My most popular post ever has been Don’t Use WordPress Multisite, which I wrote in 2011. It’s 2014 so it was time for a revisit of this concept.
The point I made in 2011, and again at WordCamp San Francisco in 2013, was that while Multisite is amazing and awesome and wonderful, it’s got limitations. I love it, I think it’s perfect for me, but I always keep those limitations in mind and try to educate people as to what they are. I think I have a pretty good grasp on them by now, and so does Nacin:
— Andrew Nacin (@nacin) December 20, 2013
This may make you wonder what I could possibly say that hasn’t been said before? The questions remain the same, but the answers change a little as time goes by. I want to stress that for every single reason I’m going to list as a case for not using Multisite, I probably have broken. Rules aren’t meant to never be broken, their meant to make sure we understand what and why we’re doing what we’re doing.
The absolute number one aspect about Multisite that you cannot forget is this: Multisite is for running multiple WordPress blogs (aka sites) on one install (aka a network), with separate content but a shared base for code and users.
If I was to make it a rule it would be this: Don’t use Multisite unless you want to run multiple WordPress sites, each with their own admin section.
You know how I made that list of reasons? Like you don’t need it to categorize posts and make a site that’s all the same (or even all different), and I still firmly think that no one has any reason in the world to have a site that duplicates content 100%. Sometimes you do need Multisite for this stuff. Or rather, sometimes you can use Multisite, and it’s not the wrong choice!
You don’t need Multisite
WordPress comes with categories so just use that. Want to remove the word ‘/category/’ from your permalinks? WordPress SEO (by Yoast) can do that, as can No Category Base. Need to limit an author to a category? Use Author Category! In addition, there are Custom Post Types, which you can create for each ‘category’ and then limit authors using Custom Post Type Privacy.
WordPress comes with categories and Custom Post Types which let you keep your site looking exactly the same from page to page to page, which is awesome. This is, in an essence, what WordPress was made for. If you don’t want your ‘sections’ to look the same, hey theme templates will let you customize the look and feel of each category (or CPT) as you want. WordPress is crazy flexible, and plugins are phenomenally wonderful to let you customize WordPress to the nth degree. Like categories as subdomains, which means it’s theoretically possible to do the same for a CPT. I know you can map CPTs to domains already.
Before someone gets all snippy about how too many plugins make your site slow, I have to point out that too many poorly written plugins do this. It’s not the number, it’s the quality. A bad theme can slow your site down too, and I see that every single day.
You could use Multisite
So why would I use Multisite for those situations?
What if your ‘sections’ aren’t just meant to segregate content? Like you’re selling eBooks and you want to run a whole special ecommerce tool for tracking and payment. Or maybe you’ve got a membership tool and want to set up a news site where people can register and write, but keep them off the ‘main’ site where you’ll be linking featured content back. What about a site that will exist for a year to represent an event like a WordCamp, and then be ‘retired?’ Suddenly we’re talking categories in a different light, and maybe, just maybe, Multisite would work for this.
It’s easier in Multisite to totally re-skin a section because it’s using its own theme. You can quickly spin up a child theme just for one site, or use a plugin like the CSS Editor that comes with Jetpack to allow each site it’s own custom CSS.
Because each site is separate, I can limit plugins and prevent load creep per site. Not every ‘section’ needs the same plugins, after all. And at the same time, the ones that do can be network activated. Also a growing number of plugins are taking Multisite into consideration, like W3 Total Cache now lets the network admin configure a large amount of caching settings for the network as a whole! This number grows every day.
Which Should I Use
There isn’t one perfect answer here, but that’s true of all things WordPress. I think my cardinal rules of Multisite are mutable and all colored with a great deal of “It depends.” For every single reason I wouldn’t use Multisite, I also would (and probably have) used it. You have to take into consideration supportability most of all, though. Multisite’s worst flaw is that it leads to cases where your eyes are bigger than your stomach, and your network becomes huge and unwieldily before you’re ready to cope.
The one rule I’ve yet to break, and one I strongly feel no one should, is this: Never use Multisite if your users cannot know about other sites.
Other than that? Hey, the world is your oyster!
Multisite is big. It’s daunting. It’s complicated. It’s still, and probably will always be, harder than running a single blog, which makes sense. You’re no longer running a site, you’re running a network.