WordPress multisite is a powerful feature added to WordPress core in WordPress 3.0, which launched in June 2010. It’s called “multisite” because it allows you to create a network of multiple sites that all use the same WordPress installation, so you can manage any number of sites from a single dashboard.

Secondary sites in a WordPress multisite network are either installed as subdomains so the URLs are site2.mainsite.com or in subdirectories so the URLs are mainsite.com/site2. We’ll get into the differences between the two when we get to that part in the tutorial.

Speaking of which, we’re going to go over how to activate WordPress multisite in this post, but first, let’s talk about the various ways developers and average WordPress users use it.

Reasons to Use WordPress Multisite

WordPress multisite is a wonderful feature, and one of the first major features added to WordPress core that helped it become the powerhouse it is today. Despite its power, it can be difficult to understand its significance without knowing the cases in which developers, businesses and organizations use this unique feature. Let’s take a look.

Managing a Network of Sites

This is probably the most popular use case scenario for WordPress multisite. Say you have a school district that needs a website for each individual school or a franchise of stores/restaurants that needs a website for each location. You could purchase a different hosting account for each school and give them domains of “school1.com,” school2.com,” etc., but managing these sites would be a hassle, not to mention expensive. Creating them in a WordPress multisite network gives you the ability to manage all of them in one place. The same goes for businesses that have multiple locations.

Creating a Network of User-Made Sites

The ability to create this type of platform inside of WordPress is a great example of how WordPress multisite has only amplified what WordPress is capable of. The ability to create a network of sites that use the same WordPress installation gives you the ability to allow individual users to create their own “sub” sites on your site. This is what WordPress.com is. WordPress.com is the main site, but every new blog added to it becomes a subdomain on the site.

You can use WordPress multisite to create your own version of this. You can even use it to create something along the lines of Etsy or eBay where each merchant has their own storefront on their own subdomain.

Managing a Network of Client Sites

Do you develop WordPress sites for clients? Do you act as their web host and charge them extra for hosting? You can make your life a little easier by giving yourself a single dashboard to work in when it comes to managing each of these sites.

This isn’t a popular use case for WordPress multisite, and it’s definitely not recommended for developers who have clients that use dedicated web hosts, but it can be useful for some.

Using Multisite for Specific Areas of Your Site

WordPress multisite works best when used to create and manage a network of individual sites, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it on a single site. Say you have an established site, but now you want to expand it with a dedicated support center or knowledge base using a dedicated knowledge base theme. You can enable WordPress multisite in your WordPress installation, create a secondary site with a subdomain of “kb.yoursite.com,” upload a knowledge base theme and build your knowledge base there.

The same goes for themes that come with entire learning management systems built into them. A WordPress multisite network gives you the ability to implement an online school filled with your own courses on your site without having to completely revamp it or rely on a third-party service, such as Udemy.

Now that you know why WordPress multisite is useful, let’s get into how to enable it. We’ll also go over key concepts of WordPress multisite, such as deciding between subdomains and subdirectories.

How to Enable WordPress Multisite

You’ll need to have knowledge on how to access your WordPress directory. You can do this if your host uses cPanel. Just open cPanel, and find the File Manager app under Files. You can also use an FTP program, such as FileZilla. Just remember your WordPress installation can typically be found under the root directory named “public_html.”

The first step is for serious developers only. If you want your WordPress installation to have its own directory, create it before you enable WordPress multisite.

The first step for everyone is to simply define WordPress multisite in your installation’s wp-config.php file. Open your site’s root directory (“public_html”). If you see folders named “wp-content” and “wp-admin,” you’re in the right place.

Open the wp-config.php file in your favorite text editor. I’m using Brackets in the screenshots throughout this tutorial. Add this line above the “That’s all, stop editing!” line. You can also use “/* */” to add a description of what the line means as I’ve done in the screenshot below. This is optional, however. All you really need to do is add this line to the file:

define( ‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true );

Enable WordPress Multisite

Save the file once you’ve added the line. Open the WordPress admin area of your site, or refresh it if it’s already open. There should be a new item called “Network Setup” under the Tools menu. Click it.

Subdomains vs Subdirectories

Before you install multisite, you need to need choose whether your secondary sites will have subdomains or subdirectories. Subdomains and subdirectories differ greatly, and the one you decide to go with should coincide with the reason you’re using WordPress multisite in the first place. Here’s an example of a subdomain:

  • site2.mainsite.com

“site 2” is a subdomain, and “mainsite.com” is the domain for the site. Search engines are going to treat your subdomain as a separate site that differs from your main site, so it’s best to use subdomains for multisite networks whose sites are meant to be separate anyway (school districts, franchise locations, user-created sites).

Here’s an example of a subdirectory:

  • mainsite.com/site2

“mainsite.com,” again, is the domain while “site2” is a subdirectory. It’s installed in your WordPress installation’s root folder, so it acts as a path to your domain’s URL rather than an entirely separate domain. If you’re enabling WordPress multisite on an established site and you want content added to your secondary site(s) to help rank your domain in search engines, you’ll want to use a subdirectory.

Unfortunately, if your WordPress installation is more than a month old, you won’t be able to use subdirectories as it’ll cause too many issues with the existing permalinks you have. You’ll be restricted to subdomains.

Once you’ve decided between subdomains and subdirectories, enter a name for your network, enter your email, and click Install.

Adding the Finishing Touches

Lastly, we need to copy and paste the code that’s provided our wp-config.php and .htaccess files. If you read the message above the first box, you’ll notice it instructs you to add the code to your wp-config.php file. Go back to the file in your text editor, and add that bit of code after the first line we added but before the “That’s all, stop editing!” text.

Enable WordPress Multisite Network

Next, open your .htaccess file. This should be in the root folder as well. If you don’t see it, make sure the file manager you’re using is set to make hidden files viewable. Once you access the file, delete all of the code that’s there, and paste the code provided to you in the second box. Save the file once you’re done.

WordPress Multisite - .htaccess File

That’s it! The network may log you out, but all you need to do is log back in to start using your new WordPress multisite network. You’ll see a new option called “My Sites,” which you can use to manage the sites in your network.

WordPress Multisite Dashboard

Let’s learn how to create a secondary site before we wrap up with this tutorial.

Creating Secondary Sites in a WordPress Multisite Network

Hover over the My Sites menu item in the top bar, hover over Network Admin, and click Sites. Click Add New on the next page.

The next step is more or less straightforward. Enter the actual text you want to use for your subdomain or subdirectory. If I were creating a support site for ThemeFurnace, I’d simply enter “support” or “knowledgebase” or “kb” in this field, so the URLs would be “support.themefurnace.org,” “knowledebase.themefurnace.org” or “kb.themefurnace.org.” Think of something that looks good when used in your site’s URL.

Enter a title for your site after that, and enter your email address. Click Add Site to create the secondary site.

Create Secondary Site

Now, when you hover over My Sites, you’ll see admin privileges displayed for your new site, such as being able to access its dashboard or latest posts.

WordPress Multisite - Secondary Site - Dashboard

That’s it! We’ll talk about what your next steps should be in the wrap up.

Final Thoughts

WordPress multisite is a useful feature that’s easy to enable once you know the steps. Creating secondary sites is also easy, but it doesn’t end there. There are a few things you’ll need to learn, such as how to install and activate network-wide themes and plugins as well as how to install and activate them on individual sites. If you’re going to let users create their own sites, you’ll also need to familiarize yourself with how user roles, specifically the admin user role, works in a multisite environment. Lastly, you’ll need to ensure every theme and plugin you intend to use network wide is compatible with WordPress multisite.

No matter what your reason for enabling WordPress multisite is, we have a few theme collections you may find useful:

About The Author

Oliver Dale is the founder of Kooc Media, an online company which has been working with WordPress since 2009. He has written hundreds of posts about WordPress in that time and founded two theme companies which provide free and paid themes to millions of users.

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