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Even though I have been involved in WordPress community for some years, every week I find out something new related to WordPress. Sometimes I am disappointed by myself, but consulting some WordPress forums I discovered that I am not the only one in this situation. To be honest, I had known something before, but last month I had to get my hands dirty with WordPress Multisite. It’s not complicated at all and I guess that any intermediary WordPress user may fully understand everything behind WordPress Multisite (if I manage to understand how to use it, then it’s a high chance that everyone may do the same).

WordPress Multisite isn’t only a term that sounds interesting, it is born due to the users’ necessities. First of all, let’s see the definition from the WordPress Glossary

“Multisite is a feature of WordPress 3.0 and later versions that allows multiple virtual sites to share a single WordPress installation. When the multisite feature is activated, the original WordPress site can be converted to support a network of sites.”

Before WordPress 3.0, WordPress Multisite was a different version of WordPress called WordPress MU (Multi-User), but starting with this version WordPress MU merged with WordPress and Multisite became a feature of it (yeah, it’s true, many WordPress users didn’t care too much about this feature).

In other words, Multisite allows installing WordPress just once and other websites may run based on it. If you like to play with words, then “install once and run all your websites forever” compresses the entire essence of WordPress Multisite. If you are running a network of websites, this feature should be a top priority for you.Taking into account that activating Multisite isn’t such a complicated task as you would have thought, I think that you should have already been interested in using this feature.

When to use vs. when NOT to use Multisite

When to use?

Eastman-School-of-Music-wp-multisite
Eastman School of Music – An example of WordPress Multisite

1. A network of blogs

Imagine yourself that you are running a network of 20 blogs and let’s say that you have installed, on average, 15 plugins. Periodically are released new WordPress versions and you should update your websites (if you aren’t convinced why you should update to the latest WordPress version,then this article published by WP Beginners is a must lecture). Also, the developers that created the themes of the websites may release new updates. Of course, the plugins used surely must be updated. I hate math, but I create a formula to help us in this respect:

20 websites x 15 plugins + 20 websites x 15 themes + 20 websites x 15 WordPress updates = a lot of time wasted for updates!

Here comes into the scene the Super Admin. He is responsible for managing the network – he updates the themes and the plugins just once and the websites users may activate them.The sites administrators have the role of selecting and activating the themes and the plugins already installed by the Super Admin.

2. University/Governmental/Educational websites

Usually, these types of websites are very complex and are made up of web pages representing various departments that are more or less connected.Eastman School of Music is an example of University website based on WordPress Multisite. The website is very complex and the various departments are represented by subdomains.

3. Huge e-commerce websites

It’s somehow logical to use WordPress Multisite in this situation. In this way, the maintenance of the website is simplified and all the products are displayed in a convenient format, both for the online store administrator and the customers.

4. A network of clients’ websites

If you are a skilled designer or a reputable creative agency, the clients will be satisfied with your services. Consequently, they will ask you to take care of their websites and it’s almost impossible to give up to such a proposal. Therefore, a smart idea is to group the websites into a Multisite format and the time needed for maintenance will be dramatically reduced. Much time for other projects while the clients are fully satisfied!

When NOT to use?

portfolio-layout-gaga-pro
A simple portfolio site demo – No WP multisite!

The answer may be simple – in all the cases except the above ones! Still, I prefer to highlight some situations when you may be in doubt about.

1. Small business websites

WordPress has enough features that allow a good management of any type of website, including medium size e-commerce entities. Consequently, you shouldn’t opt for Multisite unless these are really huge!

2. Portfolios

The same problem as the one above. There are very competent designers who want to highlight all their skills, but I am sure that it’s not necessarily a Multisite online presence.

3. Multiple websites that have no connections among them

Let’s suppose that you own the next assets: a blog related to web design, one about traveling, a review website and an online store selling e-books. In order to save time, you are tempted to use Multisite feature. Well, it’s not a mistake, for sure, but it’s not recommended! Unfortunately, WordPress Multisite has some important drawbacks (I will mention them into the next paragraphs) and one of them is the fact that once one of the websites from your network is hacked, then the entire network is in danger. Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket, isn’t it?

Pros and cons about WordPress Multisite

pros-cons-wp-multisite

Pros:

  • By updating a single instance,it’s saved a lot of time. In case of a network of blogs, Multisite is a real blessing;
  • The Super Admin has a full-scale view of the entire network and it can act strategically. It’s a very useful feature for the managers of the huge online stores;
  • The admins of each website manage their websites. They are responsible for managing the websites by respecting the decisions of the Super Admin.

Cons:

  • As I previously mentioned,if a website is hacked, then the entire network is in real danger;
  • By sharing the same server resources, in the situations of high unexpected traffic (happy situations no matter the context) it’s quite probable that the network will run slowly;
  • Some plugins may not work well for networks.

How to activate Multisite

Warning: Everything man made is perfectible (you may read that everyone made mistakes)! So before activating Multisite it’s highly recommended to back up your files and deactivate the plugins.

The first step of activating Multisite is to go to wp-config.php, open it and identify this line – /*That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */ (Believe me, it really exists!!!). Above it, place this line of code – define(‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true); and save the file.

Then you should go to Tools >Network Setup. If you don’t deactivate the plugins you will be asked to do it. Once you finished deactivating the plugins, you will be asked to add some lines of codes into wp-config.php and to replace a code sequence in the htaccess file. It sounds complicated for someone that isn’t too experienced in working with codes, but, in this case, is simpler doing than saying (a nice paradox, isn’t it?).

Warning:I lost a lot of time by searching for htaccess file and to avoid this matter I followed the steps of this video. The difficult job is done! Now you should log back in your website!

The dashboard of the Super Admin is different from the one of a “regular” admin, but I am sure that everyone is able to work with it.Anyway, I created here a survival guide for any Super Admin! Enjoy it and don’t be afraid to share with us your experiences related to installing WordPress Multisite and how to manage a network.

The survival guide for a Super Admin

Even though it’s a thought-provoking task to manage a Multisite entity, it shouldn’t demoralize you. Personally, I think that being the Super Admin of a Multisite website isn’t rocket science! Across time, a Super Admin will encounter many challenges – some of them are expected while some are unexpected. The last ones are the most difficult and put in trouble the Super Admin; these are resolved due to his/her WordPress skills and experience.

The expected challenges are relatively straightforward to resolve; these are installing a new website, working with themes & plugins and installing new updates. Let’s analyze all the aspects and create patterns for all the situations.

1. Installing and maintaining a new website

Installing a new website requires from you to click once or twice and to complete three fields. It’s not a joke, it’s the ”harsh” reality!

The algorithm of installing a new website:

  • Go to My Sites->Network Admin->Sites (in the upper-left part of the screen)
  • Click Add New and you will have three fields to complete. The first is Site Address, then Site Title and finally Admin Email
  • Once these are completed, you may click Add Site and the magic is happening, you have a new website!

2. Working with themes and plugins

Working with themes

The Super Admin has two options when installing a WordPress theme. It can be network enabled and all the websites have the same theme or it can be installed and activated for a single or more websites. The first case is recommended for complex e-commerce websites which should have a coherent design in order to not confuse the potential buyers. The second option is highly recommended in the case of a designer/developer that maintain the websites of the clients.

The algorithm of network enabling a theme:

  • In the network admin dashboard go to Themes->Add New and select the theme you want to install. (nothing different from a regular WordPress website)
  • Go to My Sites->Network Admin->Themes
  • Select NetworkEnable a theme and the respective one will be network enabled.

The algorithm of enabling a theme for a website:

  • In the network admin dashboard go to Sites->All Sites
  • Click the Edit option below the site you want to install the theme
  • Click the Theme option and you will see all the available themes
  • Click Enable below the theme you want to install.

I think that it’s pretty simple to manage the themes, isn’t it? Let’s see how to play with the plugins!

Working with plugins

The algorithm of network enabling a plugin:

  • In the network admin dashboard go to Plugins->Add New and install the plugin you want (similar to a regular WordPress website)
  • Once installed, click Network Activate link.

That is all! You should know that the website administrators won’t be able to delete/uninstall the plugin.

The algorithm of enabling a plugin for a single website

  • In the network admin dashboard go to Plugins->Add New and install the plugin you want
  • Once installed, you will have two options (see the picture below) – Network Activate and Return to Plugin Installer. Click on the last option
  • The site administrator should go to Plugins and activate the respective plugin.

3. Installing new updates

This is a very simple task and it’s very similar to installing new updates in a regular WordPress website.

I hope that my explanations were clear and by now, you will be able to create a WordPress Multisite. If you want a brief step-by-step plan of activating WordPress Multisite, you may check the Codex explanations. If you are less patient and you want to directly “attack” the matter, here is the brief procedure of activating WordPress Multisite.

Add define( ‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true ) to your wp-config.php file

Go to Tools >Network Setup and complete the details of the network

Update your wp-config.php file with the code provided

Replace your .htaccess file with the code provided

Log back into your website

Wrapping up

The majority of WordPress developers and users may live without using Multisite feature, but it may be priceless in some cases. It’s a game changer feature for the admins of a network of blogs. I think that my formula from above is quite suggestive in this respect; Multisite is saving much time. On the other hand, it’s not pleasant at all to not work all your websites because one of them is hacked.

As everything man-made, Multisite is a feature that has advantages and disadvantages. The most important matter is to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages. Do you agree with me? Are you interested in activating WordPress Multisite?

I am very glad to connect with you, so please use the comment form and share your opinions about WordPress Multisite. The more ideas, the better for all of us!


Author’s bio

Daniel Pintilie is a big fan of WordPress and a part time blogger. He writes insightful articles for his personal blog- Daniel2Design and other WordPress blogs.