How to add sub-domains to WordPress Multisite using symbolic links

If you have created your first WordPress Multisite Monster, chances are that you will want to add a subsite to it soon! Since WordPress Multisite uses only a single code base to present multiple WordPress websites, you need to do a little bit of networking to make it all work. You may have heard of wildcard settings, redirects, and htaccess edits to make this work. However, for most server environments, the only big networking changes you need to make has to do with symbolic linking your subsite’s domain name to your Monster site’s root folder. This is accomplished by configuring a connection that links a sub-domain name to a certain folder every time the server reaches for it – and hopefully that folder is the one that contains our WordPress Multisite code!

Links are from Mars, Servers are from Venus
Unfortunately, not all servers, and in particular some hosting companies, are all alike. This means you may have to do a bit more networking than this post will cover. But if you’re a Media Temple (mediatemple.net) customer, you’re in luck! The following will work for you (and possibly other hosting environments).

Understanding Symbolic Links
The key to setting up your first sub-domain site is to make sure your web server understands where the WordPress Multisite code resides. This is accomplished by creating a symbolic link (sometimes referred to as symlinks or soft links) that redirects any HTTP requests from your sub-domain to the primary domain’s folder (and where the WordPress code resides). This happens so quickly that the user never notices the transactions taking place behind the scenes. All they see is a loading website and the final content displayed within their browser.

Behind the scenes, the server is making a connection between the symbolic link address and the folders being used by the primary domain address. We know that the sub-domain does not have any real files or folders. It is simply a link that allows WordPress Multisite to serve website content in different ways, all dependent on which URL a user connects to the server from.

Symbolic Link Setup
To set up your first symbolic link for your sub-domain site, you begin with:

Step #1
Deciding which domain will serve as the primary domain name:
mysite.com

Step #2
Deciding what our sub-domain site’s domain name will be called: mysubsite.mysite.com

Step #3
Connect to your server via SSH:
–> cd domains

Step #4
Remove the empty sub-domain folder (if it exists):
–> rm -rf mysubsite.mysite.com

Step #5
Create a link to the main domain:
–> ln -s mysite.com mysubsite.mysite.com

Step #6
Log into the primary domain as the Super Admin:
–> http://mysite.com/wp-admin

Step #7
Login and navigate to the WordPress Multisite subsite section for creating new sites by going to:
Network Admin –> SITES –> ADD NEW

Step #8
When you create a new WordPress Multisite subsite, you need to add the SITE ADDRESS, SITE TITLE, and ADMIN EMAIL. Note that the you only need to add the subdomain name since the DOT and mysite.com is already added for you.

Step #9
Make sure your new site is listed and spelled correctly by navigating to:
Network Admin –> SITES –> ALL SITES

Step #10
Test the mysubsite.mysite.com domain name in your browser to make sure your WordPress Multisite is displaying its default theme correctly. Also check your mysite.com domain name to make sure your main site is also still there (since surprises are bad)!

And that’s it! You should be capable of replicating this process for each of your sub-domain sites you need to create within your WordPress Multisite Monster.

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Posted by Kyle Bondo

@Trenchbucket -- Creative strategy dragon, off-road racing podcaster, WordPress & PHP developer, outdoor race promoter, and US Navy Veteran. Current products: Reckoneer, Merchants of Dirt Podcast, and Wolf Bouncer All-Mountain Series.

Buckets of Strategy
We think about six
impossible things
before breakfast.
Do not miss the
next six!
Let's Strategize
Give it a try, you can unsubscribe anytime.
Buckets of Strategy
We think about six impossible things
before breakfast.
Do not miss the next six!
Let's Strategize
Give it a try, you can unsubscribe anytime.