Going WordPress Multisite!

OK, no, so mycytadel.com.hr did in fact not go multisite today because I found out that converting a site older than 24 hours to Multisite makes mandatory the use of subdomains for network sites, and mycytadel.com.hr is a rather clunky domain to build subdomains on… but I am getting ahead of myself.

What is “WordPress Multisite”. And why.

WP Multisite is an option inside WordPress that allows you to use a single installation of WordPress to power multiple blogs or web sites. How many? Infinitely! wordpress.com, the Multisite that powers my dyvokoza mountaineering blog currently hosts cca 40 million sites.

The main benefits of using WordPress Multisite:

  •  requires a lot less disk space than installing different WordPress installations for every site or blog since all the themes and plugins are stored just once
  • updates, plugin and theme installations are executed from one place for all the sites which simplifies maintenance and control of numerous sites

The plugins and themes situation

Themes and plugins can be installed by the Network Uber Admin only. Networked sites can turn them on and off, but are not allowed to install their own. This is beneficial if you are allowing other people to create their own blogs and web sites on your Network, because it prevents them from installing insecure and poorly developed plugins and themes.

The drawback here is that you don’t want to be experimenting too much with the code, so obviously if you are creating a site with theme or plugin development or hacking in mind, Multisite is not the way to go.

I myself have found that I can definitely use Multisite to create some external web sites to try out new ideas and just play around with design.  Maybe even let my friends create their own web sites while saving some serious web space!

So, let me share my experience of setting it up and making it operational.

Where to start??

Normally, I would suggest learning how things work in detail. 

For this, I recommend reading the awesome Ultimate Guide to WordPress Multisite by Rachel McCollin to get acquainted with the power of Multisite and detailed methods of implementing it.

However, do keep reading this blog because I am about to address some specific hurdles you will encounter on the way which are not very well explained in the provided link. So let us start at the beginning:

Subdomains vs Folders driven Multisite

The first order of business when converting an existing WordPress installation to a Multisite one is to make a choice between using subdomains or folders as “locations” for your  networked web sites.

The tangible difference here is in what the url for each site will look like. Assuming you want to add a networked site with movie reviews called Pettigrew Reviews:

  • if you choose folders, it will be something like mycytadel.com.hr/petigrew-reviews
  • if you opt for subdomains, it will be pettigrew-reviews.mycytadel.com.hr

Using subdomains looks more professional and I’d say it is a go-to solution if your networked sites are to be thematically and otherwise independent from each other, if they’re owned by different people etc.

Folders look gives you a bit of an advantage if your sites are thematically linked. If you are a large store with a separate web site for each “section” addresses like these might come in handy: hugestore.com/tech, hugestore.com/food-n-drinks, hugestore.com/tools etc.

of course, all your domains can be redirected to an actual domain, so this is really just cosmetics.

However you don’t always have a choice: if you are converting a web site older than 24 hours, you must use subdomains. There is a good reason for that, but for now, just know that this is going to be the case if you have an older WordPress installation.

This is why I quickly opted out from using Multisite on mycytadel.com.hr web site: the subdomain addresses would look way too clunky with  all the dots and appendixes. For me this was important because I knew beforehand wasn’t going to create domains and redirects for every playground web site I make.

Instead, I chose my other, huskydesigns.net WordPress installation for a more elegant look and maybe a bit of a more promotional feel, if I ever get my web design into anything more than just a pass time.

So let’s get into it:

Step one: Set up your subdomains

Once you decide to switch to Multisite with subdomains the first thing should be to check if your hosting provider allows creation of a wildcard subdomain.

The wildcard subdomain allows the automatic creation of subdomains for each of your networked sites. This means that you do not have to manually create a subdomain for each web site. They will be added automatically the moment you create a new networked site.

The wildcard subdomain is a subdomain with a name *. For huskydesigns.net, the wildcard subdomain I created is *.huskydesigns.net. And now, this is the super important bit:

The wildcard subdomain must point to the root folder of the WordPress installation that powers the Mutlisite.

This cost me a bit of head scratching. When I originally set up my WordPress Multisite I was getting 404 and 500 errors and I could create, but not access my web sites.

Once that I figured out I needed to set up a wildcard domain, it took a bit of tinkering to figure out where to point it at: it’s the root folder of your WordPress installation, where your .htaccess and wp-config.php files are. If subdomain creation adds or creates additional folders inside your file structure, you’re doing it wrong.

Wildcard subdomain creation in cpanel

Note that not all hosting providers allow creation of subdomains or wildcard subdomains, at least not for free.

You can create subdomains manually, too, and have them each point to the same folder – the root folder of your main WordPress installation. But that’s not the right way about it, and it’s likely going to get broken sometimes in the future.

If your hosting provider doesn’t allow creation of wildcard domains under conditions you’re ready to accept, consider starting with a fresh installation of WordPress, using folders and redirecting addresses to “real” domains, or switching to another provider.

Enabling the Multisite option

Now to the easy stuff: enabling the Multisite on your WordPress installation is a very simple process. 

If you’re installing WordPress just now, you can actually just check the “Enable WPU Multisite option” and it’s going to be enabled as soon as your 3-minute install is done.

If you already have an existing WP installation, you’re going to need access to your .htacces and your wp-config.php files to make required changes.

If you can copy-paste in your .htaccess and wp-config.php files, you’ll have your Multisite up in no time.

The procedure is described in The Ultimate Guide to WordPress Multisite, so I will not expound here. It’s very easy and straightforward, and if you set up your Wildcard domain properly, you should be on your way to creating your new web sites in less than 5 minutes.

I have only one more thing to add:

So how do Themes and Plugins work with this, exaclty?

This could make you pause at a first glance, so let me clarify: Themes and Plugins can be installed by the Network Uber Admin only.

That said, they work a bit different from one another.

The individual web site Administrators may activate and use only the Themes available on the network, ie those the Uber Administrator installed.

As for the plugins, the Uber Administrator has an option to Install, but also to Network Activate individual plugins. Here’s the thing:

  • Installing a plugin makes it available for all the individual web sites to activate or not as they please.
  • Network activating a plugin makes it active on all the individual web sites, without the possibility of shutting it down for an individual site.

How is network activation useful? Well, assume you want all of your sites to up their security by using Jetpack, Akismet, some Loginizer type plugin and a mandatory backup plugin.

That’s it for now. I’m off to explore my Multisite possibilities! And since of course it has to be entirely serious business, here’s the first one: btknittingclub.huskydesigns.net

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