What Is WordPress Multisite and How Can It Help You? (Part 1)

Editor’s Note: The following is Part 1 in a three-part series titled, “What Is WordPress Multisite and How Can It Help You?” Read Part 2 here. Read Part 3 here.

Introduction to WordPress Multisite

There is a good deal of information on the web about WordPress Multisite, but most of it dives too deep technically, or quickly shows you steps to set up a Multisite environment. I am going to tackle it from another angle, from the point of view of an outsider looking in (with possibly no technical background) wondering if WordPress Multisite will fit the needs of their organization. To help facilitate the discussion, let’s start with some terminology.

New Terminology

WordPress Multisite introduces new ideas into WordPress, and there are several new terms that come along with it. Below are the various Multisite terminologies defined to help provide a foundation in communication for the rest of the article.

  • Network: The Network refers to a group of sites created on your Multisite instance. Though it is technically possible to run multiple networks on a single Multisite instance, we will focus on the basic single network that comes with Multisite. To keep things simple, you should be aware that some older literature referred to a Network as a Site.
  • Site: A site refers to a single site within a network. These are sometimes also referred to as subsites, or blogs. Over the years, the term site has changed meaning to refer to the individual sites on a network. You may see reference in older literature that use the term site in the context of network.
  • Blog: Another name for a single site on the network.
  • Subsite: Another name for a single site on the network.
  • Network Admin: This is a new section of the wp-admin area that appears in the Admin Bar after enabling Multisite on your WordPress installation. The Network Admin is where you will control the sites, plugins, and themes available to your sites.
  • Super Admin: Super Admin is a new role that is available specifically for Multisites. Users with Super Admin access are allowed to access the Network Admin area and manage the entire network. Super Admins can access the dashboards of any site and administer them as well. The traditional Administrator account only has access to the sites it has permissions on.
  • Subdomain Install: Network setup option that creates new sites with a subdomain of the primary domain. For example:
    • Primary domain: example.com
    • Site for Bob: bob.example.com
    • Site for Sally: sally.example.com 
  • Subdirectory Install: Network setup option that creates new sites with a subdomain of the primary site. Useful when creating sites that all need the same look and feel such as corporate or language sites. For example:
    • Primary domain: example.com
    • Site for Bob: example.com/bob
    • Site for Sally: example.com/sally

What is WordPress Multisite?

You are undoubtedly familiar with WordPress. A content management system you install to manage your website content. Perhaps you have multiple websites, each with their own installation of WordPress running the site. Enter WordPress Multisite; WordPress Multisite transforms a single site into a powerhouse that can run an unlimited number (nobody has found a max number yet!) of websites from a single WordPress installation. In essence, it could combine all the individual WordPress installations you run into one single installation that supports all the sites. Each site can have its own domain, theme, and set of plugins utilized.

As an example of how I use the power of WordPress Multisite, I have several family members who have basic blogs set up to post their random thoughts. There are also several organizations that I have helped support over the years and test beds for new corporate sites running. Each of the site owners are able to manage their own content, while I ensure the network stays up and running efficiently with WordPress, and that all plugins are kept up to date.

Feel free to take a peek at a couple sites on my network:

You will notice there are subdomains and custom domains. WordPress handles both with elegance. By default, new sites on my network are created as subdomains of lobaugh.us and then a custom domain is applied when ready. Subdirectories are also supported. Subdirectories make it look like all the sites are part of the same domain. For example, in my network, my sister’s site could be http://lobaugh.us/raeann. There are good reasons to run WordPress Multisite in subdomain mode that I will get into in Part 3.

In Part 1, you were introduced to new terminology used by WordPress Multisite and provided a high level view of what WordPress Multisite is. In the following parts, we will cover why using WordPress Multisite matters, and how to determine if it could be the right tool for your organization.


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