Setting Up WordPress Multisite – A How-to Guide

wordpress-multisite

When you need to administer multiple WordPress blogs or websites, you can save the headache of juggling multiple usernames, passwords, and disconnected dashboards by setting up a WordPress multisite.

What is a WordPress multisite?

A WordPress multisite allows you to create and administer multiple WordPress websites and blogs from a single installation of WordPress.

More importantly, it allows you to give administrative capabilities to different sub-users on different sub-sites. So, for example, you could have multiple sites for a single organization, with each site managed by the web designer in its respective department.

In addition, using a WordPress multisite allows you to choose between setting up subdomains, such as ‘www.site1.domain.com’, and sub-directories, such as ‘www.domain.com/site1’. Without a multisite, your WordPress website would be limited to sub-directories.

And this is how you setup a WordPress multisite in just a few simple steps:

  • Step 1: Setup wildcard subdomains with your host
  • Step 2: Enable multisite WordPress
  • Step 3: Setup your multisite network
  • Step 4: Configure your multisite network settings
  • Step 5: Add sites to your multisite network
  • Step 6: Add themes and plugins to your network

Step 1: Setup Wildcard Subdomains With Your Host

If you want to organize your WordPress multisite with subdomains rather than sub-directories, you need to register each subdomain with your host. Open your host’s cPanel and find the ‘Subdomains’ section, which is typically under ‘Domains’.

Here, you will enter the name of your subdomain and choose the primary domain, which is the URL of your overarching WordPress website.

The subdomain wizard will automatically create a new folder for this new subdomain in your file structure, so once you’re happy with the name hit ‘Create’ to continue.

WordPress Multisite Subdomain cPanel

Step 2: Enable Multisite WordPress

The ability to create a multisite network comes built into every WordPress installation, allowing you to set up a WordPress multisite from a normal single-site WordPress installation.

You can also enable multisite WordPress on a WordPress site that is already up and running, although it’s a good idea to backup our WordPress site your site before doing so.

To enable WordPress multisite network capabilities, connect to your host through either an FTP client or the cPanel. Download the ‘wp-config.php’ file and open it in your favorite text editor.

Copy and paste the following two lines of code just above the line that says, ‘That’s all, stop editing!’

/* Multisite */
define( 'WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true );

When you finish, save the 'wp-config.php' file and upload it back to your site’s server to enable WordPress multisite.

Step 3: Setup Your Multisite Network

At this point, you have enabled WordPress multisite. But you still need to configure the multisite before building content on the new subdomains or sub-directories.

If you are editing a WordPress site that was already up and running, make sure you deactivate all plugins before setting up your multisite network.

To do this, simply go to ‘Plugins > Installed Plugins’, select all of the active plugins, click on ‘Deactivate’ in the bulk actions drop-down menu, and click ‘Apply’.

WordPress Multisite Deactivate Plugins

Then go to ‘Tools > Network Setup’ to configure the multisite settings. In the setup console, you’ll first need to let WordPress know whether you are organizing your multisite with subdomains or sub-directories.

WordPress Multisite Network configuration codeYou will also be prompted to give your new multisite a name and to provide an email for the administrator of the network. When ready, click ‘Install’.

The configuration screen will then display two code snippets that you need to copy into your site’s ‘wp-config.php’ and ‘.htaccess’ files, respectively.

Both of these files can be accessed by connecting to your server via FTP client or cPanel and should be in your site’s root directory.

Once you’ve added the code, upload the edited files back to your server and log back into WordPress.

Step 4: Configure Your Multisite Network Settings

Your administration panel in WordPress should now include a My Sites menu. Navigate to ‘My Sites > Network Admin > Dashboard’ to view the administrator dashboard for your new multisite network. Here, you can manage your new multisite, create new sub-sites, and add users to sites.

Under 'Settings' in the multisite dashboard, you’ll find a page for 'Registration Settings'. Here, you can set whether new users can be registered to the multisite, whether they can establish new sites on the network, and whether they can add or edit users on their sites.

There is also an option to keep track of all new site and user registrations, or to permit only users with email addresses that end in a given domain (for example, your organization’s domain) to register sites.

WordPress Multisite Registration Settings

Under ‘New Site Settings’, you have several options for configuring the defaults for any new sites registered to your multisite. This includes setting a welcome email, first post, or default theme.

Under ‘Upload Settings’, you can set limits for the maximum allotment of file storage, in megabytes, that any site on your multisite can have. This is especially important if your multisite is not running on a dedicated server or if space on your server is limited.

The ‘Menu Settings’ options let you determine whether site users should be allowed to access plugins.

Note, this is only to allow site users to activate or deactivate plugins installed on the multisite network and does not give users administrative access to install or delete plugins.

Make sure to click on ‘Save Changes’ for your settings to take effect.

Step 5: Add Sites to Your Multisite Network

WordPress Multisite Add new siteBy default, the only site added to your multisite network at this point is your primary WordPress site.

To add additional sites, navigate to ‘My Sites > Network Admin > Sites’ within the multisite administration toolbar and click ‘Add Site’.

You will need to enter the name of the new subdomain you wish to create, the title of the site, and the email of the primary administrator for that site.

If this email is not already associated with a user registered to the multisite, WordPress will generate a username and password and email them to the new user automatically.

Step 6: Add Themes and Plugins to Your Network

Individual users administering a subdomain do not have privileges to add themes or plugins to their sites. Instead, the network administrator is given responsibility for determining which themes and plugins should be installed and made available for every sub-site.

To install themes, navigate to ‘My Sites > Network Admin > Themes’. Here, you will see what themes are currently installed on the WordPress multisite.

You can click ‘Network Enable’ or ‘Network Disable’ to make that theme available, or not, for all users on the network. To install a new theme, click the ‘Add New’ button and proceed as you would for installing a theme on a single WordPress site.

WordPress Multisite Add themes

Plugins are installed from ‘My Sites > Network Admin > Plugins’. Similar to themes, plugins can be activated or disabled individually, and new plugins can be installed as they normally would be for a single WordPress site by clicking Add New.

Troubleshooting WordPress Multisites

While WordPress multisites are tailored for easy operation, having multiple subdomains and multiple users working on your WordPress site can cause problems. Here, I’ll cover some of the most common issues and how to deal with them.

One of the most common problems with WordPress multisites is that subdomains do not work as intended.

The first thing to check is that your host allows you to use wildcard domains, that you have registered your subdomains with your host, and that your subdomains are properly configured in your multisite settings.

Another problem that multisite users frequently report is the inability to access the administration areas of each sub-site when using sub-directories rather than subdomains.

This is especially common after editing the code of the site’s ‘wp-config.php’ file. If this happens, replace

define('SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', false);

with

define('SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', 'false');

in the ‘wp-config.php’ file using a text editor.

Final Thoughts

WordPress multisites are designed to make managing multiple subdomains or sub-directories simpler by enabling a network administrator to delegate sites to registered users.

Multisite network capability is built into WordPress and can be activated simply by editing the wp-config.php file and configuring the network.

If you found this guide helpful in learning what a WordPress multisite is and how to setup one up, please let me know in the comments below!

An experienced content professional with a creative mind. If I'm not writing, you can probably find me in the backyard playing with dogs or at some weird art show.

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