How To

Recovering Your Cape

How to recover a lost super admin account. Also remember, you are not Oprah.

One of the odder “hacks” out there is one where the person, once they get in, de-frocks your Super Admin on a Multisite. This isn’t always a hack, sometimes it’s just a simple mistake.

To quote my friend Jen Mylo:

  1. People give away admin rights like logo-encrusted keychains at a car show and then the new admins abuse the power.
  2. Someone who has admin rights deservedly but doesn’t know code makes a mistake.


Some people make bad decisions about who to give admin roles.

There’s an extra level of problems with making everyone and their pet monkey a super-admin on Multisite. You may think it’s a great thing, because now someone else can add new users, install plugins, edit themes and plugins, and of course, use iframes and PHP and such in widgets.

tumblr_md8hekGkk31qc184to1_500We run a Multisite at work, and they let me ‘secure it up’ recently. The first thing I did was demote pretty much everyone except five of us to ‘Editor.’ I told them all that I’d done this, and if they found something they couldn’t do, tell me, and I’d fix it. At this point, I’ve changed only three people to Admin, and dropped even more to ‘Author.’ Why? Because they don’t need to have high levels of access to do what they need to do! The admins on the site can tweak theme settings, play with widgets, and add ‘existing users.’ Everyone else? They just write content. Heck, most of them don’t even need to be Editors, but we gave them that level so they could help us copy-edit other posts. Two people complained “I need Super Admin access!” and I gave them my best Enda: NO CAPES.

Limit your admins, and there is less of a chance someone will accidentally remove access from the wrong person.

So now that that’s out of the way, how do you get it back?

Normally, reinstating an admin account is pretty easy. You go in via mySQL, pop open the wp_usermeta table, find your ID, and toss this in for meta_value for wp_capabilities: a:1:{s:13:"administrator";b:1;} That won’t restore all the roles, if you happen to be using Role Scoper, or some other management tool, but if you’ve got that, you can do anything. If you’re using WP-CLI, wp user update 1 --role=administrator (assuming you’re user ID 1).

Screen Shot 2013-06-21 at 11.34.20 AM

There’s a sidebar/caveat to this. Sometimes this doesn’t work, and it happens if you change your DB prefix. So normally you have the prefix wp_ and the table wp_options. In that table you have a option named wp_user_roles and everything works. But then you make a new site, and you pick a different DB prefix, maybe you heard it was more secure, or maybe you wanted both tables in the same DB. Either way, now you have wp_wdssrr_options instead, and when you copy over your old options content, no one can log in. It’s because you have to rename that option to wp_wdssrr_user_roles

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I just had a site with this problem last week.

NomadTrip_7091 On the other hand, getting back Super Admin access is less straightforward, but by no means is it impossible.

  1. Go into wp_sitemeta and look for site_admins.
  2. In there you will see something like this: a:1:{i:0;s:7:"Ipstenu";}
  3. If your userID is ‘superman’ then it would be a:1:{i:0;s:8:"superman";}

Capitalization and stringlength matter. Add one user, and use that to correctly restore power to the others.

Can you do this via WP-CLI? Yes, if you’re on the latest versions. Kind of. You can get a list of super admins via wp network-meta get 1 site_admins and in theory wp network-meta update 1 site_admins USERNAME would work except that the data is serialized. I opened a ticket with WP-CLI, and it’s a ‘plugin territory’ issue right now, so I’ll have to see if I can code it myself.