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How to Install and Setup WordPress Multisite Network

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How to Install and Setup WordPress Multisite Network

Many of our users quickly learn to confidently manage multiple WordPress sites on their own. Some even start managing WordPress sites for clients, friends, and family. Recently, one of our users asked us how they can easily install and setup WordPress multisite. They were running multiple WordPress sites on sub-domains and wanted to manage all their sites together. In this article, we will show you how to install and setup WordPress multisite network.

What is WordPress Multisite?

A WordPress multisite network allows you to run and manage multiple WordPress sites from a single WordPress installation. You can create new sites instantly and manage them using the same username and password. You can even allow other users to signup and create their own blogs on your domain.

Pros of using a Multisite Network

1. As the network admin, you can easily administer multiple sites from a single dashboard.

2. Each site can have its own admins with capabilities to manage only their own site.

3. Install plugins and themes on multiple sites with one download.

4. Multisite network also makes it easier for you to manage updates. You only need to update your WordPress, plugins, or themes on one install.

Cons of Using a Multisite Network

1. All the sites on the network share the same resources, so when your site is down, all sites on your network are down.

2. Managing server resources in case of unexpected traffic can be difficult for a beginner level user.

3. If your site gets hacked, then this means all the sites on your network will get hacked.

4. Some WordPress plugins may not work well on a multisite network.

Who Needs a WordPress Multisite Network

Just because you have multiple WordPress installation does not mean that you need to create a multi-site network. You can use services like ManageWP or InfiniteWP to manage multiple different sites.

Creating a multisite network makes sense for:

  • A magazine site with different sections managed by different teams.
  • A business site with sub-sites for different locations and branches
  • Government or non-profit sites can use multisite for different departments, locations, and regions.
  • Your own network of blogs running on multiple subdomains.
  • Schools and colleges allowing students to create their own blogs on school servers

Requirements for a WordPress Multisite Network

The most important thing you will need to run a WordPress multisite network is good WordPress hosting. If you are not planning to create many sites and do not expect many visitors, then you can get away with shared hosting. However due to the nature of multi-sites, you’d probably need a VPS or dedicated server as your sites grow.

We recommend Bluehost because they offer both shared hosting and VPS/Dedicated servers, and they are also one of the official WordPress hosting partners.

We’ve also worked with SiteGround and InMotion Hosting, and they also provide excellent service.

Apart from web hosting, you will need some basic knowledge of installing WordPress and editing files using FTP.

Choosing a Domain Structure for Your Multisite Network

On a WordPress multisite network, you can have your sites installed in either subdomains or sub-directories.

http://site1.example.com
http://example.com/site1/

If you choose subdomains, then you will have to configure wildcard subdomains on your server (we will show you how to do that later in this article).

On the other hand, if you choose sub-directories or path based URLs for subsites on your network, then the only thing you need to do is enable pretty permalinks on your root site.

Setting Up Wildcard Subdomains

Log-in to your web hosting account, and you will land on your cPanel dashboard. You need to scroll down to the domains section and click on Subdomains.

Subdomains in cPanel

On the next screen, you need to enter * sign in the subdomain field and select your main domain from the drop down menu. Cpanel will automatically detect the document root, and it will display it in the field below. Now simply click on the create button to add your wildcard subdomain.

Adding a wildcard subdomain using cPanel

Enabling WordPress Multisite Network Feature

Multisite Network feature comes built-in with each WordPress install. All you need to do is install and setup WordPress like you normally would. Check out our complete WordPress installation guide if you need help.

You can also enable Multisite feature on an existing WordPress site. Before you enable multisite, make sure that you have created a full backup of your WordPress site.

To enable Multisite, you need to access your site using an FTP client or cPanel file manager and open wp-config.php file for editing.

You need to add this line to your wp-config.php file just before the /* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */ line.

/* Multisite */
define( 'WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true );

Save and upload your wp-config.php file back to the server. Now your WordPress site supports multisite network.

Setting up The Network

Now that you have successfully enabled the Multisite Network feature on your WordPress site, it is time to set up your network. Before you do that, first thing you need to do is deactivate all plugins on your site. After that, you need to go to Tools » Network Setup to configure your multisite network.

Network Setup

On the network setup screen, you will see a notice that you need Apache’s mod_rewrite module installed on your server to setup multisite network. This module is installed and enabled on most reputable WordPress hosting providers.

The next thing you need to do is to tell WordPress what kind of domain structure you will be using for sites in your network, e.g. Subdomains or Sub-directories. After that you would need to provide a title for your Network and make sure that the email address in the Network Admin Email is correct. Lastly, click on the install button to continue.

On the next screen, WordPress will show you some rules that you need to add to your wp-config.php and .htaccess file. Use an FTP client to edit those two files and copy paste the code.

Configuring Network Settings

After successfully setting up the Multisite Network, you need to switch to the Network Dashboard to configure network settings, add new sites, and do lots of other things. Take your mouse over to My Sites menu in the admin toolbar, a flydown popup will appear. Click on Network Admin » Dashboard.

Switching to Multisite Network Admin Dashboard

You will notice that there are new menu items to manage your multisite network. You will also see a dashboard widget allowing you to create new site and add new users.

Multisite Network Admin Dashboard in WordPress

To configure Network Settings click on the Settings link in the admin sidebar. On the network settings screen, the first option is to set your site title and admin email address. These fields will be filled with the network title and admin email you entered during the network setup.

Opening Your Multisite Network for Registrations

The Registration Settings section on the network settings screen is probably the most important setting in your network setup. By default, both user and site registrations will be disabled on the network. You can choose to open your site for user registration, or allow existing users to create new sites, or allow both user and site registration.

Registration settings on a WordPress Multisite Network

You can check the box next to Registration Notification to receive email notifications every time a new user or site is registered.

If you want to allow the site administrators the ability to add new users on their sites, then you can check the box next to Add New Users.

Limited Email Registration options will allow you to limit site or user registration to email address from specific domains, then you can add those domains here. This is particularly useful if you only want to allow people from your own organization to register and create users or sites. Similarly you can also ban certain domains from registration.

Limited email domain

New Site Settings

The New Site Settings section on the network settings screen allows you to configure default options for the new sites created on your network. You can modify the welcome emails and the contents of first default post, page, and comment.

New site settings

Upload Settings for Your Multisite Network

It is important for you to keep an eye on the usage of the server resources. Under the Upload Settings section, you can limit the total amount of space a site can use for uploads. The default value is 100 MB which is probably good for at least 100 photo uploads. You can increase or decrease this space depending on how much disk space you have.

Upload settings for sites in the network

The default upload file types are images, audio/video, and pdfs. You can add additional file types if you want, e.g. doc docx odt. Lastly, you can choose a file size limit, so that users can’t upload insanely large files to the server.

Menu Settings

Under the menu settings, you will find the option to enable administrative menu for the plugins section on the network sites. Enabling this will show plugins menu to site admins. They can activate or deactivate a plugin on their individual sites, but they cannot install new plugins.

Enable Plugins menu for site admins

Adding New Sites to Your WordPress Multisite Network

To add a new site to your WordPress multisite, simply click on Sites under My Sites » Network Admin menu in the admin toolbar.

Sites on your multisite WordPress

This will show you a list of sites on your current Multisite installation. By default, you have your primary site listed as the only site in your WordPress Multisite network. To add a new site, click on the Add New button at the top.

Click on Add New to add a new site

On the Add New Site screen, you need to provide the site’s address. You don’t need to type the full address, just the part you want to use as subdomain or sub-directory. After that provide a site title, and add the site’s admin email address.

Adding a New site in WordPress Multisite Network

You can add an admin email address other than the one you are currently using to manage your multisite. If the email address is not currently in use by another user on your site, then WordPress will create a new user and send the password and username to the email address you enter.

Once you are done, click on the Add Site button. A new site will be added to your multisite network. As the network admin, you will receive a new site registration email. If you created a new user, then that user will receive their username and password with instructions to login on the email address you provided.

Adding Themes and Plugins to Your Multisite Network

By default, individual site administrators cannot install themes and plugins on their own. As the network admin, you can install plugins and themes for them and make those themes / plugins available to them. To do that you need to login to your primary site and go to My Sites » Network Admin » Themes.

Multisite Themes

On the Network Admin’s themes screen, you will see a list of currently installed theme on your WordPress multisite. You can make a theme available to other sites by clicking on Enable Network under that theme. Similarly, you can disable a theme by clicking on Disable Network link under the theme.

Enable or Disable themes on Multisite WordPress Network

Similarly you can activate or deactivate a plugin for the whole network from My Sites » Network Admin » Plugins screen. Note that if you have checked the Plugins Menu as available to site admins in the Network Settings, then site administrators can activate or deactivate installed plugins on their own.

Activate or Deactivate plugins on multisite network in WordPress

Troubleshooting WordPress Multisite Issues

Most common issues occur due to incorrect configuration of Wildcard Subdomains. Make sure that your web host supports wildcard subdomains.

Another common issue is that when using WordPress Multisite with sub-directories, some users are unable to login to the admin area of their sites after they add the required code in wp-config.php file. To fix this, try replacing

define('SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', false);

line in wp-config.php file with

define('SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', 'false');.

We hope this article helped you install and setup WordPress multisite network. If you liked this article, then subscribe to our YouTube Channel for more WordPress video tutorials. You can also join us on Google+ and Twitter.


Editorial Staff at WPBeginner is a team of WordPress lovers led by Syed Balkhi. Page maintained by Syed Balkhi.

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  • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Staff

    Thats because you missed a line break or space between / and define. Use it like this:

    /* Multisite */
    define( ‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true );

  • Marco Floriano

    Thank you very much for this amazing tutorial!

  • lime_ice

    Thank you – this was so useful!

  • Greg

    Yes, go to your cPanel and add the sub domain * nothing else and leave it at your root html folder all done

  • Vivienne Eggers

    Hi, I’ve installed multi site and WP multi network and no problem creating sub domains or creating users. But assigning privileges? I assumed that since (Extended Super Users which I have installed also) only removes privileges assigned to a certain role and that role is assigned to an existing user – that ANY new users I set up would default to Super Admin – if I tick the box in settings “assign super admin access to this user”. Great – but I am doing this as the super admin – I’ve created a network, assigned sites, I can delete the site, edit the (sub) domain and path but when I attempt to access the “network admin” area it tells me I don’t have sufficient privileges to access the area. I’m a little confused. I want to create a network, assign sites and assign an admin user name – grant that user “full” privileges to all sites I have assigned in that specific network. I’m happy to do that by removing super admin privileges in a created role – but I’m having issues just creating network and assigning. After creating a network I want to be able to access it also as a Super admin. When I try to access the network via the emailed username and password of the network I set up I can access “my network” dashboard but then get an error message – file not found. Is there somewhere I can access detailed instruction on these steps?

  • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Staff

    Nope, we didn’t. First you need to Allow multisite, after that you need to run the network setup. After you have run the setup. Depending on what options you choose during the setup WordPress will show you the code that needed to be entered in the wp-config.php file. The line you mentioned is one of the lines provided by WordPress after the setup and it can be different if a user opted for sub-directories instead of subdomains.

  • http://gkkk04.wordpress.com karma_musings

    I’ve converted a single site installation into a multisite, following both your directions here and the WordPress Codex. However, every time I try to go to the dashboard of a newly added subsite (myexample.mainsite.org) the browser response is that it can’t be found. I’ve gone over the instructions several times and replayed what I did, but I can’t figure out why this is happening. Shouldn’t the default theme have been automatically assigned to my new site? and shouldn’t I be able to start editing my new site from there? I did, as my first step, go to my host’s cPanel and set up the subdomain wildcard; before that even, I contacted the host to verify that my hosting situation (shared hosting) would support a multisite situation.

    Ideas? I appreciate it, thanks!

    • http://www.wpbeginner.com/ WPBeginner Staff

      Please contact your web host to make sure that they allow you to create wild card subdomains.