Understanding wordpress Multisite for beginners

WHAT’S IN Tutorial

  • Understanding WordPress Multisite
  • Differences between Multisite and standard WordPress
  • Installing and configuring a Multisite network
  • Coding for Multisite
  • Multisite database schema


Prior to WordPress 3.0, Multisite was called WordPress MU (or multi-user) and was a separate software package that needed to be downloaded and installed. WordPress 3.0 merged MU into the core of WordPress, and WordPress Multisite was born.

Multisite is not enabled by default, so it’s important to understand the differences before enabling Multisite in your WordPress installation.

Multisite Terminology

It’s important to understand the terminology used throughout this chapter when working with WordPress Multisite. Two important terms in Multisite are network and site. A network is the entire Multisite installation, or the network. A site is a single site inside the network. Therefore, WordPress Multisite is a network of sites.

Another important term is Blog ID. The Blog ID is a unique ID assigned to every new site created in Multisite. Many of the functions and code examples will reference the Blog ID. Sometimes this is also referred to as the site ID. Remember that WordPress was originally built as a blogging platform but has evolved over the years into a full-fledged content management system. Therefore, many of the functions and code in WordPress still reference items as “blogs” when really they are sites.


When you install standard WordPress, you are installing a single website to run on WordPress. WordPress Multisite enables you to run an unlimited number of websites with a single install of WordPress. When enabling Multisite, you need to determine how sites will be viewed in WordPress, either using subdomains or subdirectories. The following is an example of both:

Subdirectory Example

  • http://example.com/site1
  • http://example.com/site2

Subdomain Example

  • http://site1.example.com/
  • http://site2.example.com/

As you can see, this is a pretty big decision and one that should be carefully considered. With a plugin, there are ways to map top-level domains to any site in your network (i.e., http://mywebsite.com),

Themes and plugins are also treated differently in Multisite. Individual site administrators can enable themes and plugins on their site, but they can’t install them.

WordPress Multisite also introduces a new user role: Super Admin. Super Admin users have access to the Network Admin section of Multisite. This section is where all Multisite configuration occurs. Super Admins also have full access to every site in the Multisite network, whereas normal Administrators only have access to the site they are an administrator of.


Advantages of Multisite

WordPress Multisite has a number of advantages over standard WordPress. The biggest advantage of Multisite is that you have a single install of WordPress to administer. This makes updates for WordPress core, themes, and plugins much easier. If you have a WordPress Multisite network of 50 sites, and a plugin update is released, you need to update that plugin only once and it will affect all sites in your network. If each of the 50 sites were a separate install of WordPress, you would have to update that plugin 50 separate times.

Aggregating content is also another big advantage. It is very easy to share content between your sites in a Multisite network. For example, if you have 50 sites in your network, you could easily aggregate posts from every site to your main blog to showcase your network of sites and content.

The biggest advantage to using Multisite is the speed in which you can launch new sites. With just a few clicks you can create new sites in your network. These sites can share themes, plugins, and even users.

Enabling Multisite

Enabling the Multisite feature of WordPress is a pretty straightforward process. The first step is to add the following line of code to your wp-config.php file:

define( 'WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true );

This line of code should be added just above the comment that reads:

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

Save your wp-config.php file and upload to your server. Now log in to the admin dashboard of WordPress and you’ll notice a new submenu item for Tools ➢ Network Setup, as shown in Figure 10.1.

Figure 10.1 Network Setup submenu

The Network Setup screen will vary depending on your current WordPress setup. If your setup allows it, you will choose either Subdomains or Subdirectories for your Multisite setup. You also need to verify that the Server Address, Network Title, and Admin E-mail Address values are correct. These are filled in automatically by WordPress, but you can modify the values if needed. After you have confirmed that the settings are what you want, click the Install button to install Multisite in WordPress.

The final step to enabling Multisite will be presented on the screen; it’s a series of manual changes you need to make to WordPress.

The first step is to add some code to your wp-config.php file. This code defines the base settings for Multisite and will vary depending on your setup. The following is a code example for a Subdirectory install of Multisite under the example.com domain.

define('MULTISITE', true);
define('SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', false);
define('DOMAIN_CURRENT_SITE', 'example.com');
define('PATH_CURRENT_SITE', '/');
define('SITE_ID_CURRENT_SITE', 1);
define('BLOG_ID_CURRENT_SITE', 1);

The final step is to replace your .htaccess file rules with the new rules provided:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^index.php$ - [L]

# add a trailing slash to /wp-admin
RewriteRule ^([_0-9a-zA-Z-]+/)?wp-admin$ $1wp-admin/ [R=301,L]

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f [OR]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -d
RewriteRule ^ - [L]
RewriteRule ^([_0-9a-zA-Z-]+/)?(wp-(content|admin|includes).*) $2 [L]
RewriteRule ^([_0-9a-zA-Z-]+/)?(.*.php)$ $2 [L]
RewriteRule . index.php [L]

These rules may differ depending on your Multisite setup, so make sure you copy the code provided in the Network Setup screen when enabling Multisite in WordPress.

About the author

Deven Rathore

I'm Deven Rathore, a multidisciplinary & self-taught designer with 3 years of experience. I'm passionate about technology, music, coffee, traveling and everything visually stimulating. Constantly learning and experiencing new things.

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