Multisites give you the ability to manage multiple WordPress websites in a single installation. Yet it remains one of the most misunderstood features of WordPress. We clear the jungle of the multisite network for you: What is and can a WordPress multisite do and for which projects is it worthwhile?
What is WordPress Multisite?
Websites in a WordPress multisite network are registered as subdomains, subdirectories of the root domain (subdirectory) or with their own domain in a multidomain network. There can be several access levels for each of these sites. All websites in the network have the same selection of themes and plugins, as they are installed globally - but the content and appearance can differ enormously between the websites. The themes and plugins are installed globally, but which of them are used on the individual websites can be decided individually.
These features make a WordPress multisite useful in many ways. Nevertheless, there are a lot of cases where a multisite network is not the best solution.
The Multisite function was introduced in 2010 in WordPress version 3.0 and has since become a very common way to manage multiple website installations. Often, the decision for a WordPress multisite setup turns out to be problematic in retrospect - this happens mainly when individual pages have become too individual and are now to be converted into individual websites. But more on that later!
WordPress Multisite: Main features
- One WordPress installation for an unlimited number of websites
- Network admin accounts are at the top of the entire network
- Website admins can manage individual pages
One or more accounts act as network administrators at the top of the network. As a network admin, you can manage themes and plugins for all websites from one dashboard - that is, install, uninstall or update them. You can also control the content and appearance of all websites. It is also possible to add new websites to the network and assign them a website admin account. Website admins can control the content on their own site and customize the theme. They can also activate or deactivate plugins, but they cannot install themes or plugins.
The WordPress Multisite installation is basically the same as a single WordPress installation. This makes the process very user-friendly.
Advantages and disadvantages of WordPress multisite
Using a WordPress multisite network has advantages and disadvantages - which means you should carefully consider whether or not it is the right solution for you.
WordPress Multisite offers these advantages
- simple management
- multiple hierarchical user levels possible
- a single backup for all websites
A WordPress multisite installation is particularly worthwhile due to the significantly reduced administration effort for plugins and themes. This is because they can be installed or updated for all websites via a single dashboard. Hierarchical user levels are particularly worthwhile for institutions such as educational establishments. But more on that later.
WordPress Multisite offers these disadvantages
- backups for individual websites in a multisite network are very time-consuming
- some plugins do not support a multisite network
- more server power needed
- website security risks are a risk for all websites
- website admin has no FTP access
When setting up a WordPress multisite network, you must make sure that the plugins you want to use support multisite, otherwise the advantage of time savings and simplicity will be nullified. The server power required due to the higher traffic quickly leads to performance problems, especially with shared hosting. If there is unauthorized access on one website, all websites on the network are at risk. The lack of FTP access for website admins means in plain language that they cannot edit the website's code.
You may have noticed at this point that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Lest you misunderstand, this simply means that WordPress Multisite requires targeted use, as these disadvantages can be avoided or are not even relevant for some applications. All in all, it is now clear that there are some particularly worthwhile use cases, which are presented in more detail below.
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Are there any prerequisites with WordPress Multisite?
Although it is a widely supported feature of WordPress, there are two basic requirements for installing a WordPress multisite network.
- existing WordPress installation
- web host supports a multisite installation
When choosing hosting, shared hosting is usually the cheapest option, but for WordPress multisite this is not a good option. With a shared server, the server's resources are naturally shared. Therefore, it is unlikely that a shared server can handle the traffic for multiple sites on your network. Therefore, a dedicated server or a virtual private server is recommended for multisite use.
If your web host does not set up a multisite installation for you, you will also need a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) programme. Popular FTP programs are FileZilla or the FTP extension for Visual Studio Code. This allows you to edit, upload or download files on a server. No code needs to be written to install WordPress multisite, just copy a few small snippets into some files on the server. Detailed instructions would go beyond the scope at this point. If you're interested, check out this guide.
WordPress Multisite and WordPress Domain Mapping
You now know what a WordPress multisite network is, when you can use it and what it takes to install it. Let's now look at how the sites relate to the original WordPress installation and what impact this can have.
Before you add your first website, you must select a type of network. The multisite types cannot be combined and changing the type later will be time-consuming. You have three options to set up the network:
- as subdomain
- as a subdirectory
- as multidomain
The URL shows which system has been chosen. An example of a subdomain would be store.brand.com and a subdirectory would be brand.com/store. In this way, the URLs of the individual websites can be managed intuitively. But if there are more than a handful of subdomains or subdirectories, it can be difficult to come up with a user-friendly name for each one.
With WordPress Domain Mapping you can avoid this problem. Since version 4.5, WordPress domain mapping is a built-in function in WordPress. It allows you to use custom domains as a substitute for the URL of the subdomain or subdirectory.
Companies with international reach can change their subdomains or subdirectories to different top level domains depending on the country or region. For example, Britain.brand.com could be changed to brand.co.uk, or brand.com/de/ to brand.de.
WordPress Domain Mapping Requirements
Note: For WordPress domain mapping, you must also have access to the domain you are mapping.
At this point we should mention SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificates. This is a method to secure your website by encrypting data.
Some web hosts, including Raidboxes, even offer free SSL certificates that you can activate with one click. However, a standard certificate is only valid for one domain. All sub-directories of a domain are covered by the SSL certificate of this domain, but a sub-domain requires a different type of certificate - here you need a so-called wildcard SSL certificate.
In a multisite network, it is in the nature of things that the websites are all interconnected and therefore all require SSL encryption. As with most networks, if the security of one element is breached, all elements of the network are compromised. Therefore, for security reasons, it is important that the entire network is covered by the correct SSL certificate.
Set up multisite network at Raidboxes
You can set up your multisite network at Raidboxes by creating a new Box and using the "Create multisite" option there. Select the type of network and configure the rest. The main page of the network is then created and the network admin account is set up.
In contrast to the normal installation, all configurations for the multisite setup at Raidboxes are made in the box settings. As already mentioned, multisite networks are mostly managed centrally via the WordPress Multisite dashboard or via the box of the entire network. Therefore, for technical reasons, the following functions will not be possible (for the time being):
- updates of any kind for individual websites of a multisite network
- assign a second domain to a subdirectory or subdomain box
- security headers for individual websites of the network
- URL redirects for individual websites of the network
These limitations are in the nature of a multisite network and are therefore difficult to enable. Features that can be implemented and are still planned in relation to WordPress multisite:
- creating templates and creating a new box from a template
- customize Cronjob overview and settings for subpages (currently only possible for an entire WordPress multisite network)
Migrate WordPress Multisite to Raidboxes
Configuration and settings for the WordPress multisite
Once you have installed a WordPress multisite, you will see the dashboard of your original website. At the top there is a new option called "My Sites". Hover over it to open two menus. Follow "Network Management" and click on the "Dashboard" option.
From here, navigate to "Settings" and first check whether your admin e-mail address and the title of the main page are still correct. Then there are several options to configure. These are mostly self-explanatory, but I will briefly explain the registration settings here. These could possibly be misunderstood.
Under "Forbidden names" you can restrict the registration of websites with specific words - for example, if you enter the keyword "admin" in the field, the website admin.domain.com cannot be registered. This feature can be useful in a larger network where websites with custom names can be registered to prevent the use of unwanted names.
The option to limit email registration is also useful. With this function you can define a specific e-mail domain from which new websites can be set up. This is particularly useful if you want to limit registration to an internal email address.
Themes and plugins
You can also find these settings under network administration. Themes and plugins can be made available network-wide. Only the network admin can install themes and plugins. The website admins can then activate or deactivate them for their websites and locations.
The big advantage of this is that you only have to save your plugins and themes once in the wp-content directory of your WordPress installation. This means you need less storage space and less time for updates.
It is also possible to change the default theme that is used to add a new website. To do this, add the following code to the wp-config.php file and replace "new-theme" with the (folder) name of the theme you want to set as the default.
Standard Theme für neue Websites festlegen
define( 'WP_DEFAULT_THEME', 'new-theme');
Since the wp-config.php at Raidboxes is read-only for security reasons, you can make this change directly from your Raidboxes dashboard, at Settings - WordPress - wp.config.php.
Adding a new website
To add a new website to the network, go to "My Websites - Network Management - Websites". Click on "Add New" and you will be led to a site with self-explanatory options to add a new website to the network.
SSH and WP-CLI
By the way, as with a single site, you can also use SSH and WP CLI with WordPress multisite to manage your pages. This works exactly as with a single site, but the "-url=subsite.example.com" parameter must be specified.
How WordPress Multisite stores media and data
Media and data are stored slightly differently in a WordPress Multisite network than in a normal WordPress installation. The user interface works in the same way as a regular WordPress website.
However, if WordPress Multisite is activated, a new "Sites" folder is created in the "wp-content/upload" directory for your media in the repository, for example. All media that is uploaded to your network is then stored there centrally. WordPress creates a new subfolder in this folder for each website in the multisite network, which is named after the respective ID of the website. Your main site has the ID 01, the first new website in the network then has the ID 02 and so on.
New database tables are also created for data when WordPress Multisite is activated, and additional tables are added for new websites in the network, each with the site ID as a prefix to keep the data for the individual sites separate.
The most common use cases for WordPress Multisite
As already mentioned above, there are very specific cases in which a WordPress multisite installation really makes sense and the advantages of multisites come into play to a particular degree. These include, among others, the following cases:
For the use case of multilingualism, a multisite of the type "subdirectory" is common, since the contents are the same and only the languages differ.
- Main page: mysite.com
- Subpage: mysite.com/en
- Subpage: mysite.com/fr
- Subpage: mysite.com/es
It would be easy to internationalize through multidomain, but in contrast to multilingualism, the content would be different:
- Main page: English site: mysite.com
- Subpage: German site: meineseite.de
- Subpage: Spanish site: misitio.es
- Underside: Dutch: sitemijnpagina.nl
Subdomains for various products
If your company sells various products, a multisite subdomain may be the right solution. For example, if your company offers several different, stand-alone, larger products. This is often the case for companies in the software development sector, for example.
- Main page: mycompany.com
- Product page: myproduct.mycompany.com
- More product page: myotherproduct.mycompany.com
- Another product page: mynewestproduct.mycompany.com
If you want to set up an online shop with seasonal goods (Christmas trees in winter/fruit trees in summer), a multisite could also give you many advantages, for example, by setting up several domains for the respective seasonal products, but the merchandise management system remains the same.
In addition, WordPress Multisite, sometimes combined with certain plugins such as BuddyPress, is also suitable for
- Community networks,
- an intranet for your company,
- an affiliate network or
- your personal websites.
WordPress Multisite examples from practice
In practice, WordPress Multisite is used in various areas. Institutions such as schools or universities in particular, but also editorial networks often rely on a multisite setup.
WordPress Multisite in educational institutions
An excellent application for WordPress multisite are companies or institutions such as schools or universities, which set up separate subpages for products, departments, sites or divisions. The departmental staff can explicitly manage their subpage, but nothing else, and the global experience across the entire site remains consistent for the visitors.
In general, a multisite is suitable if some common resources are used and the individual users want to work independently in their field of activity. For this reason, many large organizations (such as universities and colleges) use multisites. The advantage is that each department or faculty can maintain its own website or internal blog with multiple contributors, while one team manages the entire network of websites. One such example of a multisite is the University of British Columbia's blog.
Further examples of the use of WordPress Multisite
A prime example of a multisite is WordPress.com itself - with many millions of sub-pages! How time-consuming and expensive it would be to manage and maintain them individually.
Still unsure? Checklist for WordPress Multisite
If you are unsure whether WordPress multisite is right for you, just answer the following questions:
- Are you sure you'll always need the same themes and plugins?
- Do you only need one IP address?
- Do you have about the same load on all websites?
- Is the administrative effort of the individual websites small?
- Is it OK if every account with FTP access on one website also has FTP access to the other websites?
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, then WordPress Multisite is the right choice for you and will save you a lot of work. If you have to answer no to even one of these questions, WordPress Multisite will sooner or later make more work for you than you would have with individual WordPress installations - or even become a security risk.
This guide has hopefully given you a good overview of the pros and cons and how to use a WordPress Multisite installation wisely. The user-friendly Dashboard and intuitive options make it an excellent choice for some applications. However, the linking of the websites to each other limits them to certain applications. WordPress Multisite is most useful for multilingual but otherwise identical websites. If you have any further questions about this feature, feel free to contact the Raidboxes support team via live chat.