If you’ve been around WordPress for any length of time, you’ve probably heard people talking about WordPress Multisite. It’s a term I started hearing almost immediately after I became involved with WordPress, but it sounded really complicated so I told myself it would be something I check into “later”. Once I started actually investigating it, it turned out that wasn’t the case at all.
I imagine the situation may the same for many of you. Multisite is actually incredibly useful (and easy!) if you fall into the niche use case where it can be of service to you. It’s embedded right there in WordPress already so it’s very accessible, and it can seriously change the way you manage your organization’s web presence. If you belong to an organization that needs to manage multiple related websites, and are handling this by literally using a separate website for each one, it is a tool well worth your time to get familiar with. Read on and find out!
What is WordPress Multisite?
If you’ve been with WordPress for a while now, you might remember a piece of software called WordPress MU, or multi-user. Up until the launch of WordPress 3.0 in 2010, MU was a standalone version of WordPress that allowed for one “superadmin” to govern multiple other virtual WordPress websites from the single WordPress MU installation. Each website under MU could be parceled out to different users as their own WordPress website, under the central control of the superadmin.
With the launch of WordPress 3.0, MU was merged into WordPress core. It retained the same functionality, but was renamed Multisite. As it exists today, this feature is something that you can enable in your WordPress Dashboard with a small amount of file editing in your installation.
How is a Multisite Installation Different?
In form, a Multisite installation isn’t going to look a lot different than a normal WordPress installation. There are really only 3 key differences:
- wp-config.php will have a couple extra lines inserted that activates the Multisite functionality
- wp-content/uploads will contain folders related to each site in the Multisite installation.
- Expanded database tables. An out-of-the-box WordPress installation has 11. Some of these tables are duplicated for each additional site within Multisite.
In function, the need for localized management of each individual site is reduced. Instead, core site management is handed over to a new role, the “Super Administrator”, or superadmin. The superadmin has full permissions to alter anything on any site, and he/she alone has the highest level permissions normally held by an individual site’s admin. While each site of the Multisite still has an admin, their permissions to alter the site are limited. This means:
- Plugins and themes are managed centrally for each site by the superadmin alone.
- Updates are handled by the superadmin and only have to be run once to update all Multisite sites.
- A new dashboard, the Network Admin Dashboard, is added that is accessible to the superadmin only. From here the superadmin can manage setting across the entire Multisite.
Would Multisite Benefit Me?
That depends! If you’re managing just fine right now on a single site delegating roles, then no. Multisite would be overkill. If you do work for clients sites that need to be hosted separately or have a unique IP, Multisite isn’t for you. If your clients need to be able to add and remove their own themes and plugins, Multisite’s a miss. If you are on a shared host and don’t want to upgrade to a VPS or dedicated server, you probably can’t handle Multisite. So, when is it beneficial? Let’s look at some possible scenarios:
- You’re setting up a business, college, or similar website where multiple departments need their own space.
- You want a common platform for multiple users to network together while retaining each user’s autonomous space, like a high school’s teacher portal.
- You have an organization with locations in different areas, and want a separate site for each branch.
- You need to effectively administrate a network of related blogs.
- You want to present your website in different languages (mirrors of the same site but with each Multisite installation in a different language- thanks Ben P for the idea!)
So that’s WordPress Multisite in a brief synopsis. Converting can save your organization time and money if your use case falls into one of the categories we just covered. If not, there are always plugins like InfiniteWP, MainWP, or ManageWP that will help you manage multiple WordPress sites using different hosts, unique IPs, or other factors that might rule out Multisite as an option. If you think Multisite’s for you though, keep an eye out for a walkthrough on getting it setup, coming soon to wpninjas.com!