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The Ultimate WordPress Multisite Domain Mapping Guide

2020-06-04 by Catherrine Garcia

Managing multiple sites as limbs of a single network has become a hassle free and facile process with WordPress Multisite. However, using custom domains for each subsite can be tricky. This is where WordPress Multiple Domain Mapping comes in. It goes around the problem, without affecting how your sites front end looks like.

This Ultimate Guide to WordPress Multisite Domain Mapping will teach you all you need to know about domain mapping, WordPress multisite networks and we will look into the details of how-to setup domain mapping using latest version of WordPress Multisite.

Let’s see what Domain Mapping is!

WordPress Multisite (or WordPress Multiuser/WPMU) is a WordPress feature that allows you to run multiple WordPress sites from within one WordPress installation.

All these installations make up a so-called 'network'. All the sites in this network share one database, however, they have separate tables within this database and different directories for media uploads.

WordPress Multisite network’s top domain (example.com), by default assigns all other subsites as either ‘Sub-domain’ or ‘Sub-directories’. A sub-domain might look like this – subsite1.example.com, whereas a sub-directory might look something like this - network.com/subsite1.

Be very careful while activating your multisite network for the first time to select if your subsites will use sub-domains or sub-directories. Once you choose either of these options you cannot reverse the changes made.

 

Carefully select either of the options as you cannot reverse it once changes are made.

It might be the case that you are managing very different and distinct sites under a single network. In such a case it is always considered best to use different custom domains for each subsite. In terms of creating distinct recognisable brands and marketing purposes, it is always best to have custom domains setup for each subsite.

No More Plugins!

With WordPress 4.5, the necessities to use third-party plugins for domain mapping are over. Buggy and glitchy plugins were painful and frustrating but you don’t have to worry about them anymore. WordPress 4.5 introduced Domain Mapping as its native feature.

This launch came in 2019 making all the domain mapping tutorials obsolete and irrelevant. All you need is to follow this ultimate guide and you’ll be as good as ever to get your domain mapping up and running.

What We’ll Be Working Upon

Let’s see what all we’ll be looking at to get your multisite network up and running with custom domains for each subsite.

  1. Install a WordPress Multisite Network
  2. Configure DNS Records (Nameservers) for the Custom Domain
  3. Add the Custom Domain to Your Hosting Account
  4. Map a Network Subsite to its Custom Domain
  5. Repeat the Process for More Subsites (if needed)

Do not forget to create a backup of your complete site before commencing the process.

1. Install a WordPress Multisite Network

If you are setting up a blog or website, the first thing you want to do is to set up your basic WordPress Multisite Network. You can do this by following some basic steps mentioned below:

  • Install a regular WordPress site.
  • Enable WordPress multisite by adding a code snippet to your wp-config.php file.
  • Go to Tools > NetworkSetup menu item on your site dashboard. From here you can activate your multisite network. Select either of the sub-domain or sun-directory configuration for your subsites.
  • After running through the setup process, you’ll get two code snippets. Add one to your wp-config.php file and the other to your .htaccess file.
  • Go to Sites > Add Newin your Network Admin dashboard to add subsites to your multisite network.

You are pretty much done with your multisite network for starters. Make sure that your Multisite Network is running properly before proceeding to domain mapping.

2. Configure DNS Records (Nameservers) for the Custom Domain

Before configuring your custom domain’s DNS records there is a preliminary step. If you have different domain and web hosting accounts, repeat the steps to set up your network’s main domain name. In case you have combo domain-hosting package then you can skip it as it’s already done by your hosting provider.

Now, you will be editing or adding the following records depending upon what kind of hosting account you have.

  • CNAME Record
  • A Record
  • AAAA Record
  • Nameservers


CNAME Records

CNAME, also called canonical Name is a DNS record that maps an alias name to a true domain name. CNAME is generally used to map a sub-domain such as www or mail to the primary domain hosting. For example, a CNAME record can map www.example.com to the domain example.com.


A Record

It maps a domain name to the IP address (Version 4) of the server hosting the domain.


AAAA Record

It specifies IPv6 address for a web host. Also called as Quad-A record,it works the same way as A record, the only difference being the updated version of IP address. You should use AAAA record along with A record, as it’s considered best practice and might even lead to performance boost.


Nameservers

NS Records are provided by hosting providers. These are used to serve as link between your domain and IP address of your hosting account. In case you change your Nameservers, then your hosting provider has to change all of your other DNS records as well.

Generally, it takes a few hours to update the DNS records but sometimes it might take up to 48 hours as well. It is best to update DNS Records for all your subsites right away in order to map custom domains for each subsite. You can use DNS lookup services such as DNS Checker or MxToolbox to make sure that your domain’s new DNS records have propagated successfully


3. Add the Custom Domain to Your Hosting Account

This step is fairly simple. Simply add a custom domain to the hosting server where your main network site is installed. We will have a look at how to do this by using cPanel. cPanel is one of the most common setups used by most of best hosting companies.

Open the cPanel on your hosting account’s dashboard. Once the cPanel dashboard opens up, look an option called Parked Domains or Alias under the domains section. Domain Aliases allows access to your website from different domains.For example; you can make www.domain.org and www.domain.edu show content from www.domain.com.

Some shared hosting environments might have either of the Alias Panel or Parked Domains. Get it started by clicking on it.

  • Create a New Alias by entering your subsite’s custom domain name and hitting the Add Domain button.
  • A lot of web hosts setup a redirection for domain alias automatically. However, if it’s not the case with you then simply looking at Redirects to Column. If it sets a redirection, click Manage Redirection link on the right, and then select Disable Redirection.

This way you can add your subsite’s custom domain to your hosting account.


4.  Map A Network Subsite To Its Custom Domain

In order to map a domain for your subsite on your multisite network, you need to give its sub-domain or sub-directory a name.

To do this, go to your Network Admin Dashboard on your sites panel. Hover over the subsite you want to map and click on edit. Enter the custom domain you want to map in its Site Address (URL) field. Then, hit the blue Save Changes button.

After completing this step, WordPress Multisite Network considers this subsite with its own unique custom domain, rather than the default URL with sub-directory extension.

This is a complete guide on how to map custom domains for your subsites.

5. Repeat the Process for More Subsites

In order to map a custom domain for more subsites on your Multisite Network, simply follow the steps 2,3 and 4.


Add SSL Certificate

It is important to add an SSL certificate to all your websites. Having an SSL Certificate will not only be beneficial for the security of Multisite Network but it helps immensely with the SEO as well. Google ranks SSL Certified websites higher in its search result.

Most of the hosting providers provide an SSL certificate by default, however if your provider hasn’t done so, you need to ask them to certify you subsite with SSL, which will not be much of an issue.

Conclusion

Having a custom domain for all your subsites in your network can prove to be defining factor for your online presence. It not makes it easier to find for visitors but also is beneficial from marketing and branding perspective. It is useful if you are creating websites for different products or brands under a common umbrella or creating a network of multiple sites. Since the launch of WordPress 4.5 it has become fairly easy to manage a multisite network and also map custom domain for different subsites. Now you don’t need to hassle with third-party plugins and complicated configurations.

Go ahead and create your own multisite network with custom domains for your subsites.

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Author

Catherrine Garcia

Catherrine Garcia is an experienced Web Developer at WPCodingDev and a passionate blogger. She loves to share her knowledge through articles on web development and WordPress related topics.

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