-commerce store with different country-specific sub-sites.
  • However, you can also assign a different admin to each website on your network.
  • With a single download, you can install and activate plugins and themes for all of the websites on your network.
  • You can also manage updates with a single master installation for all of the websites on your network.
  • Because all of the websites share the same network resources, they will all go down if the network goes down.
  • A sudden increase in traffic to one website will affect all others on the network. Unfortunately, beginners often find it difficult to manage traffic and server resources on a Multisite network.
  • Similarly, if one website gets hacked, the entire network will be compromised.
  • Not all WordPress plugins support a Multisite network.
  • Likewise, not all web hosting providers have the tools necessary to support a Multisite network.
  • If your hosting provider lacks the server requirements, you won’t be able to use the Multisite feature. For example, some hosting providers might not allow you to add a domain to the same hosting server. In that case, you might need to change or upgrade your hosting plan or change providers.
5. Requirements For WordPress Multisite

Knowing the technical pros and cons, you must have decided whether Multisite is the right option for you. If you are going to use it, you will need to meet a few technical requirements first. One of the first things you will need is a web hosting service provider that can handle multiple domains in a single web hosting plan. Although you could use shared hosting for a couple of websites with low traffic, you should use VPS hosting or a dedicated server, owing to the nature of the WordPress Multisite network. You will also need to have the fundamental knowledge of how to install WordPress. It would be an added advantage if you already have a WordPress installation. However, you will need to back it up. You will also need to deactivate all of the plugins. Make sure you have FTP access. You will need to know the basics of editing files using FTP as well. Finally, you will need to activate pretty permalinks. In other words, your URLs should look not like https://example.com/?p=2345 and instead look like https://example.com/my-page.

6. Multisite Domain Mapping

By default, you can create additional websites on your Multisite network as subdomains or subfolders of the main website. They look like this: subsite.network.com or like this: network.com/subsite However, you might not always want this, because you will be required to create a unique domain name for each website. That’s where domain mapping comes to the rescue. You can use this feature within the Multisite network to map additional websites to show as domain.com. Using domain mapping, this is what you will see: subsite.network.com = domain.com or:  network.com/subsite = domain.com Before WordPress 4.5, you used a domain mapping plugin to map the additional websites. However, in version 4.5+, domain mapping is a native feature.

7. Multisite Hosting And SSL

As you probably know, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) enables you to transport data over the internet securely. The data remains undecipherable to malicious users, bots, and hackers. However, some hosting providers offer free SSL certification for the main domain only. You might need to buy it separately for each subdomain. If one of the websites on your multisite network lacks SSL certification, it will compromise the security of all the other websites. Thus, ensure that all websites on your WordPress Multisite network have SSL certificates.

8. Installing And Setting Up WordPress Multisite For New And Existing Websites

First, you will need to install WordPress. Once it’s installed, you will need to enable the Multisite feature. You can also enable it on your existing WordPress website. Before doing so, however, back up your website. My tutorial is for people who run their website on their home server and can access their files locally on their network. If you use a hosting service and have remote access to your server then this tutorial will be the same unless you use Linux then your hosting provider might have you using some kind of Linux interface. Images shown are for the Windows operating system and the WordPress admin pages and hopefully help you understand how to set up a multisite following my steps. I use a server on my local home network to host all my websites on that. My server runs the Windows Server 2019 operating system using Internet Information Services. To start locate and find your wp.config.php file in your website’s root folder. It looks like the one seen in the image below with an arrow pointing to it.

Now open your wp-config.php file and copy the code below the line with /* Add any custom values between this line and the “stop editing” line. */ So it looks like what you see in the image below.

define( ‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true );

Now, save and close your wp-config.php file. That’s all you need to do for now! Next, you will need to set up the Multisite network. If you are already logged into your WordPress dashboard, refresh the page to continue with the next steps. If not, you will need to log in again. When setting up the Multisite network on your existing website, you will need to deactivate all plugins. Go to the “Plugins” » “Installed Plugins” page, and select all plugins. Select the “Deactivate” option from the “Bulk Actions” dropdown menu, and click “Apply”. You will then click on Tools and then Network Setup.

  • Choose the domain structure for websites on your network, either subdomains or subdirectories.
  • Add a title for your network.
  • Make sure that the email address for the network admin is correct.
  • Click the “Install” button.

You will see some code that you have to add to the wp-config.php and .htaccess files, respectively.  Copy and paste the code to your wp-config.php file so it looks like what you see in the image below.

Now open your wp-config file as seen in the image below.

Now delete all of the content in that file and copy and paste the code from section 2 so it looks like what you see in the image below then login in to you multisite network.

Before you proceed any further there is just one more thing you need to do because there is a type error within the code you just copied and pasted to your wp-config file. First of all you want you to create a site so you understand what happens then I will show you how to fix the error with two numbers. The first thing to do is open your wp-config.php file and add a # symbol so it looks like what is in the image below

Now close the file. 
Now we are going to add a new site to the network. To do this, click on My Sites, Network Admin and then Sites. You will then see a page that looks like what you see in the image below and then click on Add New Site.

Next, add your desired details like the site URL. The URL for me would be https://amgsites.co.uk/test as seen in the image below. Once you have added the details click on Add Site and then you are all finished.

Next, click on My Sites, Network Admin and then your site name in the dropdown menu. My site name is Test as seen in the image below. Click on your site name and you will be taken to the admin page of that site.

You have clicked on the site name and you might have the Server Error: 404 – File or directory not found as seen in the image below and not sure what to do next. 

Remember I mentioned the type error earlier in the tutorial. This is where we go back to that part. First of all, open your web.config file and you will see the same thing that is in the image below. The two red arrows show where the type error is located.
I have looked on a lot of forums and there are different answers with people mentioning adding a bit of code to the wp.config.php file. I tried a few of those ideas but it did not work for me. People are asking for help on the WordPress support forums and developers are unsure what is causing the error. I keep on reading throw the code on the web.config file to try and understand what is happening. After a few hours, I spotted something that looked a little bit odd. I do not fully understand PHP code because I am not a coder but two lines stood out. I could see it on line 11 of my web.config file this code <action type=”Redirect” url=”{R:1}wp-admin/” redirectType=”Permanent” /> then I glanced back at lines 24 and 28 and it was like I was counting 1, 2, 3 with 1, 1, 2. I was thinking should it be 1, 1, 2 or 1, 2, 3 because the rewrite on Internet Information Services is using all that code to redirect people to other pages? Then I thought about it as a rule and what the code must be set to do. I could see rules 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Scroll down to the next section below the image to see how I fixed it

Here is the solution in two easy steps below that will fix it problem for you. The two numbers {R:1} and {R:2} are incorrect and need changing to {R:2} and {R:3} so it looks like the image below. I have copied the lines of code from lines 24 and 28 so you know where to look on your text editor. Change  line 24:  <action type=”Rewrite” url=”{R:1}” />  to  <action type=”Rewrite” url=”{R:2}” /> And change  line 28:  <action type=”Rewrite” url=”{R:2}” />  to  <action type=”Rewrite” url=”{R:3}” />

Now you have completed all the steps above and corrected the type error you are all done. Just refresh your browser and you should see the admin page of your site. You can create as many sites as you want within your network. 

9. Resources: Setting Up Themes And Plugins

Because individual website administrators can’t install themes and plugins on their own, you will need them to set up on the network.

A. Themes

Go to “My Sites” » “Network Admin” » “Themes”. On this page, you will see a list of the themes currently installed. Use the following settings to make your desired changes.

  • “Network Enable”: Make the theme available to website administrators.
  • “Network Disable”: Disable a theme that you have previously made available.
  • “Add New”: Install a new theme on your network.
Change a Default Theme

Add the following code to your wp-config.php file to change the default theme for new websites (replacing your-theme with the name of the theme’s folder):

// Setting default theme for new sites
define( 'WP_DEFAULT_THEME', 'your-theme' );
B. Plugins

Go to “My Sites” » “Network Admin” » “Plugins”. Click the “Network Activate” option below each plugin to add it to your network. Remember that if you have already enabled the “Plugins Menu” option for website administrators in the “Network Settings”, then admins will not be able to delete or install new plugins. However, they will be able to activate and deactivate existing plugins.

Not sure what a subdomain is and how to set up a website on a Windows Server? Why not read the guide on the subdomain-setup page and learn? Then when you have reached the tutorial and you are ready to create a website with a subdomain follow the step-by-step instructions on that page.

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