Complete Guide: How to Install and Setup a WordPress Multisite Network

/Complete Guide: How to Install and Setup a WordPress Multisite Network

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Struggling with how to install WordPress Multisite on your host? Don’t worry, I’m here to help! In this post, I’m going to take you through every single step of setting up a WordPress Multisite network. Along the way, I’ll incorporate heaps of screenshots so that anyone can follow along!

If you can install plain old vanilla WordPress, you’ll be able to install WordPress Multisite with this guide. Let’s get going…

How is Multisite Different Than Vanilla WordPress?

Before I get into the actual guide for how to install WordPress Multisite, let’s briefly brush up on a few things that make Multisite unique. That is – why does Multisite require special attention in order to get up and running?

I won’t belabor the point because you’re probably already familiar with WordPress Multisite if you’re trying to install it.

But bear with me for the quickest of quick recaps for those who aren’t experts yet. Basically, Multisite allows you to run an entire network of sites all based on the same WordPress install. This allows you to:

  • Manage all network sites from one single dashboard.
  • Let other people easily create sites on your network.
  • Manage updates and theme/plugin installs for all sites from one area.

Those abilities are possible because all the sites in the Multisite network are using the same database and WordPress software. In order to make that possible, you need to to make some tweaks to vanilla WordPress, as well as your host. Hence, this post…

What Are the Basic Requirements to Run WordPress Multisite?

If you have a host that can run WordPress, you should be able to run WordPress Multisite. That is, the base requirements aren’t any different from vanilla WordPress.

But while that’s true, you may need to upgrade depending on how you’re intending to use WordPress Multisite. Remember – all the sites in your network run off the same resources. So even if you only have one high-traffic site in the network, it’s still going to affect the performance of all the other low-traffic sites.

Therefore, you need to calculate your hosting needs based on the aggregate traffic of every single site in your Multisite network, rather than an individual site like with vanilla WordPress.

So while cheap WordPress hosting might be fine at the start, be prepared to upgrade if your Multisite network takes off.

How to Install and Setup a WordPress Multisite Network

Alright, time to dig into actually learning how to install WordPress Multisite. I’m going to make two assumptions here:

  • You already have your hosting and domain setup.
  • You’re able to install vanilla WordPress by yourself. The one-click installer that your host offers is totally fine for our purposes. The only important thing is that you have a working vanilla install of WordPress.

I’ll show you everything else that you need to get started.

Enabling Multisite Network in Your WordPress Install

Remember – I’m assuming you’re starting with a regular WordPress install in place.

Once you have that, your first step is to add a single line of code to your wp-config.php file. To access that file, you can either use an FTP program or use cPanel’s built-in File Manager. I’ll use File Manager for my screenshots and guide – but either is fine.

To get started, find the File Manager icon in cPanel:

where to find cpanel file manager

Then, click it and open the Document Root directory of the domain that you want to enable Multisite for. Find your wp-config.php file, click on it, and then click Edit at the top:

Find the /* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */ message and paste the following code snippet immediately above that message:

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

Make sure to Save the file. Now, you’re ready to configure your new Multisite network.

Configuring Your New Multisite Network

Note – before you continue on, it’s a good idea to deactivate every plugin on your site. Not all plugins play nice with WordPress Multisite – so it’s safer to do it this way.

Once you’ve deactivated all plugins, navigate to Tools → Network Setup inside your regular WordPress dashboard:

how to install WordPress Multisite Network

In addition to filling out some basic details, there’s really only one important decision you need to make here:

Do you want individual sites in your network to show up as sub-domains or sub-directories?

  • Sub-domain new sites will show up at newsite.yourdomain.com
  • Sub-directories – new sites will show up at yourdomain.com/newsite

There’s not a correct answer. This pretty much depends on preference. The only thing to consider is that if you choose Sub-domains, you’ll need to configure wildcard DNS records at your host. Don’t worry – this is simple and I’ll show you how to do it in a second.

No matter which you choose, definitely put thought into it because you can’t go back and change this later without a ton of hassle.

Once you’re happy with your selections, click Install at the bottom. For the purposes of this example, I’ll choose sub-domains because it’s the most complicated.

Add Code Snippets to Your wp-config.php and .htaccess Files

On the next screen, WordPress will give you two code snippets that you need to add to your wp-config.php file and .htaccess file, respectively:

You can access both of these files via File Manager just as I showed you above.

Enabling Wildcard Subdomains at Your Host

If you chose to create new sites in sub-directories, you can ignore this step. But if you chose sub-domains, you’ll need to do one more thing to get your Multisite network up and running:

Enable Wildcard DNS for subdomains via hosting.

To do this, head back to your cPanel dashboard and find the Subdomains icon:

Then, all you need to do is enter an * (asterisk) in the Subdomain box for your domain and click Create:

And that’s all there is to it! Users can now create new sites on sub-domains.

A Tour of Your New Network Admin Account

At this point, your WordPress Multisite Network is pretty much fully functioning. To access your Network Dashboard (AKA the control panel for your entire network), you just need to go to My Sites → Network Admin → Dashboard from the admin bar of your normal WordPress dashboard:

There, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of your entire network. You can use the sidebar to:

  • View all of the sites on your network
  • View all of the users on your network
  • Add new themes and choose whether or not to enable them for the whole network
  • Add new plugins and make a similar decision

One thing you should definitely do is go to the Settings tab and choose your registration options. Just click Settings and find the Allow new registrations option:

how to setup wordpress multisite network

If you want to make your Network 100% public, make sure to check the Both sites and user accounts can be registered box.

Further down the page, you can configure new site settings, upload limits, and some other minor details.

One important detail at the bottom of the page is the Enable Administration menus option. If you check Plugins, individual site admins will be able to manually enable or disable plugins. They will NOT be able to add new plugins, though. They can only choose from the plugins you activate network wide in the Plugins tab of your Network Admin Dashboard.

How to Add a New Site to Multisite

If you want to manually add a new site to your Multisite network, just head to Sites → Add New in your Network Admin Dashboard:

All you need to do is enter the details and click Add Site.

Wrapping Things Up

That’s all you need to do to get started with WordPress Multisite! Not too complicated, right? While you do need to do a little digging around in your wp-config.php file, there’s nothing too onerous about installing WordPress Multisite.

As you go forward with WordPress Multisite, there’s just one little thought I want to put in your head:

Not every plugin will work perfectly with WordPress Multisite. Maura Teal has a great explanation of some of the ways Multisite doesn’t always play nice. But overall – you want to be careful before network activating a new plugin across your entire network.

With that caveat out of the way, get out there and enjoy your new WordPress Multisite network!

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Colin Newcomer is a freelance writer for hire with a background in SEO and affiliate marketing. He helps clients grow their web visibility by writing primarily about digital marketing, WordPress, and B2B topics. You can find him at www.cnewcomer.com

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