Did you know you can run multiple WordPress websites from just one WordPress installation? If this sounds like something you might be interested in doing then WordPress Multisite is a feature of WordPress you should take a closer look at.

Not many have heard of this feature of WordPress, or really know what is for and what it is capable of. However, by the time you’ve read this guide, not only will you be fully aware of the potential uses for this feature, but you will know how to quickly activate it on your own WordPress installation.

Multisite Admin

What is WordPress Multisite?

Although this powerful feature of WordPress requires a few little tweaks of the system files to be activated, it has been a part of each standard installation of WordPress since version 3.0. Before then it was a separate application called WordPress MU. Despite coming with WordPress for many years now, many people still don’t know much about it. So what exactly is WordPress Multisite?

When it comes to explaining what WordPress Multisite is, it’s a good idea to give an example of it in use. The best example would have to be WordPress.com, the free service where users can sign up and create their own blog, hosted by WordPress.com

Each blog is created as a subdomain of wordpress.com with an address like myblog.wordpress.com. Each site can have its own theme, content and plugins which is just how it works when you install WordPress Multisite.

Although wordpress.com has chosen to use subdomains for each new blog that is created, you could use subdomains or sub-directories from the main domain such as wordpress.com/myblog. You can even map each WordPress installation to its own domain to mask the fact that it is part of a Multisite network. To find out how, keep on reading.

How to add a new WordPress site

What Happens When you Activate WordPress Multisite?

When you complete the few simple steps it takes to activate WordPress Multisite, which we will get to soon, a new user role is created which is known as Super Admin. The Super Admin user has access to the newly activated Network Admin dashboard.

From there the Super Admin user can then create new sites which will be part of the multisite network. They can then access all of the sub-sites, doing so in the role of regular Administrator. The Super Admin can also create user accounts for each of the sub-sites and the network itself.

Super Admin User

The Super Admin also has the ability to install plugins and themes through the Network Admin dashboard which can be Network Activated or Network Enabled, making them available to the other sites that are part of the Multisite network.

Network Activate Plugins

If a plugin or theme is not required for use by every site in the network, the Super Admin user can simply access individual sites from the Network Admin dashboard and then install, activate or remove them as required.

It is worth noting that not all plugins are compatible with Multisite so if you have any essential plugins, check their status before proceeding.

Why Use WordPress Multisite?

Once WordPress Multisite is enabled, you can create multiple new WordPress installation under your initial installation, which you or the Super Admin user has control over. Some examples of why you might want to use WordPress Multisite include:

  • A teacher who wanted to give their students access to their own WordPress blog which they can have full control over. This could be for school projects that involve keeping a diary, college assignments for learning to create plugins or individual portfolio sites for design classes. As the Super Admin user has control over the sites, they can include school branding on sites, restrict the use of certain plugins and simplify the process of creating a blog.
  • A webmaster with multiple sites, either their own or client sites, could benefit from using WordPress Multisite as they can keep all the installed plugins and themes up-to-date from one dashboard as well as make any changes to content in a quick and convenient way. As the individual sub-sites can be mapped to their own domains, visitors never need know they are viewing a website that is part of a multisite network. To map individual sites to their own domains, the free WordPress MU Domain Mapping plugin is required.
  • Creating templates for other sites can make the life of a web designer much easier as they can quickly apply a template to a fresh WordPress installation which contains their stock pages, plugins and content. Multisite can do all this and for people selling off-the-shelf web design packages, it can really speed up their workflow.
  • Web designers can work on a multisite version of WordPress in privacy before it is ready to be shown to the client for comment. Once the site is finished and signed off, it can be migrated over to the client’s domain and hosting service.
  • Programmers and developers could benefit from having a test environment that they can work in without running the risk of damaging their main WordPress installation. Using a plugin like WP Multisite Replicator allows the Super Admin user to quickly clone one of the multisites, creating a replica that can be used for testing plugins, tweaking the design and generally messing about in without any serious consequences (within reason).
  • Building a community around your main site can be aided by using WordPress Multisite. By allowing your readers to create their own WordPress installation, under the banner of your website, you can keep your fans coming back time and time again and allow them to ‘buy into’ your brand. A plugin like Gravity Forms User Registration Add-On simplifies the process for users to create their own site, and you can even integrate it with PayPal to charge people for creating their own site.

As you can see there are a number of good uses for Multisite. Its ability to allow you to update and maintain many seemingly separate sites from one dashboard is its main selling point so if you find yourself in that position, Multisite is well worth a look.

It is worth pointing out that hosting multiple WordPress sites from low-performance budget webhosting could cause problems with the speed and accessibility of those sites. If in doubt, contact your host before setting up a fully-fledged WordPress Multisite network and find out what their Terms of Service are and whether they recommend an upgraded hosting package to handle the extra load.

How to Activate WordPress Multisite

Although WordPress Multisite has been bundled with WordPress since version 3.0, turning it on, or activating it, isn’t as simple as changing a setting in the dashboard. However, it is a pretty simple process and if all goes well, could take you less than five minutes.

There are a number of things you need in order to complete the process and they include:

  • Admin access to a self-hosted WordPress installation
  • Cpanel Access or FTP access to your hosting and the directories of the WordPress installation
  • The ability to edit the wp-config.php and .htaccess files in the root of the WordPress installation (either by downloading them using FTP or via the Cpanel)

Full up-to-date instruction can be found on the wordpress.org website on this page covering how to create a network.

However, when I activated Multisite on my blog which was hosted by HostGator, on a shared hosting account, I found there was a step missing from the instructions which I had to take. After step 1, which covers creating a backup, I had to create a new directory in the root directory of my WordPress installation called ‘blogs.dir’. Once created, I moved onto step 2 and was able to follow the installations and activate WordPress Multisite.

WordPress Multisite with Hostgator Shared Hosting

If you can’t turn on WordPress Multisite and are using HostGator or shared hosting, this missing step could be the solution.

Hopefully you are now fully aware of WordPress Multisite and what it could do for you. For some users it could even replace the use of costly WordPress management services saving you time and money in the process. If you have any questions about this feature please leave a comment below.


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Joe has been using WordPress for many years and spends his time creating content for a wide range of websites and blogs. If you need compelling content for your blog, visit his freelance services portfolio now.