If you run multiple WordPress websites, you’re probably dreamed of a better way to manage them.
Let’s face it – as amazing as WordPress is, it’s a hassle log into multiple websites to keep the core updated, and install and update the same plugins over and over again.
Maybe you’ve heard of WordPress Multisite and are considering consolidated all your websites together to make it easier.
But enabling WordPress Multisite is no small commitment. Once your website is established as a multisite network, it can be tricky to switch back to independent sites.
Is multisite right for you?
Read on to find out the pros and cons, and how to enable it if it’s right for you.
What is WordPress Multisite (WPMU)?
WordPress Multisite (WPMU) allows you to manage multiple WordPress websites, all from a single dashboard.
WPMU used to be a separate application that you’d have to install instead of regular WordPress. But since the release of WordPress 3.0 in 2010, WPMU functions have been included in the main WordPress core, meaning that anyone with a regular WordPress installation can enable multisite and manage multiple sites from their dashboard.
Normally, if you have multiple WordPress websites, they function as separate installations of WordPress in separate directories.
With WPMU, it works a bit differently:
The sites you manage from your WordPress dashboard are called your “multisite network.” The sites within the network appear to visitors as separate sites on separate domains or subdomains, but they all share a single WordPress installation in a single directory. A WordPress multisite network also shares a single MySQL database, with each blog getting its own table within the database.
While the site content itself is not shared or connected at all, registered users are shared across the network. Plugins and themes are also shared.
On WPMU networks, a new user role called the Network Admin is created. The Network Admin has access to all the sites on the network, while regular Admins only have access to a single site.
Should you use Multisite? Pros & cons to consider
Multisite might sound like a great idea if you own multiple WordPress websites.
But before you make the leap, be sure to carefully consider the following pros & cons:
- You don’t have to remember a different password for each WordPress installation.
- You can connect separate blogs together as a single community, since user accounts exists across the network.
- Maintenance tasks (such as security updates or database optimization) will go much faster, since you only have to perform them from one dashboard.
- You can share plugins and themes between multiple sites. This means not worrying about updating a plugin at several different installations. (Though be sure to carefully review your license agreement for that theme or plugin: usually a single-site license means you can only use it on a single domain.)
- Using WPMU might help you minimize your server resource use, since you won’t be installing the same theme and plugin files in multiple instances.
- If a hacker gains access to one of your WordPress websites, they’ll have access to all of them. (That’s one reason why it’s important to use a good security plugin!)
- You’ll have to carefully manage the user roles and permissions, such as if you hire a developer, have blog contributors with their own login information, or if you outsource other tasks. Otherwise, they may gain access to other websites that you don’t want them seeing.
- On a multisite network, only the Network Admin can install themes and plugins. That’s because those themes and plugins are installed to the whole network, not just one site. This might be a hassle if you want individual site admins to be able to install themes or plugins to their sites.
- Post and page content is not shared across a multisite network (so you can’t search all the network blogs from one site, for example).
Bottom line: Should you use WordPress Multisite?
WPMU seems attractive purely for the convenience of having all maintenance and updates in the same place.
In reality, multisite is best used only in specific situations.
The main drawbacks to multisite are the security and user implications. If your websites are separate and unrelated, should they really all be connected and share the same database and userbase?
Remember also that only usernames, themes, and plugins are shared across the network, but not content. If your websites have related content that should be connected, then they really should be altogether on the same website, making use of categories, custom post types, or even custom taxonomies to organize them. In that case, there’s no need to have a completely separate site.
When is a multisite network truly beneficial?
WPMU is ideal for a community site that needs to share users, but have separate, unrelated blogs. Take WordPress.com, for example: It’s a community where different bloggers can interact together but still have separate blogs.
If you do choose to use multisite, you should be extra careful about vetting themes and plugins for security, and vetting users before you give them access to your site.
The WordPress Codex has a good in-depth (though quite technical) article on these considerations and more: Before You Create A Network.
How to install WPMU
First, you need to choose your primary site where you’ll be enabling WPMU.
As with any time you make a big change to your WordPress website, be sure to backup your site.
Things may get a little weird on the front end while we’re messing around with your site, especially since you’ll need to disable all your plugins, so you may want to consider using a temporary maintenance page so that your users know what’s going on and don’t get frustrated. To do that, check out our tutorial on How To Build Beautiful ‘Coming Soon’ Pages With The SeedProd Coming Soon Plugin.
After that’s all set, you’ll want to disable all your plugins before we get started.
Step 1: Enable Multisite
To enable WordPress Multisite, we need to add a bit of code to your wp-config.php file.
This file is located in the main directory of your WordPress installation.
Once the file is open, search for this bit of commented code:
/* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */
It will probably be near the end of the file.
This bit of code will be included in most wp-config.php files, but it might not be in yours. No worries – if you don’t find it, search for the word “require.” You might come across a line like this:
require_once(ABSPATH . ‘wp-settings.php’);
If you don’t find THAT, then search again for the word “include” and a similar line of code.
Once you’ve located one of those locations, you want to create a new line above that code. On the new empty line, copy and paste:
/* Multisite */
define( ‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true );
Save your changes, but keep your wpconfig.php file open. We’ll need it again in the next step.
Step 2: Install your Multisite network
Now, head back to your WordPress dashboard on the primary site.
The last step enabled a new menu option for you. Navigate to Tools > Network Setup.
(In this example, we’ll be using subdomains for other sites. If you’d like to enable your sites to be installed on separate domains, you can use a plugin called WPMU Domain Mapping. Instructions are available in the WordPress codex.
Enter a name for your multisite and your email address, and click the Install button:
Now you’ll see a page that lists some steps to complete the installation.
Back in your wp-config.php file, after the line of code you entered in the last step, add the code as directed in Step 1 in your dashboard.
Step 2 directs you to make some changes to your .htaccess file. (You can find more details about editing your .htaccess file in our post on How To Add 301 Redirects In WordPress And Avoid 404 Errors.)
Step 3: Add your network sites
Back in your WordPress dashboard, you’ll notice after a refresh that things look a little different.
Navigate to Sites > Add New to add your other network sites.
That’s it! Those are the basics of setting up your WPMU site. You can check out the WordPress codex for more technical details and advanced configuration options.
While WordPress Multisite isn’t for everyone, it’s a great option for certain applications. Make sure to thoroughly research all your options and the implications of installing it before you make the switch!