WordPress Multisite Installation: A blog network in just a few steps

Multisite is one of the most powerful WordPress tools. It allows you to manage multiple blogs centrally, or to implement multilingual projects. The setup is much less complicated than you might think – provided you take some basic points into consideration.

Multisite is a WordPress standard function, but needs to be activated separately. Once configured, it will allow you to implement any number of standalone WordPress instances (sites), which are then centrally managed. The individual sites can be called up via sub-domains or sub-directories.

What is special about this tool: Individual plugins and even themes can be installed separately for each site, while others apply to the entire multisite. The choice is yours.

Installing Multisite: Examples

Possible use cases for a Multisite installation would be:

  • You operate a network of similar blogs with one admin interface. The maintenance of WordPress and central plugins or themes will then be done centrally. If you want to use specific plugins for individual blogs or WordPress shops in your network, then you can do so at any time.

    Important: A Multisite installation would not really be very beneficial for the hosting of completely different projects on different domains. The feature was designed for pages that are similar in structure – marketpress.de and marketpress.com, for example, run via a Multisite installation.

  • You want to give one area of your WordPress page (a sub-domain, sub-directory, or even the blog of an associated top level domain) a different design and theme? For example for differently designed landing pages that are operated in parallel with the regular blog? Not a problem with Multisite.
  • Our free plugin MultilingualPress will allow you to implement multilingual projects on Multisite basis, with many advantages in comparison with other solution approaches.
    MarketPress Multisite Languages
    Our multilingual portal is also based on Multisite – which can be operated using a simple “switch” (top right)

Configuring Multisite

An important note before we start: Multisite itself is quickly created. But not all providers support a trouble-free installation. If you want to migrate an existing live system to Multisite, you should definitely try it out first using a test domain or a separate test system.

As a first step, your WordPress installation must be prepared for Multisite. Enter the line

define('WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true);

in the file wp-config.php (you will find it in the WordPress main directory) directly above the line “That’s all, stop editing!”:

Multisite WordPress define

You will then have to upload the changed file via FTP to the WordPress directory of your web server. When you no w log in to the backend of WordPress, you will see a new menu item called Network Setup in the sidebar on the left under Tools.

Important: During the configuration process, some unwanted side effects might occur – depending on your WordPress installation – which means that some plugins or your complete site might no longer work. That is why it is absolutely essential to create a complete backup of your WordPress database and all files, before you proceed with the following steps. This tutorial shows you how to revert to a backup version if things go horribly wrong.

Right, let’s get started:

  1. Deactivate all active plugins (under Plugins → Select All → Select Action → Deactivate).
  2. Go to Tools → Network Setup. Decide, whether your sites should be called up via sub-domains or via sub-directories. In case of a multilingual project, the sub-pages would then be accessible via en.yourblog.com or www.yourblog.com/en. Caution: The settings you make here can not be undone at a later stage.

    Important: For Multisite to function, you must have the module mod_rewrite installed in your hosting package or on your server. You will additionally need a Wildcard DNS entry if you want to use sub-domains. This entry will only rarely be available, and especially not in simple hosting packages. Make sure to clarify its availability with your provider beforehand.

    Tip: As we have already mentioned before, you also have the option of assigning a separate domain to each site (yourblog.de for the German language site, and yourblog.com for the English one, etc.). See also these instructions (in German).

  3. You may have to change the Network Title and the Admin Email-Address. Both only have internal or administrative purposes.
  4. Once you click Install, you will receive some rules that match your specific installation. These you will have to add to your wp-config.php and .htaccess files on your server. Create a backup of these files via FTP before you make any changes! Where necessary, ask your provider how you can create a .htacess file.

    Important: Add the wp-config rules after the command “WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE”. Any pre-existing WordPress rewrite rules contained in your current .htacess file will have to be overwritten.

When you now go to your WordPress dashboard, you will be asked to log in again. That’s all you have to do – welcome to your Multisite!

Working with Multisite – Adding New Sites

If everything went according to plan, then you will see the new menu item My Sites in the menubar of the backend. Here you can call up and manage the individual sites and your own central installation – more about that in a bit. All main functionalities are furthermore accessible via the left sidebar in the main dashboard. That is where you click Sites → Add New to add a new site. For example, the English language sub-site in a sub-directory /en/.

The new sub-blog will appear in the backend as a new entry under My Sites. That is where you can also call up the relevant sub-dashboard. Within the sub-dashboards you can now create an entirely individual design for your new site or blog:

  • As before, go to Design → Themes to specify an individual appearance for the site. This will not as much be the case in a multilingual project, but it is a hugely helpful feature for blog networks.
  • You can also use the Plugins section to install plugins that will only be applied to all the /en/ sub-sites.
  • The design specified for the central blog or central dashboard will be automatically applied, unless you activate a separate theme for the sub-blog.
  • Any plugins activated in the central dashboard will similarly apply for all sub-blogs. In other words: you will only have to install plugins for individual sub-sites that should only be applied there.

Are you getting an idea of how powerful a tool Multisite really is? By the way: you can return to your central dashboard at any time via My Sites → Network Admin → Dashboard.

Multisite-capable Plugins and Security

It may take you a little bit of getting used to working with the Multisite Central Dashboard and the various sub-sections. With a little bit of practice, things will get real easy real quick. Then you can start thinking about what other plugins would be helpful to add where.

Important: Not all plugins can be installed for use across the entire network. In particular if you are thinking about some license-based, paid plugins, you should make sure that they support Multisite by either reading the description or asking the developer.

Once set up correctly, Multisite will save you a lot of work and time in the management of your individual sub-blogs. However, don’t forget: The more sites you tie together to be administered centrally, the greater the damage if your portal gets hacked. Good protection against external attacks, e.g. a server login or similar activities, is therefore hugely important.

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Editor at MarketPress. Passionate blogger, corporate blog expert and book author (e.g. "Blog Boosting"). Co-organizer of WP Camp Berlin.

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