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How to Choose Between Subdirectories and Subdomains for Your WordPress Network

Before you start setting up your WordPress network, the Create a Network page lets you choose the URL format of sites you are adding beneath the Addresses of Sites in your Network heading. By default, these sites are in subdomain format (subdomain.yourdomain.com) or subdirectory (yourdomain.com/subdirectory) format.

The Create a Network page is available only after you have enabled Networking for your site.
The Create a Network page is available only after you have enabled Networking for your site.

In some cases, depending to your setup, your choice here may be limited. WordPress does some autodetection with information about your installation and may prevent you from choosing an option that won’t work with your setup. The table here explains some of the situations you may encounter.

Situation Format
Site URL is different than Home URL. Network cannot be enabled
Site URL is http://localhost. Subdirectories only
Site URL is an IP address.
WordPress is installed in a folder (for example, http://domain.com/wp).
Install is more than 30 days old. Subdomains only
WordPress is installed in the root of the domain (http://domoain.com). Subdomains are default, can choose either

Site addresses generate in a similar way. They don’t really exist and you won’t see these site addresses in your directory structure on your web server because they are served to the browser virtually when that site is requested. From a technical standpoint, subdomains require an extra step in server setup for the wildcards. Subdomains are somewhat separated from the main domain, at least in terms of content. Subdirectories, on the other hand, are part of the main domain, as if they were a page off the main site.

The terms subdirectory and subfolder are interchangeable.

Because each site’s URL is saved in its tables in the database, after you pick which subsites you want to create, you cannot switch this without reinstalling the network.

Each site format offers certain search engine optimization benefits. Search engines read subdomains as separate sites on your web host; therefore, they maintain their page rank and authority and multiple results for your domain are listed. Subdirectories are read as pages or sections off your main domain, help the main domain’s page rank and authority, and provide one result for your domain in search engines.

If you want your extra sites to have separate domain names, you still need to pick one of these options.

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