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When Should You Use WordPress’s Network Feature

Usually, for multiple users to post to one site, WordPress is sufficient. The multiuser part of the WordPress MU name didn’t refer to how many users were added to your WordPress website, really. MU was always a bit of a misnomer and an inaccurate depiction of what the software actually did. A network of sites is a much closer description.

Determining whether to use the multisite feature depends on user access and publishing activity. Each site in the network, although sharing the same codebase and users, is still a self-contained unit. Users still have to access the back end of each site to manage options or post to that site. A limited number of general options are network-wide, and posting is not one of them.

You can use multiple sites in a network to give the appearance that only one site exists. Put the same theme on each site, and the visitor doesn’t realize that they’re separate. This is a good way to separate sections of a magazine site, using editors for complete sections (sites) but not letting them access other parts of the network or the back end of other sites.

Another factor to consider is how comfortable you are with editing files directly on the server. Setting up the network involves accessing the server directly, and ongoing maintenance and support for your users can often lead to the network owner doing the necessary maintenance, which is not for the faint of heart.

Generally, you should use a network of sites in the following cases:

  • You want multiple sites and one installation. You’re a blogger or site owner who wants to maintain another site, possibly with a subdomain or a separate domain, all on one web host. You’re comfortable with editing files, you want to work with one codebase to make site maintenance easier, and most of your plugins and themes are accessible to all the sites.

    You can have one login across the sites and manage each site individually.

  • You want to host blogs or sites for others. This is a little more involved. You want to set up a network where users can sign up for their own sites or blogs underneath (or part of) your main site and you maintain the technical aspects for them.

Because all files are shared, some aspects have been locked down for security purposes. One of the most puzzling security measures for new users is the suppression of errors. Most PHP errors (say you installed a faulty plugin or incorrectly edited a file) don’t output messages to the screen. Instead, what appears is what I like to call the White Screen of Death.

Knowing how to find and use error logs and do general debugging are necessary skills for managing your own network. Even if your web host will set up the ongoing daily or weekly tasks for you, managing a network can involve a steep learning curve.

When you enable the multisite feature, the existing WordPress site becomes the main site in the installation.

Although WordPress can be quite powerful, in the following situations the management of multiple sites has its limitations:

  • One web account is used for the installation. You can’t use multiple hosting accounts.

  • You want to post to multiple blogs at one time. WordPress doesn’t do this by default.

  • If you choose subdirectory sites, the main site will regenerate permalinks with /blog/ in it to prevent collisions with subsites. There are existing plugins available to prevent this regeneration.

The best example of a large blog network with millions of blogs and users is the hosted service at WordPress.com. At WordPress.com, people are invited to sign up for an account and start a blog using the multisite feature within the WordPress platform on the WordPress server. When you enable this feature on your own domain and enable the user registration feature, you’re inviting users to do the following:

  • Create an account.

  • Create a blog on your WordPress installation (on your domain).

  • Create content by publishing blog posts.

  • Upload media files such as photos, audio, and video.

  • Invite friends to view their blog or to sign up for their own account.

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How to Allow User Registration on Your WordPress Network
Parking or Pointing Domains on Your WordPress Network
Enabling the WordPress Network Feature
How to Apply One Theme on Multiple WordPress Sites
Additional Settings for Managing Your WordPress Network
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