The Complete Guide To WordPress Multisite

WordPress Multisite is like a mystical being too many. Confusing, complex and with no idea how it works. Multisite doesn't need to be complicated, though; it's actually rather simple once you get the hang of it.


What Is WordPress Multisite?

WordPress Multisite is just that; multiple WordPress-powered sites in one install. Allowing you to run a network of sites from one install with a network admin area to manage sites, users, plugins, themes, and settings. Some plugins you'll use have particular "network" settings when you install them affecting the entire network as a whole.

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You may see WordPress Multisite referred to as WPMS or WPMU, neither of which is correct.

WordPress Multisite used to be known as "WordPress Multi-User, " and some abbreviate WordPress Multisite to WPMS. WordPress Multisite has never officially been recognized as "WPMS" and shouldn't be referred to as such to save confusion.

So what can you actually do with a Multisite? Some people use WordPress Multisite as it's only one instance of WordPress to update. When WordPress updates, you don't have to go to each of your sites and update individually. Just hit Update in your WordPress network admin, hit update and you're done! Couldn't be simpler. Maybe you want to be the next Wix? Use a WordPress Multisite, one of the popular page builders and charge your users for creating a site on your network. Perhaps you're a teacher and want to run a WordPress Multisite so each student can have their own website. There are plenty of uses for WordPress multisite; it's finding the one that fits you best.


How WordPress Multisite Differs from a single site.

A WordPress Multisite usually runs from one database, one hosting provider. That means that every time you create a new site on your multisite network new tables are created within the database prefixed by the blog id. There are plugins that can split the databases up allowing you to specify a specific blog to run on a database instance of it's own. The type of plugins that offer this functionality are hit and miss and best and (unless you really know what you're doing) are often much more hassle than their worth. If you need separate databases for each site, you should be questioning your decision to use WordPress Multisite in the first place.

Unlike a single instance of WordPress when you use Multisite, any plugins and themes are shared across the entire site.

This means you can't specify that a plugin should only be for one site. All sites on the network have access to any theme or plugin on the network. This is for Multisite "out the box." There are plugins that can offer functionality to restrict plugins and themes to specific sites only. Because of this the individual site admin also can't upload plugins or themes. Instead, it's controlled by the "Network Admin" or "Super Admin" as commonly referred to.


Installing WordPress Multisite

Installing Multisite is a reasonably straightforward and simple process and is covered perfectly by the documentation here.


Subdomains or Subdirectories?

A common dilemma amongst those who use Multisite. Should you set your network up to run subdomains or subdirectories? One thing you'll want to consider is the purpose of the Multisite. If it's a hosted web solution and you're charging clients for creating their own sites, you'll most likely want to go subdomains. Why? Simple; subdomains are seen as separate domains by Google and won't have any SEO impact on your main domain neither will the sub domain benefit from any SEO already on your main domain. You don't want to get blacklisted because of something stupid a client does.

Subdirectories, on the other hand, do benefit from the SEO on your main domain and are seen as the same site by Google and other search engines. Useful if you're trying to split up your company website into separate sections or similar as you won't need to rank the subdirectory based site from scratch.

Other aspects to consider are whether you want to use SSL.

Keep in mind that on multisite if you go with subdomains you'll need to purchase what's known as a "Wildcard SSL certificate."

A Wildcard SSL allows you to say anything on * should be secure including If you purchased a standard SSL certificate, you'd only actually get protection for "" and any subdirectories. Anything such as would receive an invalid certificate warning.

Which one should you pick then? If it's client related or you're selling subsites always use subdomains. Personal or an internal network of business blogs, student blogs or otherwise. Choose whichever one you want but subdirectories would be perfectly valid for that use case.


When not to use Multisite

Too many people default to believing Multisite is the one and all solution for everything. Finding all those separate installs a page to manage? Go to Multisite! You may think. Wrong. Multisite isn't always the best way and should be used with caution and only when you have a solid plan in place for what you want to do. Here are just a few pitfalls and reasons why Multisite may not be suitable for what you need.

  • You're developing websites for clients that all need their own IP address, database and access - You can't have each install with it's own IP address on Multisite, additionally the client can never manage the plugins or themes as only the network admin can. All these factors can be very limiting to any business and may make a Multisite solution a no-go.
  • You need to copy regularly and move sites - While you can export sites from a Multisite network, it's not overly straightforward and will cause you a headache upon a headache.
  • You need to backup your site daily using a plugin - There are a few backup plugins that work on multisite, but not always as you expect. Most can't individual backup sites and instead backup the whole network. So what if you want to restore just one site? Yeah you can't.
  • You have a mission critical site with high traffic - Remember earlier how I said that it's one database? That isn't over easy to scale. Making it complex if you have a site that starts getting a lot of traffic or will get a lot of traffic from the off, you'd be better with a single site install to optimize that one site.
  • Security - Different industries have various security requirements including HIPPA compliance for the medical sector and PCI compliance. Some of the most basic aspects of these requirements are the site must have an individual secure database, SSL and it's own IP address. Multisite instantly fails on all those factors.

You may be thinking "Wow, this guy hates Multisite" not true. I love Multisite! I used to host my own multisites and even offered a hosted WooCommerce solution. What I try and persuade people against is going with a Multisite for the sake of it. Some are under the illusion it's easier to use or easier to manage. But it's not. If you run a bunch of different single site installs use something like ManageWP.



Multisite is a great tool and some of the largest Multisite's in the world run millions of blogs. Just look at Edublogs and But don't go into multisite thinking it'll be easy. There is a learning curve like with everything, and it isn't always the ideal solution. As long as you're aware of the above, everything will go fine. Do you already use a Multisite install? Maybe you regret using a Multisite install? Let us know in the comments below.

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