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How To Install a WordPress Multisite Network and Why

A lot of people find themselves collecting a myriad of WordPress sites for many reasons. It can be quite a tedious process to log in to each one individually in order to manage them. Luckily, you can set up your digital empire to use a single access point through a WordPress multisite network.

These networks are incredibly useful when you have to manage several sites from a single location. As a super administrator, you can govern over all of the sites with ease.

In this tutorial, we’re going to show you how to set up that WordPress multisite network.

Why Would You Use a Multisite Network?

Many people enjoy creating new blogs and websites with WordPress. The multisite function allows you to control all of those instances from a single point. This can greatly reduce the amount of time it takes you to manage each one. This is especially true since you can install plugins and themes across the whole network.

Because you can set WordPress to allow registered users to make their own websites, some people build blogging communities. From a single domain, you and your users can create a collection of sites. An example of this is how the WordPress.com site operates. Users can register for a free website, which is placed into its own subdomain at WordPress.com

Even large corporations can find the value in using a multisite network. For instance, each department can have its own portal for everything from news to team production and workflow.

Can you have admins on the sites themselves other than the super administrator?

Each site on the network has its own features and admins just like any other WordPress installation.

Can you update plugins and themes from the super admin panel?

The super administrator of a multisite network is capable of updating all plugins and themes with a single download.

Will all of the sites be affected if the super admin password is hacked?

Because the super administrator has complete access to all sites in the network, a compromised password can put all sites at risk.

Do all plugins work in a multisite environment?

Unfortunately, some plugins do not play well with multisite features. You will have to test these to find out if you have some that don’t work with multisite turned on.

What Do You Need for a Multisite Network?

In reality, you can set up a multisite network on many kinds of hosting platforms. However, it’s advisable that you use dedicated server hosting or even VPS because all of the websites will share the server’s resources. If you use a shared server plan, all of your sites as well as the websites of others will use those components. This may cause your sites to operate slowly.

You’ll also need access to your configuration file of WordPress and possibly domain attributes if you choose to use subdomains for the network. We’ll explain more about this later.

Multisite networks cannot be used on the WordPress.com platform.

Setting Up the Domain for Multisite

First, you need to decide how you will structure the network. You can either choose to put new installations of WordPress as subdomains or as separate subdirectories. For instance, the site URLs will look like:

  • Subdomains: http://new_site.your_domain.com
  • Subdirectories: http://your_domain.com/new_site
Wildcard Subdomains

If you choose to use subdomains, you will need to set up “Wildcards.” This is essentially a placeholder for when a new site is created. To do this:

Step 1: Go to your cPanel dashboard and click “Subdomains.”

c panel subdomains

Step 2: In the subdomains screen, place a “*” as the subdomain name.

subdomain name

Step 3: Using the drop down window to the right of the name, select the domain you are using. If you only have one site, it may be the only one in the list.

select domain

Step 4: Your cPanel will do the rest automatically. Click the “Create” button.

click create button

Turning On Multisite Feature in WordPress

Unfortunately, there are no available plugins that will give you access to turn multisite on. You have to do this in the wp-config.php file for your main WordPress account.

Before you continue, it’s advisable to backup your WordPress website. In the event something goes wrong, you want to be able to recover your files.

Turn off all of the plugins you are currently using on your primary WordPress site. Using an FTP program such as FileZilla, open the wp-config.php file and add the following just above the line: “/* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */”

/* Multisite */

define( ‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true );

Save the file.

php config file

Set up the Network for Your Multisite

After you alter the configuration file, reload your WordPress site. A new feature will be available within the “Tools” area on your left. This will be labeled, “Network Setup.” Click this tool to open your settings.

Under the area for “Addresses of Sites in your Network,” select which option to use. This is where you set up subdomains or subdirectories.

Choose subdomains only if you set up wildcard domains on your site.

Next, you will be asked to give a title for your network while ensuring the Network Admin Email is the one you’ll use. Afterwards, click the install button.

network title

Configuring the Settings of the Multisite Network

Once the above has been completed, you’ll see a new option on the top left of your WordPress dashboard called, “My Sites.”

my sites tab

This gives you access to the multisite dashboard, users, themes, plugins and sites.

my site

Click on the dashboard of multisite. You’ll see an option on the left of the new screen for “Settings.”

From this location, you can:

  • Change how new sites are created
  • Limit email registrations to prevent duplication
  • Ban specific domains from registering and creating sites
  • Modify the welcome messages for new sites
  • Change maximum upload types and sizes
  • Allow site admins to activate or deactivate plugins while denying them the ability to install new ones

Adding Sites, Themes and Plugins

Once you have the super admin settings done, it’s time to start adding materials. From “Network Admin,” you can add sites, themes and plugins to all of your new WordPress areas without logging into each one.

Adding Sites

In the network dashboard, click on the “Sites” function. The next screen will display all available sites and paths. To add a new site:

Step 1: Click the “Add new” button on the top left.

Step 2 :Give your site a new address. This will become part of the URL for the website.

site address

Step 3: Enter a “Site Title.” This can be anything that will help you identify it.

site title

Step 4: Input an Admin Email. You can use your own address or you can put in the address of an admin you are assigning. This does not reflect the super administrator. It’s only for that particular website.

input admin email

Step 5: Click the “Add Site” button.

click add site

Adding Themes and Plugins

Adding themes and plugins works much the same way as a site. From the Network Admin screen, you can click to control the themes and plugins available. This allows you to do the following across the entire network:

  • Enable or disable themes
  • Activate and deactivate plugins
  • Install new or delete themes and plugins

If you changed the admin setting noted above, administrators of individual websites will be able to activate and deactivate their own plugins and themes. This allows them to have a sense of customization for each individual site.

Setting up a WordPress multisite has a great deal of potential for various platforms. From a school district giving each facility its own area of the web to someone who has a hobby of blogging about different topics, multisite functionality is very useful. With just a few steps, you could explore the possibilities of what this can do for you personally or in a business dynamic.

What are some of your favorite features of WordPress? How would you use multisite abilities?

Author: Chris Racicot

Chris is the Support Manager at GreenGeeks and has been with the company since 2010. He has a passion for gaming, scripting and WordPress. When he’s not enjoying his sleep, he’s working on his guitar skills and fiddling with 3d printing.

Updated on March 3, 2017

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