The Complete Guide to the Site Options for WordPress Multisite Networks

The Complete Guide to the Site Options for WordPress Multisite Networks

By default, WordPress Multisite controls and creates global changes to each sub-site in a network, but there are individual site options that host a treasure trove of options that are often ignored, simply because admins don’t know they exist.

When you check out the list of sites in your network and click Edit on one of them, you are presented with an array of options that are often confusing at best.

I’ve scoured the internet and noticed that most tutorials dismiss these site options completely. Even WordPress.org doesn’t currently offer much explanation other than to avoid it in a Codex entry that marked incomplete.

It’s home to many customizations that you can make quickly and easily all from a single page. Today, we’ll go through each of the settings, including any precautions you should consider, so you can start taking advantage of Multisite with fine-tuned power.

Finding the Site Options

Before we dive into the settings for your sub-sites, it’s important to know they are located in two places: Through the network or admin dashboard settings page or by viewing your list of sites.

The latter is what’s going to be covered here. Getting there is easy enough. In your network admin’s dashboard, go to Sites > All Sites. You should see a list of all the sites currently in your network.

Site list with the mouse hovered over one of the listed sites
The site settings are accessed by hovering over an entry on the list of sites in a network.

Hover over the site where you would like to change the options with your mouse and click the Edit link from the small link menu that appears under the site’s listed URL. The Edit Site page will load where you should see four different tabs toward the top – Info, Users, Themes and Settings.

These tabs lead to the settings and options available for a site on your network.

What’s the Fuss All About?

Most of the settings you see are editable and if you do make any changes, whatever you enter gets re-written in your files and database.

This is where the power of these options becomes clearer. You could quickly and easily make several important changes to your site without having to dig through your files and database tables.

Let’s get started with learning about the available settings in a fresh Multisite install so you can become more familiar.

The Info Tab

The Info tab offers four settings:

The "Info Tab" of the "Edit Site" page.
The Info tab is the first page displayed with basic site information.

Site URL: This is a site’s base address. The main site won’t have a trailing slash, but a site in the network will have one at the end. For example, www.network.com and www.network.com/site1/.

It’s the starting URL where posts and pages appear after a forward slash such as the /wp-admin and /wp-login.php pages.

You won’t be able to edit this option for your main site, but other sites in your network can have this URL changed.

There are a couple issues that could arise with changing this option. Your site could become unavailable since this isn’t the only option that corresponds to the database for a site’s URL and your search engine ranking could also be affected.

Registered: This field displays the date and time that the site was first created.

Last Updated: The field for this option also displays the date and time like the “registered” option, except it displays the last time changes were made to the site. Editing this option won’t have an effect.

The attributes on the "Edit Site" page.
The site attributes are currently being improved.

Attributes: The checkboxes in this section should control the visibility of your site, but that’s currently not the case.

As of version 4.3, the attribute options don’t create any changes. This is a known issue and there is also a WordPress trac ticket addressing this issue and a resolution is in the works.

The Users Tab

This page displays the familiar settings that can be accessed through the admin dashboard.

The "Users" tab.
It can be easier to edit and add users when everything’s listed on one page.

If you’re not all that familiar with these pages, check out these pages from the WordPress Codex: Users Screen, Users Add New Screen and Users Your Profile Screen.

The Themes Tab

On this page, you should see a list of globally deactivated themes.

The themes tab on the "Edit Site" page.
The themes tab on the “Edit Site” page.

Updating a theme through the editor is possible by hovering over the title and clicking Edit, but it’s the best way to edit a theme since the changes are lost when an upgrade occurs.

Below each of the theme titles, you can select the Enable link to make the theme available for use on a per-site basis.

The Settings Tab

While some options aren’t too exciting, this is where the bulk of the powerful changes you can make are housed, but not all the options are up for editing. Some settings are deactivated and the field is populated with the words SERIALIZED DATA.

Serialized data displayed on the settings tab.
Seeing the words “serialized data” on the settings tab can be confusing, but it’s nothing to be alarmed about.

This means the data for this option is being stored in the database in a way that makes it uneditable.

Even though you won’t be able to edit these options in the site settings, you can find most of them in your dashboard to change what you need from there.

The following settings on this tab have serialized data:

  • Active Plugins
  • Sticky Posts
  • Widget Categories
  • Widget Text
  • Widget RSS
  • Uninstall Plugins
  • Widget Search
  • Widget Recent-posts
  • Widget Recent-comments
  • Widget Archives
  • Widget Meta
  • Sidebars Widgets
  • Rewrite Rules

If your Multisite isn’t a brand new installation, you may notice many other settings that are not covered. These are options that are added from plugins and widgets you have installed. Sometimes changing something through the dashboard also creates new site settings.

The site settings aren’t as scary as they may look. Let’s break them down now:

Siteurl: This is a copy of the same option we already covered from the Info tab.

Home: This option is for the URL of your homepage, the first page you want users to see when they type in your domain. The link you enter into this field ends up being the page that’s loaded.

Just as with the site URL, changing the home URL affects your search engine rankings. It can also break a portion or your entire site if all instances of your site’s URL aren’t changed in your database.

There usually won’t be a problem on installs with no content uploaded. Creating backups are still recommended.

The settings tab.
The settings tab can look more and more confusing as you scroll down the page.

Blogname: This is the field for the title of your blog. If you enabled your theme to display the blog title instead of an image, this is what displays on the front end.

Blogdescription: The tagline for your site goes here. This field shows up only if you have enabled this option in your theme.

Users Can Register: By default, this field is set to zero for false and editing has no effect since users need to register through the network and then become added to a site.

Admin Email: This is simply the email address for the administrator of the site where standard WordPress emails are sent.

Start Of Week: This option sets the day that the week starts on for the site.

There are – of course – seven different values you can enter:

  • Sunday –  0
  • Monday – 1
  • Tuesday – 2
  • Wednesday – 3
  • Thursday – 4
  • Friday – 5
  • Saturday – 6

Use BalanceTags: This option asks whether you want your tags balanced for you. What this means is any tags you leave open are closed for you. For example, in the code below, the list tags are left open:

Enabling Use BalanceTags closes the tags for you like in this example:

It’s not particularly pretty, but it gets the job done. It also can’t be found in the dashboard. The default is false (0) and true (2).

Use Smilies: This feature enables you to use smileys on posts and pages.

Comment with smilies
Smilies can quickly show emotions to help save you time when typing comments.

The editing options are false (0) and true (2) which is the default.

While this option won’t break your site, it can affect your writing at times as you may end up with an accidental smiley showing instead of your intended full sentence.

Normally, this setting is displayed on single installs of WordPress, but that’s not the case for Multisite. For networks, the only way to enable this feature is through the site settings.

Require Name Email: When someone comments on a post or page, you can control whether or not the user needs to fill out both their name and email in order to comment. If set to true and both fields aren’t filled out, it results in an error message.

The editing options are false (0) and true (2) which is the default.

For most sites out there, comment spam is a problem even with this option enabled. If you choose to disable it, you may see an increase in comment spam since there’s one less step needed for comments to be published.

Comments Notify: The site administrator can be notified when a comment is submitted with this option remaining enabled.

The editing options are false (0) and true (2) which is the default.

Posts Per RSS: You can choose how many posts to display on your most recent posts RSS feed with this option. The default amount is 10.

RSS Use Excerpt: On your RSS feed, you can choose whether to display an excerpt or the full length of your posts. The editing options are the default, full-text (0) and summary (2).

Mailserver URL: The cluster of mail server options on this page have to do with connecting an email address to a WordPress site.

This is used for the URL of the server where your email address is stored. If you would like to make use of these settings but aren’t sure what to type here, consult your email provider or hosting company if you set up an email there.

It may be important to note that only the body of the email and the subject line are published. The body publishes as the content of the post and the subject line becomes the title.

Connecting an email address through these settings means that each email that’s sent to the address you specify gets automatically published using POP3 access. This includes spam if you receive it.

It’s important to keep the email you use is secret and not guessable. Setting up an email with a random string of letters and numbers helps keep spam out of your inbox and off your site.

For example, you could create an email such as [email protected] since it won’t be easy to guess. Just make sure not to use this example and create one of your own.

It’s also important to make sure the email has its catch-all setting disabled. This ensures that any mail sent to an address that is typed incorrectly does not get sent to this email anyway.

This option is removed for Multisite so this is the only place you can access this feature for your network.

Mailserver Login: This is the email address you created to post to your site.

Mailserver Pass: This is the password of the secret email address you created to use with WordPress only.

Mailserver Port: This is the port that your email server uses. It’s best to check with your email provider or hosting company if you’re not sure what to put here.

Default Category: This option sets the default category ID for your posts. To find the ID of a category you want to use, go to Posts > Categories, then hover over the name of the category you would like to make the default option.

At the bottom of your browser window, a link should be displayed. I should look something like this:

The Id can be found after category&tag_ID= in the URL string. In this example, the category ID is two.

Default Comment Status: When you write a post, one of the settings on the post editor page is for allowing comments on the post. This is where you can adjust the default setting for this feature.

You can disable comments on posts (closed) and enable them (open).

The "allow pingbacks" option in the post editor.
There are multiple ways to disable pingbacks.

Default Ping Status: This feature is displayed after the enabling comments checkbox under the post editor.

It sets whether you want to allow pingbacks on posts by default.

You can disable pingbacks on posts (closed) and enable them (open).

For more information on cutting down on pingback and trackback spam, check out one of our other posts called How to Stop WordPress Trackback and Pingback Spam.

Default Pingback Flag: Attempts to notify any blogs that you link to on your own posts. If they have pingbacks enabled, they are notified and a comment is displayed on their post with the link to your post. The editing options are false (0) and true (2) which is the default.

Posts Per Page: You can set how many blog posts to display on the page at one time. The default amount is 10.

Date Format: You can choose exactly how you want the date displayed when posts and pages are published.

Here are all the possible values to use in any combination:

  • d – Displays the day of the month, leading with a zero. For example, September 01.
  • j – Displays the day of the month without leading with a zero. For example, September 1.
  • S – Adds the appropriate suffix to days of the month. For example, st, nd, rd and th for overall results such as “1st,” “2nd,” “3rd” and “4th.”
  • l – A lowercase “L” displays the full word for the days of the week. For example, Sunday.
  • D – Displays the first three letters for days of the week as a short form. For example, Mon for “Monday.”
  • m – Displays the numeric value for the month, leading with a zero. For example, 09 for “September” and 10 for “October.”
  • n – This one is similar to the last as it displays the numeric value for the month, but without leading with a zero. For example, 9 for “September” and 1 for “January.”
  • F – Writes out the entire word for the month. For example, January and February.
  • M – This value also adds the month, but only the first three letters. For example, Sep for “September” and Oct or “October.”
  • Y – Displays the year as four numbers. For example, 2015 or 2016.
  • y – Also displays the year, except only the last two numbers. For example, 15 for “2015” or 16 for “2016.”

You can also add other characters such as commas and hyphens to break up these values since they will be displayed literally.

Time Format: Just like the Date Format option, this setting displays the time for published posts.

Here are all the possible values to use in any combination:

  • a – Displays am or pm in lowercase for the 12-hour clock.
  • A – As you may have guessed, this value displays AM or PM in uppercase for the 12-hour clock.
  • h – Displays the hour for the 12-hour clock with a zero in front. For example, 01 for one o’clock in the afternoon.
  • g – This value also displays the hour for the 12-hour clock, except without a zero in front. For example, 1 for one o’clock in the afternoon.
  • H – You can display the hour in military time with a zero. For example, 08 for eight o’clock in the morning or 18 for six o’clock in the evening.
  • G – This value also displays the hour in military time, but without a zero in front. For example, 6 for six o’clock in the morning or 13 for one o’clock in the early afternoon.
  • i – To display minutes with a zero at the beginning, use this value. For example, 01 for one minute as in 5:01 AM or 35 as in 6:35 PM.
  • s – This value displays seconds with a zero in front. For example, 09 for nine seconds as 5:01:09 AM or 59 as in 6:35:59 PM.
  • T – Displays the timezone abbreviation. For example, EST for Eastern Standard time or GMT for Greenwich Mean Time.

There are also two ways to display the full date and time:

  • c – To display the ISO 8601 format. For example, 2004-02-12T15:19:21+00:00.
  • r – This value displays the time in the RFC 2822 format. For example, Thu, 21 Dec 2000 16:01:07 +0200.

It’s also similar when it comes to punctuation. You can add colons and hyphens to display literally with the time.

Links Updated Date Format: This setting displays the date with the values you choose for any place where the links_updated_date_format string is used. For example, in the twenty fifteen default theme, this string is used for comments.

Comment Moderation: Choose whether a comment should be manually approved before being published. The editing options are false (0) and true (2) which is the default.

If you choose not to manually approve comments, be sure you have an efficient plugin installed for detecting and filtering out spam comments such as Akismet or Antispam Bee. It’s common for comment spam to get a bit out of hand at times.

Spam comment in the queue
Receiving spam comments isn’t uncommon if you don’t have a spam plugin installed.

Moderation Notify: If you would like the site administrator to be notified when comments are held for moderation, this is the setting you would need to configure. The editing options are false (0) and true (2) which is the default.

Permalink Structure: You can choose your permalink structure in this text field.

The possible values you can put in any combination are:

  • %year% – Displays the year as four digits. For example, 2015 or 2016.
  • %monthnum% – This value displays the numeric month with a zero in front. For example, 09 for “September” or 10 for “October.”
  • %day% – Displays the day of the month. For example, 07 for “September 7th” or 15 for “September 15th.”
  • %hour% – You can display the hour of the day in military time. For example, 09 for nine o’clock in the morning or 20 for eight o’clock at night.
  • %minute% – Shows the minutes of the hour. For example, 35 in “18:35.”
  • %second% – Displays the seconds with a zero at the beginning.
  • %post_id% – This value shows the unique post ID number.
  • %postname% – Displays the post’s slug. For example, a title such as To Kill a Mockingbird shows up as to-kill-a-mockingbird.
  • %category% – Displays the category slug.
  • %author% –  Shows the post author’s username.

Keep in mind that each value can be separated by a forward slash if you would like, but it’s not mandatory, although, you do need one forward slash at the beginning of your permalink structure.

Here’s an example of two valid combinations you could use:

These aren’t necessarily structures you should use for yourself, but it gives you an idea of how you can format permalinks.

Gzipcompression: Some browsers allow and even ask for articles to be compressed with gzip. The editing options are the default false (0) and true (2).

If this feature is enabled, WordPress compresses your posts if a browser can handle it to drastically reduce a visitor’s bandwidth usage.

Hack File: This is a deprecated file so you can safely ignore this field.

Blog Charset: This field lists the type of character encoding that’s enabled. It’s the set of characters that are uploaded to your WordPress site.

Moderation Keys: An option to add a list of words – one word per line. If any of the words appear in a comment, it will be held for moderation.

Category Base: You can choose the slug to use for the base of your category names. The structure looks like this:

The category_base value is what this option changes.

Ping Sites: When you update your site, you can choose to notify sites so they have a chance to advertise your new updates. You can add the URLs of the sites you would like to notify in this field.

Advanced Edit: This is an option in reference to a deprecated editing screen so you can skip this setting.

Comment Max Links: By entering a number in this field, you can limit the amount of links allowed in a comment before it’s held for moderation.

GMT Offset: This option refers to the timezone your site is in, differing from the default zero value for GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). You can enter in a number in the negatives if you need to in order to adjust your timezone correctly.

For example, to set your timezone to the EDT (Eastern Daylight Time), you would type in -4 in this field.

Default Email Category: If you choose to publish posts via email, you can choose which default category your posts should be automatically sorted in. You can make this selection by entering the ID number of the category you want to make a default.[/pic_left]

Recently Edited: This option tracks the last five files you have edited, but this can’t be changed.

Template: This field reports the folder name of the currently activated theme.

Stylesheet: What’s displayed is the stylesheet of the currently activated theme.

Comment Whitelist: You can choose whether a comment author needs to have a previously approved comment to publish more comments automatically. The editing options are false (0) and true (2) which is the default.

Blacklist Keys: An option to add a list of words – one word per line. If any of the words appear in a comment, it will be marked as spam.

Comment Registration: If user registration has been disabled in the network, then current users must be logged in to post a comment.

HTML Type: Sets the default MIME type for blog pages such as text/html or xml+html. The default setting for this option is text/html.

Use Trackback: You can enable or disable receiving trackbacks with this field. The editing options are the default false (0) and true (2).

Default Role: This field sets the default role for newly registered users. The possible values for this option are: subscriber (ddefault), admin, editor, author, and contributor.

User roles drop down box on the "Edit Site" page.
Choose the default roles for your users carefully since certain roles can make a lot of changes.

Unless you have a specific reason to change the default role from subscriber, it’s best to leave this option alone since the other options give users more access to your site to edit settings you may not want changed.

It also gives hackers more access to your site if the account becomes compromised.

Db Version: Reports the version of your WordPress database. If you try to edit this option, it won’t have any effect.

Upload Path: This is the path of the folder where your site’s uploads are held, relative to the WordPress root.

Blog Public: This option dictates the visibility of your blog. The editing options are false (0) to discourage search engines from accessing your site, but human visitors still have full access. The value true (2) is the default and gives access to everyone.

Default Link Category: This field sets the default category for link posts. You can enter the ID of the category you would like these kinds of posts to be published under by default.

Show On Front: Reports the page that displays as the site’s homepage. Editing this field won’t change anything.

Tag Base: You can choose the slug to use for the base of your tag names. The structure looks like this:

The tag_base value is what this option changes. You can change this to whatever you would like, as long as it contains the characters permitted for URLs.

Show Avatars: This field controls avatars and if they are displayed. The editing options are not to display avatars (0) and to display them (2) which is the default.

Avatar Rating: This field displays and sets the maturity rating for avatars.

The possible values for this option are:

  • G – The default and used for sites that are suitable for all audiences.
  • PG – Used for sites that are possibly offensive and suitable for audiences aged 13 and above.
  • R – For sites that are intended for an audience of people aged 17 and above.
  • X – Sites that should be restricted for an even more mature audience than the R rating above.

Upload URL Path: The URL of the upload folder for the site. This field has the folder written as a direct URL.

Thumbnail Size W: Sets the width in pixels for thumbnail images. You can also find this option under Settings > Media > Thumbnail size.

Images sizes under Settings > Media.
Setting the max size to zero ensures no extra image sizes are created since too many images can bloat your site.

Thumbnail Size H: Sets the height in pixels for thumbnail images.

Thumbnail Crop: With this field, you can choose to allow images to be cropped to the size you set for thumbnails when this size is selected for images that are being placed in posts or pages. The editing options are false (0) and true (2) which is the default.

Medium Size W: The width in pixels for medium-sized images.

Medium Size H: The height in pixels for medium-sized images.

Avatar Default: This field displays the type of avatar to show on the site, but  it cannot be edited through the Edit Site page.

Large Size W: Sets the maximum width in pixels for large-sized images.

Large Size H: The maximum height in pixels for large-sized images.

Image Default Link Type

Attachment display settings
Setting image defaults that work for your specific needs can help make writing posts faster.

When you insert an image into a post by clicking the Add Media button above the post editor, you can select the destination of the image when it’s clicked under the drop down box named Link to.

This field sets the default type of link that’s selected in the drop down box.

The possible values for this option are:

  • file – Enter this value to link images to its media file.
  • post – This value can be entered for the attachment page option.
  • custom – This is the value for the custom URL option.
  • none – Enter this value in order to not set a link for images.

Image Default Size: You can set the default size for images being inserted to a post or page. The possible values for this option are thumbnail, medium and large.

Image Default Align: This options sets your prefered image alignment as default. The possible values for this option are none (default), left, center and right.

Close Comments For Old Posts: With this field, you can choose to close comments on older posts or keep them open to receiving more comments. The editing options are the default false (0) and true (2).

Close Comments Days Old: To automatically close comments older than a certain number of days, type in your preferred number of days into this field. The default value is 14 for 14 days.

Thread Comments: With this option, you can enable or disable the WordPress native threaded (nested) comments system. The editing options are false (0) and true (2) which is the default.

Thread Comments Depth: If threaded comments are enabled, you can choose how many levels deep comments can go. The default number of levels is five and you can choose up up tp 10.

Page Comments: You can choose to enable or disable breaking comments into pages with this field. The editing options are false (0) and true (2) which is the default.

Comments Per Page: If the Page comments option above this one is enabled, you can choose how many comments to list before they are paginated. By default, posts and pages can display 50 comments before they are separated into different pages.

Default Comments Page: Select whether the first or last page of comments should be displayed first. You can enter first or last (default).

Comment Order: Sets which comments should be listed at the top of that section on post or page.

You can enter the values older (default) or newer.

Timezone String: Displays the timezone selected in the dashboard unless a GMT offset timezone is selected.

Page For Posts: When you choose to display a static page for the homepage of your site, you need to choose a different page to display your posts. This field is where you would place the ID number of the page you would like to choose for the blog page.

Page On Front: If you selected a static page to display as the homepage, this field sets the page that should be displayed. Type in the ID number of the page you wish to turn into the homepage into this field.

Default Post Format

Post formats in the post editor
Setting a default post format to one you use often can help speed things up.

Normally, you can find this option in the back end for single installs of WordPress, but this isn’t the case for Multisite networks. This option sets the default for the post formats.

Since WordPress version 3.1, you can choose between different types of posts you can publish. You don’t have to blog only text anymore.

The values you can enter are 0 (for the default standard post), asidechatgallerylinkimagequotestatusvideo and audio.

Link Manager Enabled: This is a deprecated option so you can safely ignore this field.

Finish Splitting Shared Terms: This field lists the ID numbers of terms that were split after once sharing a term ID. The WordPress Plugin Handbook explains this confusing option best in their entry titled Working with “split terms” in WP 4.2+.

WPLANG: The language that’s set for the individual site whose settings you’re currently viewing.

Site Upload Space Quota: This field sets the maximum allowed storage space for an individual network site and is measured in megabytes.

If you set this number too high, you may risk over packing your server and running out of storage space. If this happens, your whole network will be booted offline and you would need to speak with your hosting provider to get your site back up and online again.

Conclusion

It’s a huge list, but we managed to go through all the site options almost secretly hidden away in a Multisite network. Some of the options may sound scary, but in reality, many of these options can make quick improvements to a site within the network and even the main site.

Which of these site options could you see yourself using in your network? Do you still prefer making changes through the back end of your site? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image credits: epSos .de, leoplus.