What is WordPress Multisite Mode?

Let me guess. You’re cruising around the internet looking for a place to host your multisite setup on WordPress, or maybe you’re just thinking of going down the multisite path but haven’t even gotten started yet. Have no fear, Pagely is here.

What is WordPress Multisite Mode?

Introduction to WordPress Multisite

For those of you who haven’t gotten started yet, here’s the scoop on what WordPress multisite is…

With the release of WordPress 3.0 back in 2010, what used to be called WordPress Multiuser (WPMU or WordPress MU) was renamed WordPress Multisite (WPMS or WordPress MS). The details are long and boring, and you can find them here. Anyways, just know that when you’re reading about multisite that there are a number of ways it can be referred to, and some are still using the old nomenclature. I personally think the rename made sense and that it’s more descriptive, but you know how people hate change.

Regardless of what you want to call it (I’ll use WPMS for purposes of this article), WordPress can be converted to multisite mode by changing a few lines of code. This conversion involves adding a single line to your wp-config.php file and possibly updating your .htaccess file, depending on your server setup. It’s a straightforward process, but having a backup of your site before making these changes is always a good idea.

If you signup for a plan with us, we actually do this part for you, so you can just log in and begin building your multisite network empire. Enough of the self-promotion, let’s get on with it.

Setting Up Your Multisite Network

Once in multisite mode, using the WP admin you can create “subsites” that reside within the one install of WPMS. Each can have its own domain name utilizing what’s called a “domain mapping” plugin. This plugin, essential for multisite setups, allows your subsites to have separate, easily identifiable web addresses, enhancing their individual identity while still being part of the larger network.

You can have as many of these subsites as you practically want, assuming you have the proper hosting resources to support them. If you’re going to be creating a ton of sites that serve a similar purpose and you’re okay with each one selecting from the same set of plugins/themes you designate, then multisite is a very efficient option both from a hosting resources standpoint (since many hosts cap the number of WP installs, and you’re technically only running one), as well as an admin management standpoint.

If you’re creating say 100 sites and each is totally unique, then you might be better off having a separate WP install for each which gives you more flexibility. With WPMS, you are creating what we’ll call a “pool” of X plugins and Y themes to use, and then the subsites get to pick and choose from that pool. If a subsite wants a plugin or theme that’s not available in the “pool” the master admin (you!) has set up, then they are SOL.

Practical Applications of WPMS

Examples where WPMS might make sense:

Creating a network of informational sites that seek to generate revenue via AdSense.

Creating sites for small businesses of a similar genre (think accountants) and charging them in a SaaS format.

Creating a bunch of blogs for your university, with one for each university department.

In these scenarios, the uniformity of available themes and plugins isn’t just a matter of convenience; it ensures a cohesive brand identity and operational consistency across the network.

Let’s say you build 100 subsites and are charging each accountant $20/mo. Assuming the sites are all fairly similar and get little traffic as most small business sites do, you’re bringing in $2000/mo in revenue and your hosting costs would be nowhere near that. If you had used a separate WordPress install for each client site, you’d be looking at multiple hosting plans, because you’d want to avoid most of the providers that allow “unlimited” installs and the ones that allow multiple installs per plan often have a cap on the # allowed.

Scaling Your Network

In order to scale using WPMS, you have a couple of options. Let’s say you’ve got a professional plan with us here at Pagely® and are hitting the upper limits of your bandwidth and storage. You can…

A) Move to a VPS or dedicated server. If you run a plan with a dedicated database, then you can utilize “sharding” which basically means you use a special plugin to allow each subsite to have its own database which makes the overall network extremely scalable.

B) Create a second multisite network on a separate hosting plan (this time say for attorney websites) and scale it up as well.

When considering scaling, it’s also vital to think about the administrative aspect. Managing hundreds of subsites can become a logistical nightmare without proper planning. Utilizing a robust management tool that allows you to update plugins, themes, and WordPress core across all sites simultaneously can be a lifesaver.

The Power of Sharding

How scalable does WPMS utilizing “sharding” get? Here are a few examples…

WordPress.com has tens of millions of subsites running while serving an incredible amount of page views each day.

Edublogs has 2+ million subsites currently running.

The success of these giants demonstrates not just the technical feasibility of sharding but also the potential for massive growth and reach that a well-architected WPMS setup can achieve.

For more on getting started with WPMS, check out the Pagely guide on how to set up a WordPress multisite network.”

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  1. This is a great article, gotta say!

    I’m now running a Multisite here at Pagely after searching around the internet for a hosting home for more than a year. During that time I even tried building my own stack on unmanaged servers – fun, but ultimately it showed me how valuable a managed service is.

    The WP Multisite hosting market has been tough. Many hosts I contacted starting in 2011 were not even familiar with it (or at least their techs weren’t). Anyways, cheers to Pagely for stepping up into this service area!

    Regarding the database ‘sharding’ that you wrote about:
    1] does this approach require moving beyond the Professional plan (you did mention the need for a dedicated database, etc.)?
    2] especially since you mention edublogs, is the special plugin for ‘sharding’ you mention the multi-db plugin which (to my knowledge) powers edublogs or a solution developed at Pagely?

    Thanks again! (ps. everyone else, Pagely rocks! You should just sign up already 🙂

  2. Hi Max,

    Thanks for the kind words. To answer your question(s), in order to do sharding properly and scale up a serious multisite installation, we recommend an entry-level VPS plan with a dedicated DB upgrade. I’ll email you with specific pricing since we have your info on file here.

    As for the plugin, we do not have our own sharding plugin developed, so industry standard ones are fine.


  3. Great article, I am very much considering going with you guys over some of the competition as I hear you are much better with multisite installs (which is what we run).

    If we signup for the base multisite plan now ($149 I believe), as we grow how easy is it to upgrade this plan to the dedicated DB server and VPS as mentioned in the above comment?


  4. Hi Rich,

    It is very easy. You just need to allow us a week as we custom order everything over at Amazon for VPS and Enterprise.



  5. I signed up for the VPS plan it was very easy I had a business plan prior to it is definitely worth upgrading in my opinion.
    The options you have when you go to the VPS are amazing.

    Keep up the good work Pagely!