WordPress Multisite: What It Is and How to Use It on Your Site

WordPress Multisite: What It Is and How to Use It on Your Site

If you ever wonder whether there’s an easy way to manage multiple WordPress sites simultaneously, the answer is yes – with WordPress Multisite.

In this article, we’ll discuss WordPress Multisite and how it works. We’ll also cover how a Multisite network stores data and media compared to a regular WordPress site.

Additionally, we’ll explore the pros and cons of WordPress Multisite and review the types of users and websites it is best suited for.

Finally, we’ll teach you how to set up, configure, and manage a Multisite network on your WordPress installation.

What Is WordPress Multisite?

WordPress Multisite allows the creation of multiple websites under a single WordPress installation. Activating it means users can manage a network of individual sites from a single dashboard.

WordPress Multisite is a popular solution for many businesses and institutions that run multiple websites, as you can create a network of subdomains or subdirectories.

For instance, a primary website with the domain multisitenetwork.com can have subdomains such as websiteone.multisitenetwork.com or websitetwo.multisitenetwork.com.

Alternatively, you can create subdirectories such as multisitenetwork.com/websiteone or multisitenetwork.com/websitetwo.

Schools and universities can use Multisite to create multiple sites for different departments. Similarly, a corporation can create websites for separate branches or offices.

How Multisite Works

How WordPress Multisite works

To understand how WordPress Multisite works, it’s essential to know the different roles of a super admin and a website admin.

Also known as a network admin, a super admin has control over a whole network of websites. This admin is the one who activated Multisite in the first place.

Super admins have access to the Network Admin settings and the dashboard of every website within the network. They can also grant users permission to create new accounts or websites.

A Multisite network’s super admin controls the installation of plugins and themes on its websites and can manage uploads across all sites on the network. Super admins can also map custom domains.

A website admin typically only has administrative access to one website within a Multisite network. However, depending on the permissions granted by their super admin, website administrators may have access to more than one website.

Website admins can add users, but only to websites where they are admin. Although site administrators can’t install plugins or themes, they can generally choose which ones to activate or deactivate.

Multisite and Data

All websites within a Multisite network share the same file system and database. The tables that store user data for an entire network are wp_users and wp_usermeta.

When Multisite is activated, WordPress creates seven new database tables to store this network data:

  1. wp_blogs
  2. wp_blog_versions
  3. wp_registration_log
  4. wp_signups
  5. wp_site
  6. wp_sitemeta
  7. wp_sitecategories (optional)

When a new website is created on a Multisite network, 11 new tables are created for that site corresponding to the site’s ID. For example, for site 02, the new tables are:

  1. wp_2_posts
  2. wp_2_postmeta
  3. wp_2_comments
  4. wp_2_commentmeta
  5. wp_2_users
  6. wp_2_usermeta
  7. wp_2_links
  8. wp_2_term_relationships
  9. wp_2_term_taxonomy
  10. wp_2_terms
  11. wp_2_options

As a Multisite network grows, it adds more database tables. This enables WordPress to ensure that sites are separate and that a website admin cannot access or modify other sites’ data.

Multisite and Media

Each website on a Multisite network has separate media upload directories that are only accessible to that site’s admin and the super admin. That means a site admin can’t access another site’s files, even if they’re on the same network.

When you activate Multisite on a standard WordPress installation, it creates a new folder in the wp-content/uploads directory. This new folder is called sites and holds the uploaded media of all websites within a network.

Each time a new website is created in a Multisite network, a folder corresponding to that website’s ID is added within the sites folder. For example, a Multisite network’s primary site has the ID 01.

That means any new websites you create on the network will have an ID of 02, 03, and so on. The new folders will therefore have the names wp-content/uploads/sites/02, wp-content/uploads/sites/03, and so on.

Multisite and Security

Having some form of digital security or cryptographic protocol is crucial to secure your WordPress website.

Most site owners implement a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate to encrypt communication between a web browser and the website, ensuring the safe transfer of sensitive information.

Since the Transport Layer Security or TLS protocol is the successor to SSL, many SSL certificates support both SSL and TLS protocols.

Running a WordPress Multisite network means you will most likely have to purchase separate SSL certificates for each of your websites. When hosting providers offer a free SSL certificate with a web hosting plan, it usually only applies to the main domain or website.

Purchasing SSL certificates for all your Multisite websites is important because if one site on the network lacks the proper safety protocols, the entire network’s security can be compromised.

When to Use a WordPress Multisite (and When Not to)

Although WordPress Multisite is an excellent strategy for some, it may not be the right approach for others.

WordPress Multisite is a great solution for those who run multiple similar WordPress websites. It’s an efficient way to manage them from one place and makes it easier to ensure that all sites on a network are up-to-date.

Activating Multisite is also beneficial for sites that share code, like websites that share similar WordPress core files or the same plugins and themes. A network admin can simply activate one WordPress Multisite installation and conduct updates or backups simultaneously.

Some examples of website types that can benefit from a WordPress Multisite network are:

  • Personal sites. Networks of digital portfolios, online resumes, or personal blogs that share similar content and plugins.
  • Business sites. Companies that have multiple departments or projects and want to run separate websites for each.
  • Community sites. Non-profit organizations, charities, and educational institutions with multiple divisions or projects.

The most prominent example of a WordPress Multisite network is WordPress.com, which runs millions of websites that share the .wordpress.com subdomain.

Another great example is Harvard University’s Harvard Blogs. It uses a WordPress Multisite network that enables students and faculty members to create a blog with a harvard.edu email address.

In contrast, you shouldn’t install WordPress Multisite if you run only one website or if this is your first time creating a site.

Similarly, Multisite may not be the right solution if you run several unrelated websites. For example, a web designer that manages multiple different client projects.

In this case, you may find Multisite limiting since most features and functions must be shared and enabled by a network admin.

Pros and Cons of a WordPress Multisite

Now that we’ve explored the different use cases of WordPress Multisite, let’s look at some of its pros and cons. Make sure to consider these factors before deciding.

Pros

Some benefits of running a WordPress Multisite include:

  • Efficient management. As a network admin, conduct updates, backups, and install security and performance-optimizing plugins from a single WordPress dashboard.
  • Easier delegation. WordPress Multisite lets you assign lower-level admins to different websites within the network, making it easier to share site management tasks.
  • Greater control. If you run multiple sites, activating WordPress Multisite enables you to control the use of plugins and themes sites. This reduces the risk of bad plugins or themes compromising the security or performance of an entire network.

Cons

Activating WordPress Multisite has its drawbacks, such as:

  • More limitations. Websites on a Multisite network share a database, so backups and updates can only be conducted network-wide.
  • Higher risk. Since websites share the same server resources, all sites will crash if the shared network is down. Similarly, if a cyberattack occurs on one website, others may also be compromised.
  • Interdependent performance. Each site’s performance is highly dependent on the amount of traffic other sites on the same network receive. If one website experiences a sudden increase in traffic volume, other sites’ performance and speed may suffer as well.
  • Limited plugins and themes. Not all plugins or themes support a Multisite network.
  • Limited choice of hosting providers. Not all web hosts support WordPress Multisite.

How to Set Up a WordPress Multisite on a New Site in 4 Steps

If you decided that WordPress Multisite is the right solution for you, it’s time to activate and set it up on your WordPress installation.

Depending on your web hosting provider, Multisite can be activated automatically via the hosting account’s control panel. For a smoother setup, choose a WordPress hosting plan with a Multisite feature.

In the next four steps, however, we’ll explain how to set up WordPress Multisite manually.

Prerequisites

Note that in order to activate WordPress Multisite, you need to meet some requirements:

  • Web hosting. Make sure to purchase web hosting that can handle multiple sites or domains within a single hosting plan.
  • WordPress installation. Make sure that you have a new WordPress installation to set up a Multisite network. Alternatively, use an existing WordPress installation, but make sure to create a backup of its files and deactivate plugins first.
  • FTP access. Make sure you have access to an FTP client like FileZilla on your WordPress installation.

1. Update the wp-config.php File

The first step is to locate and edit your website’s configuration file. On WordPress, this is the wp-config.php file, located in the root directory of your website.

wp-config.php file, located in the root directory of your website.

wp-config.php is where your site’s configuration details are stored, including your database and host names, username, and password.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on updating wp-config.php:

  1. Open your FTP client and log in to your website.
  2. Navigate to the root directory, commonly called public_html. If you use hPanel, access it by navigating to File Manager.
hPanel's File Manager
  1. Navigate to the wp-config.php file and right-click to choose the Open/Edit option. This will open the file where you’ll see lines of code.
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the file until you see a line that reads /* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */. Note that sometimes the line may show /* That’s all, stop editing! Happy publishing. */. Above it, add the following code:
    /* Multisite */
    define( 'WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true );
wp-config.php file, highlighting the Multisite code snippet.
  1. Save the changes and close the wp-config.php file.

That’s it. This simple line of code tells WordPress that you want to enable Multisite.

2. Configure Your Network Structure

Next, log in and access your WordPress dashboard to find the Network Setup tab under Tools. This is where you’ll configure and activate your WordPress Multisite network.

Network Setup tab

If you have any active plugins, WordPress will prompt you to deactivate them before continuing.

Under Addresses of Sites in your Network, choose whether you want to use subdomains or subdirectories.

Note that this choice will affect all sites within your network and cannot be changed later on.

Then, under Network Details, enter a name for your network in the Network Title field. Also make sure to enter the super admin’s email address in the Network Admin Email field.

Double-check all the information and click Install.

3. Edit the wp-config.php and .htaccess Files

This next step requires you to add two snippets of code to the wp-config.php and .htaccess files located in your WordPress root directory.

Pro Tip

Remember that on hPanel, you can find these via the File Manager.

public_html folder, highlighting the wp-config.php and .htaccess files.

WordPress will prompt you to enable the network and provide the relevant code snippets. It may look like this:

Network code snippets provided by WordPress.

Before proceeding, make sure you have backed up the wp-config.php and .htaccess files.

Once you see the prompt, copy the snippets of code and follow the instructions. The snippets should look similar to the ones below.

  • In the wp-config.php file, add the following snippet of code above the line /* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */:
    define('MULTISITE', true);
    define('SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', true);
    define('DOMAIN_CURRENT_SITE', 'Your Domain');
    define('PATH_CURRENT_SITE', '/');
    define('SITE_ID_CURRENT_SITE', 1);
    define('BLOG_ID_CURRENT_SITE', 1);

Don’t forget to replace Your Domain with your actual domain.

  • In the .htaccess file, add the following snippet of code, replacing other WordPress rules.
    RewriteEngine On
    RewriteBase /
    RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L]
    # add a trailing slash to /wp-admin
    RewriteRule ^wp-admin$ wp-admin/ [R=301,L]
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f [OR]
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -d
    RewriteRule ^ - [L]
    RewriteRule ^(wp-(content|admin|includes).*) $1 [L]
    RewriteRule ^(.*\.php)$ $1 [L]
    RewriteRule . index.php [L]

Remember to save the changes made to both wp-config.php and .htaccess files.

4. Access the Multisite Installation

Your WordPress Multisite network is almost ready. Now, log back in to your WordPress dashboard and locate the new network administrator navigation menu My Sites.

As a Super Admin, this is where you can access the Network Admin dashboard and the primary or original website’s dashboard. You can still use your original WordPress website as you would use a standard WordPress site.

On the Network Admin tab, you can also manage sites and user accounts. Each time a new site is created, a tab is added in the drop-down navigation menu under My Sites. The dashboards of all the websites on your Multisite network can be found here.

Network Admin tab

How to Set Up a WordPress Multisite on Subdomains

If you choose to create a network of subdomains, you may encounter a pop-up message like the one below, asking you to edit the wp-config.php and .htaccess files:

Warning about creating a network of subdomains.

In this case, the code given by WordPress to edit the .htaccess file has an extra line of code:

RewriteRule .* - [E=HTTP_AUTHORIZATION:%{HTTP:Authorization}]
Code given by WordPress to edit the .htaccess file.

Make sure to copy the entire code snippet before following the prompts and editing the .htaccess file.

Now, add a “*” DNS record pointing to your web server. If you are a Hostinger user, you can do it via the DNS Zone Editor.

To create the record, insert * in the Name field and the hosting account’s IP address in Points to.

Adding a “*” DNS record.

Once that’s done, create your subdomain. Make sure to check the Custom folder for subdomain and Use public_html directory boxes.

Creating a new subdomain on hPanel.

That’s it – your subdomain-based Multisite is all set.

Can I Set Up a WordPress Multisite on an Existing Website?

To enable Multisite on an existing WordPress website, follow the same four steps we outlined above. Just remember to create a backup of your current site first before activating Multisite.

However, note that activating Multisite in this case has some drawbacks. It can also be a more complicated process, so expect to encounter some limitations or inconveniences.

For instance, enabling Multisite on a WordPress website that’s been up and running for more than one month means you can’t use subdirectories for new sites. Instead, the websites on your Multisite network must use subdomains.

Another disadvantage is that you might encounter hurdles while editing code. For example, you may have to add the new Multisite code to each individual site on the network instead of just on the .htaccess file in the root directory.

These reasons are why we recommend you to enable WordPress Multisite on an entirely new WordPress installation.

Tips and Tricks to Manage a WordPress Multisite

The sections below outline a few essential functions that can help you manage a Multisite network via your WordPress dashboard.

How to Add a New Website to Your Multisite Network

After successfully enabling Multisite on a new WordPress installation, you’ll find that your network contains one website. We’ll explain how to add websites to your network.

Before doing this, ensure that you’ve prepared each new site’s:

  • URL. This is either a subdomain or a subdirectory.
  • Title. This is the name visitors see when they access the website.
  • Admin email. This is the lower-level administrator that only has access to that specific website and not the whole network.

First, navigate to the Sites tab on the left-hand side of your network admin WordPress dashboard and click Add New.

Add New button

A page will appear with the configuration options for the new website. In each field, enter the new site’s address as well as its title, language, and administrator’s email. Then, click Add Site. Note that the example below uses subdomains.

Add New Site section on WordPress

You can repeat this process for as many sites as you want, as long as your web hosting plan supports it.

Any new sites you create can be found in the Sites -> All Sites tab in the network admin’s WordPress dashboard.

How to Manage Themes and Plugins

Since only the super admin can install new plugins and themes, you’ll be in charge of managing them for your whole network of websites.

The installation process is more or less the same as on a standard WordPress site. The key difference here is that any themes and plugins you install for one website apply to the whole network.

However, note that installing a new plugin or theme doesn’t automatically activate it for all websites. This is slightly different between plugins and themes.

With each different plugin, a super admin can:

  • Network Activate. Any network-activated plugin will be running on all sites on the network, and site admins can’t deactivate it.

Consider doing this with performance-optimizing tools, such as security or caching plugins.

Network activate option
  • Make it optional. Allow website admins to activate any installed plugins.
  • Set different permissions for site admins. Do this by configuring permissions via the Settings tab in the network admin’s multisite dashboard.

With each different theme, a super admin can:

  • Network Enable. This doesn’t activate the theme on each site but makes it available on all of them. You can activate it from each website’s dashboard.
Network Enable theme
  • Enable it for specific sites. Do this via each website’s admin dashboard.
  • Install but not enable. This means only a super admin can view the theme while it remains invisible to site admins.

Super admins are in charge of updating plugins and themes and removing the inactive ones to ensure that all sites’ performance remains optimal.

How to Add New Users

A super admin can add new users as network or website admins.

Start at your network admin dashboard and navigate to Users -> Add New.

Users -> Add New

Here, create the new user’s username and input their email address. After clicking Add User, they will receive an email inviting them to set a password.

To edit user accounts and their permissions, go to Users -> All Users. Here, you can also grant users super admin privileges.

However, we suggest being highly cautious when giving users super admin status since they’ll have complete access to your Multisite network settings.

Therefore, it’s best to keep the number of super admins on a Multisite network as low as possible. Often, one network admin is enough.

Website admins can add new site admins. To do this, access your website dashboard and navigate to Users -> Add New.

Choose whether to add new or existing users within the Multisite network. Then, simply follow the prompts and fill in the necessary information, such as their username and email.

Add New User window

Make sure not to skip the confirmation email so that users will be notified of their new status.

How to Configure Network Settings

Although you can immediately use WordPress Multisite once it is active, it’s a good idea to double-check the network admin and site settings so you can adjust them if needed.

Do this by first navigating to Settings -> Network Settings from your network admin dashboard.

Registration Settings allow you to configure whether website admins can add new sites or users. A super admin can also activate registration notifications to receive emails each time there are changes.

Registration Settings

It’s also a good idea to check the Upload Settings section. Here, you can limit the type and size of attachments users can upload within the network.

Upload Settings section

Doing this is a great way to ensure the network isn’t overloaded with files that your hosting plan can’t handle. Since Multisite websites share web hosting resources, creating limits on uploads helps to ensure optimal performance and prevent website lag or crashes.

Helpful Plugins for Your WordPress Multisite Network

Anyone familiar with WordPress knows that plugins are a great way to improve and optimize WordPress sites. Plugins essentially expand the functionality of your website and enable site owners to add new features.

Note that not all WordPress plugins are compatible with Multisite networks. With that in mind, here are a few Multisite-friendly plugins to get you started.

1. OptinMonster

OptinMonster WordPress plugin

OptinMonster is a popular plugin for lead generation. It helps to increase conversions with an opt-in email form tool and a drag-and-drop form builder.

Aside from simplifying your email list-building process, OptinMonster also offers tools to help convert site visitors who abandoned the site into subscribers, create personalized campaigns, and curate marketing content.

OptinMonster is a great solution for Multisite because it displays a whole network’s email campaign analytics in one place. As a network admin, you can see the results of any lead generation efforts across all websites and adjust your strategies accordingly.

2. User Switching

User Switching plugin

The User Switching plugin enables admins to change the users’ roles in a network. This is especially useful if you need to conduct site-specific troubleshooting or testing.

A great feature of this plugin is that it still maintains security precautions. For example, passwords and sensitive account information remain confidential even when users toggle between accounts.

User Switching also enables super admins to configure which accounts have the authorization to use the plugin.

3. Multisite Enhancements

Multisite Enhancements plugin

This great Multisite-specific plugin lets super admins view and customize all sites within a network from one dashboard. The Multisite Enhancements plugin does this by providing your WordPress network dashboard with extra functionality.

Instead of working with separate site admin dashboards, the Multisite Enhancements plugin can be configured to display each website’s information and settings in one place. For example, it’s possible to enable it to show the resources each site uses or which plugins or themes are active.

With this plugin, super admins can also hide certain technical information from the website admin’s dashboard.

Conclusion

In this article, we’ve explored WordPress Multisite and discussed what types of users and websites benefit from it the most. We recommend it for people who run multiple similar websites.

In terms of management, remember that a Multisite network handles numerous user accounts at the same time. A user with access to an entire network of websites is called a super admin or network admin, while someone with access to just one or a few sites is a website admin.

Some of the pros of using Multisite include more efficient network maintenance, easier site management for website admins, and overall greater configuration control.

Some of the cons of WordPress Multisite include plugin and theme limitations and higher performance interdependency between websites.

Keep in mind that there are a few prerequisites to enable Multisite. You must have Multisite-compatible web hosting, a WordPress installation, and FTP access.

Although Multisite can be activated on an existing WordPress site, we recommend enabling it on an entirely new installation to avoid technical issues.

Author
The author

Will Morris

Will Morris is a staff writer at WordCandy. When he's not writing about WordPress, he likes to gig his stand-up comedy routine on the local circuit.

Author
The Co-author

Tamara Junor

Tamara is a Digital Content Writer at Hostinger. As a digital marketing enthusiast and an avid WordPress user, she loves sharing tips and tricks to help others navigate the online sphere. In her spare time, Tamara enjoys exploring new cities.