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19Apr

WordPress Multisite vs Single Site: Unveiling the Truth about the Controversial WP Feature

Learn what WordPress multisite is

Learn what WordPress multisite is and whether it’s the right fit for your project.

In this post, we discuss one of the most convenient and yet controversial WordPress features — multisite. We define it, describe its main advantages and drawbacks, and highlight its main use cases. We hope this information will help you resolve the WordPress multisite vs single site dilemma when you need to start a new WordPress development project that comprises more than one site.

WordPress is one of the oldest and most widely used content management systems (CMS) in the world, dating back to 2003. It’s used for creating all kinds of web solutions, from real estate, insurance, and lawyer websites to MVPs and online stores.

Over its long history, this CMS has received a great number of helpful features. The examples include the cutting-edge Gutenberg content editor and support for REST API added to the WordPress core in the past few years.

One of the most hotly discussed WordPress features is also multisite. On the one hand, it allows admins to save time by concurrently managing several web resources from one place. On the other, however, it hides some unpleasant pitfalls that can lead to serious, and at times fatal consequences for site owners.

To address the WordPress Multisite vs Single Site controversy and help you decide which option to choose for your own project, we have written this post. Let’s get going.

WordPress Multisite Feature: A Central Control Unit for Hassle-Free Management of Several Sites at Once

Here's what WordPress multisite is

What Is WordPress Multisite?

To give you a clear idea of what this feature is, consider the following example. Suppose there’s a large international chain of retail stores. All the stores are managed from the head office. However, each outlet has its own local specifics, including a different language, currency, and culture.

How can you create an online presence for every chain link? One way is to build a separate website for each store with its own database, plugins, themes, and user roles. This approach means that you will have to update every site on an individual basis, keep the database in order, add or modify the content, and perform other essential management tasks.

If the chain includes just a few stores, this approach seems fine. What if it comprises hundreds or thousands, though? Updating each site one by one will take ages, as well as managing their content.

This is when WordPress multisite feature comes to the rescue. It enables a single administrator to work with multiple sites through one WordPress installation, that’s from one dashboard. In other words, multisite represents a network of WordPress sites that are similar in function.

With multisite, all the plugins and themes are updated from one centralized location. There’s no need to switch from site to site performing this drudgery manually. This results in considerable time-saving for the network admin, who’s called a Super Admin. Let’s take a look at all the advantages of WordPress multisite.

The Principal Benefits of the WordPress Multisite Feature

WordPress multisite Advantages

WordPress Multisite vs Single Site Benefit #1: Easy Network Management without the Need for Individual WordPress Installations

One of the most powerful arguments in the WordPress Multisite vs Single Site debate is the ability to run multiple sites from one central location. If you have a number of separate sites, you have to install WordPress for each of them. With the multisite feature, there’s just one WordPress installation that “serves” all the websites within the network.

Thus, a Super Admin can install and update themes and plugins for the entire group of sites at once. Each site’s administrator can disable or enable a specific plugin. However, they can’t install their own plugins.

Not only is this good from a management standpoint but it’s also great from a troubleshooting perspective. It saves time on finding faulty plugins once something goes wrong. There’s no need to rummage through each site individually searching for a bug. You can be certain that the problem lies in one of the add-ons hosted in the central network hub.

WordPress Multisite vs Single Site Benefit #2: Unified User Management System

Another point in the WordPress Multisite vs Single site discussion is a single user management system for the entire network. A Super Admin creates users, passwords, and user roles for all the sites, while each site admin grants access to these users on an individual basis. This means that a user can sign into all the sites across the network without having to create separate accounts for each.

WordPress Multisite vs Single Site Benefit #3: A Light Load on the Server, Simple Backup Process, and Faster Development

As we’ve said, there’s no need for separate WordPress installations within the network. WordPress is installed on the main site only. All the plugins are in one place, as well as themes and core files. This reduces the pressure on the server considerably and brings your hosting expenses down.

In addition, all the sites are connected to the same central database, although 10 tables are copied for each site. This makes creating a backup of the entire network an extremely simple affair.

This arrangement is also great from a development perspective. WordPress developers can work with the core files, themes, and plugins in one location instead of many.

WordPress Multisite vs Single Site Benefit #4: It’s Easy to Ensure Consistent Branding Across the Network

Returning to the retail chain example above, making sure the sites within the network are styled in the same way as the main site is paramount. The WordPress multisite feature makes this a breeze.

Just create a framework theme that includes all the principal brand style elements and then build a child theme for each individual site to reflect the store’s specifics. This will ensure brand consistency for the entire group.

Now, let’s discuss the main multisite’s shortcomings.

The Major Drawbacks of the WordPress Multisite Feature

WordPress Multisite shortcomings

WordPress Multisite vs Single Site Drawback #1: Security and Privacy Considerations

WordPress is an exceedingly popular CMS used by millions of sites across the globe. This universal love, however, has another, darker side. The platform becomes a preferred target for cybercriminals. Despite all the security precautions that site owners can take, they are still vulnerable to hacker attacks.

This can be a big headache for a single site. When it comes to WordPress multisites, though, this can have truly disastrous implications. Once the main WordPress installation is compromised, the whole network is under threat.

The same holds true as far as privacy is concerned. Since all the sites are connected to the central database, a hacker may get hold of sensitive user information across the network.

WordPress Multisite vs Single Site Drawback #2: Hosting Issues

As long as all the sites within the network run on the same server, some of them can grab the biggest piece of the pie. That is, they can use more server capabilities than the peers. This can result in slow operation and even crashes among the sites. Also, certain hosting providers don’t work with multisites at all.

WordPress Multisite vs Single Site Drawback #3: Moving a Website to Another Domain Is Very Hard

We haven’t mentioned it yet: all the websites within the network share the same domain. The time may come when the admin of one of the sites will want to move the resource to a different domain. This will be an extremely difficult task since the sites are connected to the same database.

WordPress Multisite vs Single Site Drawback #4: Problems with Plugins

The WordPress multisite feature assumes working with plugins in a centralized fashion. This is convenient when you need to install and update plugins on multiple sites at once. However, this can also lead to certain issues down the line:

  • Deleting a plugin in the central WordPress installation can affect the operation of one or more sites within the network.
  • One faulty plugin may disrupt the normal operation of the entire network. You should devote enough time and effort to testing a plugin before installing it.

Besides, some plugins don’t work with the WordPress multisite feature. You should find this out in advance.

When to Use WordPress Multisite?

reuters-blogs-good-example-of-using-wordpress-multisite-feature

Reuters Blogs: A Good Example of  Leveraging the WordPress Multisite Feature

We have reached the key point of our discussion: when you should use the multisite feature. To understand if a network of WordPress sites is the right solution for your project, answer the following questions.

Do you have a number of websites that are very much alike in their features and structure?

Yes? Then, go for WordPress multisite with confidence. No? You’d better stick with a single WordPress installation for each of your sites. You will have a very hard time trying to manage WordPress sites with very different plugins and structure within one network.

Do you want each category of your blog or business site to have a separate website?

Let’s be honest: this is not a good idea. You can easily achieve this goal with a single site. The platform’s creators have greatly simplified the process of categorizing the content. Besides, you can use various plugins to change a website URL if necessary.

Do you want to control every site within the network without giving the rest of the admins access to managing their own sites?

You can’t. Each admin can grant access to their own site to specific users. They can also change the content and enable or disable centrally installed plugins.

Is security your top priority?

Yes? Then, we must disappoint you. You should think twice before going down the multisite path. As we’ve said, a security hole in the main WordPress installation will open the backdoor to all of the sites within the network.

Do you want to provide a space for people to create their own sites by subscription?

Yes? WordPress multisite is a good choice for this scenario. This can be a network of personal and business sites, blogs, and others

Final Thoughts

The WordPress multisite feature has its light and dark sides. The fantastic ease of management and scalability are countered by security and migration concerns. Weigh all pros and cons carefully before you activate this option. Once you get in, it can be too challenging to get out.

Still on the fence about whether to use multisite for your project? Our expert WordPress developers have answers to all your questions. Having recently received the status of a top-performing WordPress development company on a global scale, this is indisputable proof of our professionalism and unrivaled expertise.

Let’s get in touch!

Frequently Asked Questions about the WordPress Multisite Feature

Is there a centralized media library shared by all the sites within a multisite network?

No. Each site has its own media folder. The admins can store images and other files they upload inside this directory. Along with ten database tables copied for each site, this ensures that the content of one resource is separated from the content of other resources.

Is it possible to use a specific theme for a site within a multisite network?

Yes, it is. Individual site admins can add any theme to their websites.

Do all websites within a multisite network share the same domain name?

Yes, they do. If your main site has the domain name mainsite.com, the entire network’s address will be identical. When you enable the multisite feature, you have three options regarding the URLs of the sites within the network:

  • Use subdirectories (mainsite.com/siteone)
  • Use subdomains (siteone.mainsite.com)
  • Use domain mapping. This means that the site’s URL will look as if it were a single site with its own WordPress installation.

What are the key use cases for the multisite feature?

You should enable this option for sites with very similar functionality. Here are some examples:

  • Sites of large educational establishments
  • Sites of chain stores
  • Sites of nonprofit organizations, charities
  • Intranets
  • Personal sites
  • Subscription sites

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