A Quick Guide to WordPress Multisite Hosting

Man sitting on couch using laptop on his laptop

If you are responsible for updating multiple websites, the last thing you want to do is hop from one WordPress account to another — logging on and off repeatedly. You want to be able to run all of your sites from one location and WordPress installation. Fortunately, you can with WordPress multisite hosting. 

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • The basics of WordPress Multisite hosting
  • Server requirements to activate WordPress Multisite
  • Domain name, file structure, and database setup differences
  • How to install WordPress Multisite
  • How plugins and themes work with multisite 

What is WordPress Multisite? 

WordPress Multisite lets you run a network of websites from a single instance of WordPress. This means you can access, tweak, and edit multiple websites through one WordPress dashboard. 

Multisite allows you to create a network of sites for blogs for different business units. It also lets you create an extensive network of directories and subdomains, control user accessibility across all your sites, add and delete plugins and themes, and customize each of the sites to better fit your target market’s needs.

Many brands, companies, and developers use WordPress Multisite for simplicity in managing their sites. For example, a university might use multisite to give individual schools or departments control of their site and content while maintaining technical and security control of all sites on the backend. This way, departments can update content like photos or words on their sites without changing the overall brand identity of the site, which is unified for the entire organization.

Requirements for WordPress Multisite Hosting

Before setting up a WordPress Multisite network, you’ll need admin access to your WordPress install and access to your server’s file system. Activating multisite requires editing some files directly instead of through the WordPress interface. 

Your server needs to support more complex .htaccess, nginz.conf, or web.config rules required by multisite. 

Multisite requires: 

  • Mod_rewrite loaded on the Apache server
  • Support for .htaccess files
  • Options FolllowSymLinks enabled or at least not permanently disabled

Multisite URLs, File Structure, and Database Configuration

Multisite WordPress hosting is set up a little differently than single sites. You’ll notice differences in how site URLs are set up, the file structure, and database configuration. 

URL Setup for Multisite WordPress Hosting

WordPress multisite allows you to pick between a subdomain and subdirectory structure. With a subdomain structure, each site will have a different subdomain, such as site1.mynetwork.com and site2.mynetwork.com. 

The subdirectory format uses different URLs and places each site in its own directory on the main URL, such as mynetwork.com/site1 and mynetwork.com/site2. 

Why We Recommend Subdirectories for WordPress Multisite Structure

Pressable only supports multisite networks with subdirectory formats. We do that because some search engines treat subdomains as separate websites. You might have to submit each site on the network separately. It’s more time-consuming and can lead to worse search rankings. 

Subdirectories look like they’re all a part of the same website, and search engines index them faster. 

Subdomains also can present some challenges with SSL support and may require using a more expensive wildcard SSL certificate. 

So, Pressable only supports the subdirectory format because search engines better recognize sites using this functioning and they’re more secure. That’s why we think subdirectories are the best WordPress Multisite structure and choose to support that approach. 

WordPress Multisite Domain Mapping

If you’re going to run your multisite network using different domain names for each site, you’ll want to check with your hosting provider to see if they support domain mapping. Pressable doesn’t allow different domain names for subsites with WordPress Multisite hosting. 

WordPress Multisite Folder Structure 

When you create each new site on the network, the site is automatically assigned an ID number. The only difference you’ll see in the site’s file structure is in the wp-uploads folder. That folder will now have new subfolders identified with the site’s number and name. 

WordPress Multisite Database Structure

For the database structure, WordPress views the entire network as one site. So you’ll see the prefix wp_site apply to tables throughout the entire database. 

Each subsite on the network is classified as a blog. When you create a new site, it will create an entry in the wp_blogs table. 

Remember the ID number we talked about for file structure? It’s the variable blog_id. That ID will appear in the prefix for all the database tables for that subsite. 

For example, if the subsite has an ID of two, you’d see these tables for that site: 

  • wp2_posts
  • wp2_postmeta
  • wp2_comments
  • wp(2_commentmeta
  • wp2_terms
  • wp(2_term_taxonomy
  • wp2_term_relationships
  • wp2_options
  • Wp2_links

You may wonder where the wp_user and wp_usermeta tables are. The user database is the same for the entire network. It’s not site-specific. 

How to Install WordPress Multisite

Setting up WordPress Multisite hosting is not too difficult. And once you’re done, you manage it using the same WordPress interface used for single sites, with just a couple of extra features. 

It’s best to start from a fresh install, but the same steps work for existing sites. If you’re converting an existing site to a multisite network, be sure to back up your site before you start. 

Step 1: Allow Multisite Options

Edit your wp-config.php file to unlock the multisite options. Use your web server file browser or ftp access to edit the wp-config.php file. 

Find the section where it says: /* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */.

Add these lines right before that:

/* Multisite */

define( ‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true );

Save your file. Then refresh your browser and log in to WordPress. 

Step 2: Installing a Multisite Network

After completing Step 1, you’ll be able to see the multisite options from your WordPress dashboard. 

Click on Tools in the sidebar after logging in. You should see an option for Network Setup now. 

This menu is where you choose between a subdomain or subdirectory structure. After setting all your options, click the Install button. 

Step 3: Enable the Network

After clicking Install, the installer will run. Once complete, you’ll see instructions on how to finalize the installation. These instructions will be unique to your network. They often include additions you’ll need to make to your wp-config.php and .htaccess files. 

Like we did in Step 1, you’ll edit these files via FTP or using your sever’s file browser. It’s always a good idea to save a backup copy of these two files before making any changes. 

Step 4: Adding Sites to the Network

Once your network is configured, you’ll have access to a new admin screen. Here’s what the menu or dashboard looks like for Multisite network administrators:

WordPress admin showing Network Admin dashboard for Multisite network administrators

You can start adding sites to the network by going to My Sites and clicking Network Admin

Click Sites and Add New. Then give the site address. This new address is the subdirectory for the site installation. You’ll also set the email address for the site administrator before clicking the Add Site button. 

How Plugins and Themes Work with WordPress Multisite

You can enable themes and plugins network-wide or for select sites when using WordPress Multisite. Here are the details: 

Can Multisite Have Different Themes?

Yes, each site on your network can use a different theme. One of the advantages of multisite is that the theme is only stored once. You can choose if you want to make a theme available to every site or only a select few. 

To install a theme from your Network admin screen, go to Themes and click Add New. Install the theme like you would for a standalone WordPress site. During the installation, you’ll see an option for Network Enable. Click that link. 

Don’t click the Network Enable link if you want to limit where you use a theme. Instead, after installing the theme, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Sites link in the Network admin to view all of your sites. 
  2. Find the site you want to enable the theme for and click Edit
  3. Click on the Themes tab. 
  4. Click Enable for the theme you want to allow for that site. 

Using Plugins with WordPress Multisite

Plugins follow a similar process as themes. You can opt to activate a plugin for the entire network or on a site-by-site basis. 

Follow these steps for network-wide activation:

  1. From the Network admin section, go to Plugins and Add New. Install the plugin the same way you do for a single WordPress site. 
  2. During the installation, click on the Network Activate link. 

This option installs and activates the plugin for every site on the network. Individual site admins will not be able to disable the plugin. 

If you don’t want the plugin running on all of your sites, follow this process instead:

  1. Install the plugin as we did before, but don’t click the Network Activate link. 
  2. Instead, click on the Return to Plugin Installer link. 
  3. Go to the site admin for the site you want to activate the plugin on. 
  4. Click on Plugins and click the Activate link like you would on a single WordPress site. 

Read this guide on multisite network administration for more in-depth information on how themes and plugins work for multisite configurations. 

When Should You Use WordPress Multisite Hosting?

So, when should you use WordPress Multisite hosting? It’s best to use it when you have multiple sites that share similar functions or that you want to run in about the same way. The WordPress Multisite feature saves you time and server space when you need to run multiple sites. 

Efficiency is the most significant advantage of WordPress Multisite. No matter how many sites in the network use a plugin or theme, you only install it once. This single installation means you’ll use less storage. It also means you’ll save time keeping your sites up to date. You’ll only need to update your WordPress core software, plugins, and theme files once for the entire network instead of going site by site. 

Also, when it comes to efficiency, Multisite lets you develop more sites faster. This advantage is most useful when applying custom themes to your websites. You can install a particular WordPress theme that will serve as the parent theme for your network. But even if they may share the same layout and design, Multisite allows you to differentiate each one of them by applying unique “child” themes.

Multisite may also save you money. You’ll only need one copy of each plugin or theme for your various websites. You’ll also only need a single hosting account.

While multisite certainly has its advantages, there are situations when you should think twice before using it. 

Avoid using WordPress Multisite if:

  • You only plan to create a single site or blog. 
  • You want to keep the databases for each site separate. 
  • Individual sites need unique IP addresses. 
  • Your host doesn’t support WordPress Multisite, or each site will need its own host. 

If you’re a WordPress freelancer or agency that runs through WordPress and designs sites for multiple clients, you may be tempted to use multisite for all your client sites. We’d caution against that for a couple of reasons. 

First, if a client wants to move to their own hosting, removing a site from a network to a single installation is possible, but it’s more difficult than transferring a regular site. Second, you increase your security risks because an attack on one site affects all your clients. 

If you’re looking for a way to host clients’ sites more efficiently, we recommend using Pressable’s intuitive dashboard. With our hosting service, you can manage multiple WordPress sites from one dashboard, but they each have their own WordPress instance.

WordPress Multisite Hosting

Whether you need to host a WordPress Multisite network or want to manage multiple single sites from the same dashboard, Pressable managed WordPress hosting, has you covered. 

Our innovative WordPress hosting plans provide top speeds and state-of-the-art security. You’ll never have to worry about your site slowing down. We also enable automated updates so your sites run smoothly on the latest version of WordPress. 
To see Pressable’s platform in action, try MyPressable Playground today.

Alfred Bassetti

Alfred Bassetti is a Sales Representative and Sales Operations Analyst at Pressable. He focuses in helping people get the best possible experience with hosting by bringing customers closer to their needs!

Related blog articles