Getting started with WordPress Multisite

An easier way to juggle multiple websites on one network

Sometimes you need a simple solution for a complex problem.

For example, it can be incredibly frustrating to keep multiple sites running on the same settings or under the same roof when they all have different content, audiences and objectives. The good news is that WordPress’ multisite configuration can quickly help you fix these issues. In this article we’re going to cover what WordPress Multisite is and how to set it up.

Let’s get cracking!

Do you need a multisite setup?

The best example of a multisite website is perhaps none other than WordPress.com. With WordPress.com, people can create and host free websites — which can look completely unique and have different levels of personalization — while still technically being managed on one stable platform.

WordPress Multisite might be ideal if you’re creating different websites for international visitors’ native languages.

 

This type of setup is also helpful in larger organizations that might need different designs and managers for different groups or departments. A perfect example might be a single college that has unique “schools” (Edublogs — the world’s second largest multisite behind WordPress.com — springs to mind here), or if you’re creating different websites for international visitors’ native language.

home page of edublog, one of largest WordPress Multisite platforms

You should consider using WordPress Multisite if you’re trying to display a large amount of content to different audiences, or where you’d like to provide access for others to create and manage their own little slice of the overall pie (while you take care of managing the boring stuff).

However, if you’re just running a relatively simple website or blog, you’re probably fine without it.

Even if you’re managing multiple websites for different people (who aren’t or don’t need to be connected in some way), there are better options, such as ManageWP and InfiniteWP.

How to install a WordPress Multisite network without breaking your site

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple setting to help make the transition from single site to multisite.

If you work with a webmaster (or can find one to help), email them this link, then go relax with a nice cup of tea.

If you don’t already know how to find the WordPress core files, you’re best off finding someone to help. This process ain’t for the light-hearted. However, if you know your wp-config.php from your style.css and you’ve got some time to spare, let’s roll our sleeves up and get stuck in!

Always start by backing up your site, so if any mistakes are made then you can roll back to the previous, unaffected version. New site? No need to worry then.

Use a plugin like VaultPress to back up your website before working with WordPress Multisite for the first time
VaultPress is my WordPress backup solution of choice, but check with your host – they may already be taking backups for you.

You should also have a good hosting plan to start with, as a shared server might not allow a multisite setup, or get too bogged down later in the process as your new network of sites becomes larger.

Once you’re ready, there are two things you need to edit.

Step 1

Open up the wp-config.php file and find where it says:

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

Right above that line, add the following:

 /* Multisite */
define( ‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true ); 

If you don’t see that line anywhere, add the previous code above the very first line that starts with “require” or “include”. Then hit Save.

Step 2

You’re going to make a few more edits, but you’ll need some extra info first. Head back to your WordPress website and under Tools, you’ll see a new Network Setup option.

If this is a brand new site, you might be given the option to select between subfolders (e.g. http://mywebsite.com/subfolder/) or subdomains (http://subdomain.mywebsite.com/). This part is largely up to your personal preference. However, if you’re editing an existing site, you might be forced into subdomains.

Next, you’ll get a few extra lines of code that you need to copy and paste into your wp-config.php and .htaccess files (the Network Setup screen will indicate exactly where that is). Save the files and you should be good to go.

Congratulations – there might be a programming future ahead of you yet!

How to manage your new WordPress Multisite setup

Up and running? Great! Once you log back into your WordPress site, you should notice a few new options.

Keep in mind that this multisite installation process just added the ability to create and run completely separate websites with totally unique design, organization and content. However, you’re able to help manage all of those website settings from one central location from the back end of your original WordPress site. Like magic.

One of the biggest changes that will be immediately apparent is a new Sites option, which enables you to create brand new sites that can each have their own theme and plugin settings. There are far better resources already expanding on themes and highlighting the best themes and plugins.

Another big change is the user roles you might be familiar with. With a multisite network setup, you’re given new permissions of having a Super Admin user who can oversee the entire network, versus the typical Administrator role who can manage everything on one website in your network.

Managing one website can be tough. But managing several on the same network? Yikes. Here are three helpful plugins to simplify your life:

Wordfence Security

use a plugin like wordfence security to protect users when working with wordpress multisite

Once you start creating more access points and inviting people to manage their own sites, it’s important to have something that will help prevent unwanted attacks or breaches.

UpdraftPlus Backups

use a plugin like updraft to automatically run backups when working with wordpress multisite

More sites + more content = more headaches. Use a simple plugin to automatically run backups for your peace of mind.

User Switching

use a plugin like user switching to help with permissions issues when using wordpress multisite

When you’re adding new people to different sites, this plugin will help you see what they see (so you can fix or prevent common permission problems).

WordPress Multisite: One of the easiest ways to manage a network

A WordPress Multisite network setup isn’t for everyone, but it can be a lifesaver for those who need it.

It’s one of the simplest ways to get a network of sites up and running, with completely different styles, run by completely different people, yet all under one house for administration and technical settings.

Have you setup a multisite network before? Are you running one now? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Tom Ewer
Tom Ewer is a freelance writer, online entrepreneur, and the founder of Leaving Work Behind and WordCandy. He has been obsessed with WordPress since he first laid eyes on it, and has been writing educational and informative content for WordPress users since 2011. When he's not running his businesses, you're likely to find him outdoors somewhere – as far away from a screen as possible!