How to Install and Setup WordPress Multisite Network

Do you want to setup a WordPress multisite network? WordPress comes with a built-in capability to create multiple websites using the same WordPress install. In this article, we will show you how to install and setup a WordPress multisite network.

How to install and setup WordPress multisite network

Since this is a comprehensive article, we have added the table of contents for easier navigation:

  • What is WordPress Multisite?
  • Pros of using a WordPress multisite network
  • Cons of using a WordPress multisite network
  • Who needs a WordPress multisite network?
  • Requirements for a WordPress multisite network
  • Choosing a domain structure for your multisite network
  • Setting up wildcard subdomains
  • Enabling WordPress multisite network feature
  • Setting up your WordPress multisite network
  • Configuring network settings
  • Opening your multisite network for registrations
  • New site settings
  • Upload settings for your multisite network
  • Plugin menu settings
  • Adding new sites to your WordPress multisite network
  • Adding themes and plugins to your multisite network
  • Troubleshooting WordPress multisite issues

What is WordPress Multisite?

A WordPress multisite network allows you to run and manage multiple WordPress sites from a single WordPress installation.

You can create new sites instantly and manage them using the same username and password. You can even allow other users to signup and create their own blogs on your domain.

Pros of Using a WordPress Multisite Network

In many situations, a WordPress multisite network can be more useful than managing multiple standalone WordPress sites. Here are some of the advantages of using a WordPress multisite network:

  1. As the network administrator, you can easily manage multiple sites from a single dashboard.
  2. Each site on the network can have its own admins. The site admins will have the capabilities to manage only their own website.
  3. You can install plugins and themes and activate them for multiple sites with one download.
  4. Multisite network also makes it easier for you to manage updates. You only need to update your WordPress, plugins, or themes on one “master” install.

Cons of Using a WordPress Multisite Network

Creating a WordPress multisite network is not always as helpful in managing multiple sites. Here are some of the disadvantages of using a multisite network that you should keep in mind.

  1. All sites on the network share the same resources. This means that when your site is down, all other sites on the network go down as well.
  2. Managing server resources in case of unexpected traffic can be difficult for a beginner level user.
  3. If your website gets hacked, then this means all sites on your network will get hacked.
  4. Some WordPress plugins may not work well on a multisite network.

Who Needs a WordPress Multisite Network?

Just because you manage multiple WordPress websites does not mean you need to start using a multisite network.

There are third party tools like ManageWP or InfiniteWP that you can use to manage all your WordPress sites under one roof.

Here are some example scenarios when creating a multisite network makes sense:

  • A magazine website with different sections managed by different teams.
  • A business website with sub-sites for different locations and branches.
  • Government or non-profit websites can use WordPress multisite for different departments, locations, and regions.
  • Your own network of blogs running on multiple subdomains.
  • Schools and colleges allowing students to create their own blogs on school servers.

Requirements for a WordPress Multisite Network

All websites on a WordPress multisite network share the same server resources. This means that the most important thing you will need is a good WordPress hosting.

If you are planning on having just a couple of websites with low traffic, then you can probably get away with shared hosting.

However, due to the nature of multi-sites, you’d need VPS hosting or a dedicated server as your sites grow.

We recommend Bluehost because they offer both shared hosting and VPS/Dedicated servers, and they are also one of the official WordPress hosting partners.

We’ve also worked with SiteGround and InMotion Hosting, and they also provide excellent service.

Apart from web hosting, you will need some basic knowledge of installing WordPress and editing files using FTP.

Choosing a Domain Structure for Your Multisite Network

On a WordPress multisite network, you can add new sites using either subdomains or sub-directories.

http://site1.example.com
http://example.com/site1/

If you choose subdomains, then you will have to configure wildcard subdomains on your server (we will show you how to do that later in this article).

On the other hand, if you choose sub-directories or path based URLs for sites on your network, then the only thing you need to do is enable pretty permalinks on your root site.

Setting Up Wildcard Subdomains

If you decide to use subdomains for websites on your multisite network, then you will need to setup wildcard subdomains for your multisite network.

To do that, first you need to login to your WordPress hosting account’s cPanel dashboard. Scroll down to the Domains section and then click on Subdomains.

Subdomains in cPanel dashboard

Note: Depending on your web hosting service, your cPanel dashboard may look slightly different than the screenshot above. This screenshot is from the cPanel on Bluehost.

On the next screen, you need to enter the * sign in the subdomain field and select your main domain from the drop down menu.

Adding wildcard subdomain

Cpanel will automatically detect the document root and will display it in the field below. Now click on the ‘Create’ button to add your wildcard subdomain.

Enabling WordPress Multisite Network Feature

Multisite Network feature comes built-in with each WordPress install. All you need to do is install and setup WordPress like you normally would. After that, you just need to enable the multisite feature.

You can also enable multisite feature on any existing WordPress site. Before you enable multisite, don’t forget to create a complete backup of your WordPress site.

To enable Multisite, connect to your site using a FTP client or cPanel file manager, and open the wp-config.php file for editing.

You need to add the following code to your wp-config.php file just before the /* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */ line.

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

Now save and upload your wp-config.php file back to the server.

This code simply enables multisite feature on your WordPress site. You would still need to setup multisite, and how you want to use it.

Setting up Your WordPress Multisite Network

Now that you have successfully enabled the Multisite Network feature on your WordPress site, it is time to set up your network.

Before you do that, you will need to deactivate all plugins on your WordPress site.

Visit Plugins » Installed Plugins page and select all plugins. From ‘Bulk Actions’ drop down menu select ‘Deactivate’ and then click on the ‘Apply’ button.

Deactivate all plugins

You can now head over to Tools » Network Setup page to configure your multisite network.

WordPress multisite network setup

On the network setup screen, you will see a notice that you need Apache’s mod_rewrite module installed on your server. This module is installed and enabled on all best WordPress hosting providers.

The next thing you need to do is to tell WordPress what kind of domain structure you will be using for sites in your network, e.g. Subdomains or Sub-directories.

After that you would need to provide a title for your network and make sure that the email address in the Network admin email is correct.

Lastly, click on the install button to continue.

WordPress will now show you some code that you need to add to your wp-config.php and .htaccess file.

Add code to wp-config and .htaccess files

Use your FTP client or file manager cPanel to copy and paste the code in these two files.

After that you will need to login to your WordPress site again.

Configuring Network Settings

Now that you have setup the multisite network, it is time to configure network settings.

To do that, you need to switch to the ‘Network Dashboard’ to change network settings, add new sites, and configure other settings.

When you take your mouse over to the ‘My Sites’ menu in the admin toolbar, a flydown popup will appear. Click on the Network Admin » Dashboard.

Network admin dashboard

You will notice that there are new menu items to manage your multisite network. You will also see a dashboard widget allowing you to create new site and add new users.

Network dashboard

To configure network settings, click on the ‘Settings’ link in the admin sidebar.

The first option on network settings page is to set your site title and admin email address. These fields will be filled with the network title and admin email you entered during setup.

Network settings

Opening Your Multisite Network for Registrations

The ‘Registration Settings’ section on the network settings screen is probably the most important setting in your network setup.

By default, both user and site registrations are disabled on the network.

You can choose to open your site for user registration, or allow existing users to create new sites, or allow both user and site registration.

WordPress multisite registration settings

If you are opening your multisite network to registration, then you can check the box next to ‘Registration Notification’ option to receive email notifications every time a new user or site is registered.

If you want to allow individual site administrators the ability to add new users on their sites, then you can check the box next to ‘Add New Users’ option.

Registration options

Limited Email Registration option allows you to limit site or user registration to email addresses from specific domains. This is particularly useful if you only want to allow people from your own organization to register and create users or sites.

Similarly, you can also ban certain domains from registration.

New Site Settings

The ‘New Site Settings’ section allows you to configure default options for new sites created on your network. You can modify the welcome emails and the contents of first default post, page, and comment.

New site settings

Upload Settings for Your Multisite Network

It is important for you to keep an eye on the usage of the server resources. Under the Upload Settings section, you can limit the total amount of space a site can use for uploads.

The default value is 100 MB which is probably good for at least 100 photo uploads. You can increase or decrease this space depending on how much disk space you have.

Upload settings

The default upload file types are images, audio, video, and pdf files. You can add additional file types if you want, e.g. doc docx odt.

Lastly, you can choose a file size limit, so that users can’t upload insanely large files to the server.

Plugin Menu Settings

Under the menu settings, you will find the option to enable administrative menu for the plugins section on the network sites.

Enabling this will show plugins menu to respective site admins. They can activate or deactivate a plugin on their individual sites, but they cannot install new plugins.

Show or hide plugins menu to site admins

Adding New Sites to Your WordPress Multisite Network

To add a new site to your WordPress multisite, simply click on Sites under My Sites » Network Admin menu in the admin toolbar.

Adding new sites to your WordPress multisite network

This will show you a list of sites on your current multisite installation. By default, you have your primary site listed as the only site in your WordPress Multisite network.

To add a new site, click on the Add New button at the top.

Add new site

On the ‘Add New Site’ page, you need to provide the site’s address. You don’t need to type the full address, just the part you want to use as subdomain or sub-directory.

After that provide a site title, and add the site admin’s email address.

Adding new site details

You can add an admin email address other than the one you are currently using to manage your multisite.

If the email address is not currently in use by another user, then WordPress will create a new user and send the password and username to the email address you enter.

Once you are done, click on the ‘Add Site’ button.

A new site will be added to your multisite network. As the network admin, you will receive a new site registration email.

If you created a new user, then that user will receive an email with instructions to set password and login.

Adding Themes and Plugins to Your Multisite Network

By default, individual site administrators in a multisite network cannot install themes and plugins on their own.

As the network admin, you can install plugins and themes and make those themes / plugins available to them.

To add themes, go to My Sites » Network Admin » Themes page.

Installed themes on your WordPress multisite network

Now you will see a list of currently installed themes on your WordPress multisite. You can make a theme available to other sites by clicking on ‘Enable Network’ under that theme. You can also disable a theme by clicking on Disable Network link under the theme.

To add a new theme, you need to click on the ‘Add New’ button at the top and then install a theme like you would normally do.

Once the new theme is installed, you will be able to make it available to other sites on your network.

Similarly, you can install plugins and network activate them by visiting My Sites » Network Admin » Plugins page.

Network activate plugins on a WordPress multisite

Note: If you have enabled Plugins Menu for site admins in the ‘Network Settings’, then site administrators can activate or deactivate installed plugins on their own.

Troubleshooting WordPress Multisite Issues

Most common issues occur due to incorrect configuration of wildcard subdomains. Make sure that your web host supports wildcard subdomains.

Another common issue is that when using WordPress multisite with sub-directories, some users are unable to login to the admin area of their sites after they add the required code in wp-config.php file. To fix this, try replacing

define('SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', false);

line in wp-config.php file with

define('SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', 'false');

One more issue that you may came across is not being able to find the users who registered but didn’t get the activation email. To fix this issue, see our guide on how to find pending unconfirmed users in WordPress.

Later at some point you or another site owner may want to export a site from multisite to its own WordPress install. This can be easily done. For step by step instructions see our guide on how to move a site from WordPress multisite to single install.

We hope this article helped you lean how to install and setup WordPress multisite network. You may also want to see our step by step WordPress security guide to protect and keep your WordPress multisite secure.

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