Understanding WordPress Multisite

WordPress Multisite is a network administration tool used to manage multiple WordPress blogs and websites. It is a versatile environment that gives Super Admins the tools to administer and control the users, authors and subscribers of multiple websites. It allows the administrators to roll out a wide set of WordPress sites that can be completely different in appearance and functionality. It simplifies backing up and creating databases to store information, as all sites are based on a common code base. An update to the WordPress Multisite code will be reflected on every site, making for a really easy way to keep sites secure and up to date.

There are a few different terms in use for Multisite due to its history, so first let’s have a brief overview on WordPress, WordPress MU and WordPress 3.0.

Overview

Released in 2003, the original WordPress was an open-source CMS (content managing system) that offered free web software for the administration of blogs and websites. Themes could be changed without affecting the content, and sites were mobile ready. Currently, the system has tens of thousands of plugins available for use.

WordPress MU was created for multi-user/multi-blogging WordPress. It allowed each blog administrator to manage templates and settings while restricting the administrator’s ability to add plugins. By establishing a variety of roles for users such as administrator, authors, subscribers, etc., administrators were able to add permissions, users and blogs and administer them all from a single place.

In 2010, WordPress 3.0 was released. It merged WordPress and WordPress MU, and the multi-user abilities are now best known as Multisite.

WordPress Multisite

WordPress Multisite allows a host to have multiple sites under one name while maintaining the same password. It also allows the creator to optimize the website by allowing the website manager to share settings, options, plugins and content code.

WordPress Multisite is great for businesses, freelancers and organizations who manage several websites. It can be used to update the entire network’s code, themes and plugins quickly. The dashboard allows for the complete control of networked websites that are found under one domain or subdomains. There are no limits to how many sites can be added. For example, the WordPress network itself hosts millions of sites, all running from the same codebase.

Another feature is its simplified backup system. Because of the use of a single SQL database, all you need is one common backup so you do not need to back up each website separately. The speed of a WordPress Multisite backup is faster; however, it is not as fast as a standalone website if you only have a single WordPress site.

Should I Use WordPress Multisite?

WordPress Multisite is a valuable network tool for private individuals who want to manage multiple private websites or blogs. It also makes sense for administrators, individuals or companies who manage multiple websites and blogs for other individuals, companies or organizations. It is also good for creating a subscription-based network for blogs and websites. WordPress Multisite saves server space over installing multiple single sites.

However, it is too tedious of a tool for a single blog or website. It also isn’t for clients who need to have individual domains that need to be hosted separately. It shouldn’t be used if databases need to be kept separately for security reasons.

If the individual sites need different IP addresses, vastly different themes and plugins are needed or the sites may need to be moved to another server in the future (the process is harder than a single site), WordPress Multisite may not be the right choice.

You should also check plugin compatibility, because not all plugins are compatible with the Multisite environment. Also, check the server requirements of Multisite to ensure you have everything required.

Installation

A professional network developer can get a WordPress Multisite installation up and running for you. For the individual there are resources online that guide through the installation process. The first is directly from WordPress Codex and the Multisite installation guide from WPBeginner is also popular.

Installing a WordPress Multisite is almost the same as installing a WordPress site. Updating is also similar and themes and plugins are stored so they can be used multiple times. If WordPress MU is currently being used, special instructions need to be followed. Refer to WordPress Codex for these instructions. If you are using a subdomain, remember to have wild card subdomains activated or if you are using a subdirectory remember that it can’t be used on already established sites.

The Super Admin

Once installed, a super admin will need to be created. The super admin will oversee the entire system. Since administrators can change the entire system at the root and dashboard, permissions can be used to restrict unauthorized changes.

Some of the super admin’s duties are creating and managing sites, installing themes, plugins, updates and activating and deactivating themes and plugins. Sites can be created manually, or a plug-in can be installed to allow users to create their own site. The super admin can also install themes and make them available for sites to use.

Network Administration Site Screens

WordPress Multisite has several screens in addition to the traditional single site screens. These are system administrator screens to manage the network. The dashboard also has these additional features. Only a super administrator should have access to this dashboard, installing plugins, etc.

Roles and Capabilities

WordPress Multisite has six user pre-defined roles – a super admin, administrator, editor, author, contributor and subscriber. A super admin manages the entire network and has all capabilities. An administrator has nearly all capabilities including activating, editing, exporting, importing, the ability to read all emails including private pages and posts, etc. Editors can delete, edit, publish and read private pages and posts. An author can delete, edit, publish, read and upload files. A contributor can delete posts, edit posts and read. A subscriber can only read.

With Multisite, WordPress has created a multi-user networking tool that allows a super admin to administer, backup, and control multiple blogs and websites.

Web developer Richard Sutherland has been working with WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and other content management systems for over a decade. Graduating from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Richard has held a number of prominent website development roles at major companies such as Samsung, ASDA and Prudential.

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