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      How To Set Up WordPress Multisite with Nginx and LEMP on Ubuntu 20.04


      The WordPress multisite feature is a unique way to host and manage a suite of sites in one place, and is useful for projects or positions that call for the operation of several WordPress sites under one host. Multisite offers the ability to create multiple WordPress websites from a single installation of WordPress, with each site having a separate theme, set of plugins, and collection of content (typically posts and pages). This feature helps to reduce the overhead of maintaining and updating several installations of WordPress, while allowing you to host multiple sites which may be unrelated to one another.

      In this tutorial, you’ll set up a WordPress multisite on an Ubuntu 20.04 Droplet using subdomains. The WordPress sites that you’ll create will have a subdomain web address like, but your subdomain address can be mapped to an external domain like so that each site looks independent to users visiting your multisite suite of addresses.


      This tutorial requires you to have a basic knowledge of WordPress multisite. The following articles might be helpful in deepening your understanding of multisites:

      Step 1 — Installing WordPress

      For this tutorial, you’ll need to have access to a WordPress Droplet running the LEMP stack on Ubuntu 20.04. You can create a WordPress installation on a Droplet in the following ways:

      You can also follow this tutorial using a WordPress installation on a hosting provider, but keep in mind that the steps of this tutorial will reflect a WordPress multisite setup on a DigitalOcean Droplet.

      Before installing WordPress, you’ll need to set up DNS records for each intended WordPress site in your multisite installation. For this tutorial, create the following domain names:

      • Site 1:

        Domain: (Primary domain)

        This is the site that is created when WordPress is installed.

      • Site 2:

        External Domain:


      • Site 3:

        External Domain:


      The first domain is the primary domain name through which WordPress will be referenced. Make sure to set up DNS for all three domains to point to the IP address of the Droplet hosting WordPress.

      While installing, if you’ve chosen to use a Droplet with a LEMP stack, be sure to follow the instructions for setting up your database and users. For DigitalOcean WordPress 1-Click installations, this has already been configured for you.

      After installing WordPress on your Droplet, let’s assign file ownership to the user www-data. This is essential for media uploads and for core/plugin/theme updates to work in WordPress.

      Log in to your Droplet via the command line, then execute the following command, replacing the highlighted path with the full path to your WordPress installation:

      • chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www/wordpress/

      This command will grant read and write access to the www-data user for media uploads and necessary updates.

      In the next step, we’ll further configure the primary domain, then configure our multisite installation from there.

      Step 2 — Setting Up DNS Wildcard Records

      Let’s continue by adding a DNS wildcard record for the primary domain. Adding a wildcard record allows more WordPress sites to be added to your multisite installation at any time, without needing individual A records. Alternatively, you can choose to add a new A record for each subdomain.

      Log in to your DigitalOcean control panel and navigate to the Networking section. Edit the primary domain and create a wildcard A record for this domain pointing to the Droplet’s IP address. A wildcard record is created by entering an asterisk (*) in the hostname input box as shown in the following screenshot.

      DNS Control Panel - wildcard record

      If you host your domain’s DNS on a hosting provider, set the wildcard record using the registrar’s site.

      After setting the wildcard record, DNS queries for any should return the IP address of your Droplet.

      Step 3 — Enable Multisite and Create Additional Sites

      In this section, let’s now enable our WordPress multisite and create the two additional sites as mentioned in Step 1.

      To begin this process, a PHP constant has to be defined in the wp-config.php file to enable the Network Setup page.

      You can edit the wp-config.php file via the command line while logged into your WordPress Droplet. Open the file using your command line editor of choice. Here, we’ll use nano:

      • nano /var/www/wordpress/wp-config.php

      Add the following code before the comment /* That's all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */ or similar text:


          /* Multisite settings */
          define( 'WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true );

      Save and close the file. If you’re using nano, you can do that with CTRL+X, then Y and ENTER to confirm.

      Next, log in to the WordPress admin panel and navigate to Tools -> Network Setup. Choose the Subdomains option, modify the Network Title as desired, and then click Install.

      WordPress Network Setup

      You will be presented with two blocks of code to be added in the wp-config.php and .htaccess files. Because we are using Nginx, we won’t need to use the suggested .htaccess code, so you can ignore that for now.

      Copy the wp-config.php code which looks similar to the following:

          define('MULTISITE', true);
          define('SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', true);
          define('DOMAIN_CURRENT_SITE', '');
          define('PATH_CURRENT_SITE', '/');
          define('SITE_ID_CURRENT_SITE', 1);
          define('BLOG_ID_CURRENT_SITE', 1);

      Next, open the wp-config.php file:

      • nano /var/www/wordpress/wp-config.php

      Include the code snippet you just copied, placing it before the comment that says /* That's all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */ (or a variation of text that advises not to write below it). Save the file when you’re done.

      Log out of the WordPress admin panel, and log in again. From the admin toolbar on the top left, navigate to the My Sites > Network Admin > Sites.

      WordPress Toolbar

      Click the Add New button to open the Add New Site form. The following screenshot shows the filled-in details for the shopping site in our example. The Site Address entered will form the subdomain of this site.

      Creating a new WordPress site

      Click Add Site and the created site will be accessible via

      Repeat these steps to create the second site ( in our example).

      The following three WordPress sites can now have its own content, theme, and active set of plugins:


      Step 4 — Setting Up Domain Mapping

      In this step, let’s enable multisite to use a separate domain name for each WordPress site by downloading and enabling the WordPress MU Domain Mapping plugin. This third-party plugin allows users of WordPress multisite to map their blog/site to another domain.

      To download this plugin,visit My Sites -> Network Admin -> Plugins from your dashboard and select Add New on your primary domain to find the WordPress MU Domain Mapping plugin.


      Install the plugin, then click the Network Activate link under the WordPress MU Domain Mapping plugin. Go to Settings -> Domain Mapping and make changes to the Domain Options as follows:

      • Uncheck Remote Login
      • Check Permanent Redirect
      • Uncheck Redirect administration pages to site’s original domain

      Domain mapping options

      Click Save once done. These settings redirect all requests for subdomains (like to their respective external domains (like including the administration pages (/wp-admin).

      In the next step, let’s map a domain name to each site based on its site ID. There are many ways to find the ID of a site, but for easier administration you’ll create a simple WordPress Must-use plugin that displays an additional ID column on the Sites page.

      Log in to your WordPress Droplet via SSH and create an mu-plugins directory.

      • mkdir /var/www/wordpress/wp-content/mu-plugins

      Create a PHP file inside this directory:

      nano /var/www/wordpress/wp-content/mu-plugins/wpms_blogid.php

      Next, copy the following content to your wpms_blogid.php file:


          add_filter( 'wpmu_blogs_columns', 'do_get_id' );
          add_action( 'manage_sites_custom_column', 'do_add_columns', 10, 2 );
          add_action( 'manage_blogs_custom_column', 'do_add_columns', 10, 2 );
          function do_add_columns( $column_name, $blog_id ) {
              if ( 'blog_id' === $column_name )
                  echo $blog_id;
              return $column_name;
          function do_get_id( $columns ) {
              $columns['blog_id'] = 'ID';
              return $columns;

      The Sites -> All Sites section should now show an additional ID column.


      Note down the ID values for each site and go to the Settings -> Domains page. Enter the site ID followed by the external domain for the site. For example, since companysite has an ID of 3, on this page, the Site ID should be 3, and the domain should be

      Mapping a site ID to a domain

      You may add a “www” prefix if you wish to set the site URL as Repeat these steps for the other domains. Click Save at the bottom of the page.

      Each site will now have its own domain name instead of a subdomain; i.e., entering in your browser will open the My Online Company site. You can check this now by visiting your additional domain names that are mapped. You should see the site title change in the upper left corner of the page.

      Now each site can be maintained separately through its own WordPress admin panel:

      - ``
      - ``
      - ``

      Updates to the core/plugins/themes and installation of plugins/themes should be done from the network admin page of the primary domain:

      - ``


      In this tutorial, you learned how to set up the multisite feature on a WordPress website running on Ubuntu 20.04 with Nginx (LEMP stack). The multisite feature enables you to host multiple WordPress sites on one WordPress installation on your droplet. You also learned how to set up domain mapping, which allows each of your subsites to be reached through a custom domain name.

      For an alternate process to install the WordPress multisite feature, visit our tutorial, Setting up WordPress Multisite on Apache.

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      What is LEMP?

      LEMP refers to a collection of open-source software that is commonly used together to serve web applications. The term LEMP is an acronym that represents the configuration of a Linux operating system with an nginx (pronounced engine-x, hence the E in the acronym) web server, with site data stored in a MySQL database and dynamic content processed by PHP.

      The LEMP stack represents one way to configure a web server, and is used in a number of highly-scaled applications across the web.

      To learn more about LEMP, our tutorial How To Install Linux, Nginx, MySQL, PHP (LEMP stack) on Ubuntu 20.04 shares additional information and guides you through installing the LEMP stack on your web server.

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      How to Install WordPress with LEMP on Ubuntu 20.04


      WordPress, one of the most popular content management systems (CMS) on the internet currently, allows users to set up flexible blogs and websites using a MySQL backend with PHP processing. WordPress has seen an incredible adoption rate among new and experienced engineers alike, and is a great choice for getting a website up and running efficiently. After an initial setup, almost all administration for WordPress websites can be done through its graphical interface— these features and more make WordPress a great choice for websites built to scale.

      In this tutorial, you’ll focus on getting an instance of WordPress set up on a LEMP stack (Linux, Nginx, MySQL, and PHP) for an Ubuntu 20.04 server.


      In order to complete this tutorial, you’ll need access to an Ubuntu 20.04 server. To successfully install WordPress with LEMP on your server, you’ll also need to perform the following tasks before starting this tutorial:

      • Create a sudo user on your server: The steps in this tutorial are using a non-root user with sudo privileges. You can create a user with sudo privileges by following our Ubuntu 20.04 initial server setup tutorial.
      • Install a LEMP stack: WordPress will need a web server, a database, and PHP in order to correctly function. Setting up a LEMP stack (Linux, Nginx, MySQL, and PHP) fulfills all of these requirements. Follow this tutorial to install and configure this software.

      Rather than setting up these components yourself, you can quickly provision Ubuntu 20.04 server that already has a LEMP stack installed with DigitalOcean’s LEMP 1-click install app.

      Be aware, though, that this tutorial still assumes you have an administrative sudo user and an Nginx server block configured on your server. Even with a server provisioned with the LEMP 1-click app, you’ll need to follow Steps 1, 2, 3, and 5 of our Ubuntu 20.04 initial server setup tutorial. You’ll also need to complete Step 4 of our guide on installing the LEMP Stack on Ubuntu 20.04 to configure an Nginx server block and configure Nginx to use the PHP Processor

      • Secure your site with SSL: WordPress serves dynamic content and handles user authentication and authorization. TLS/SSL is the technology that allows you to encrypt the traffic from your site so that your connection is secure. The way you set up SSL will depend on whether you have a domain name for your site.
        • If you have a domain name, the easiest way to secure your site is with Let’s Encrypt, which provides free, trusted certificates. Follow our Let’s Encrypt guide for Nginx to set this up.
        • If you do not have a domain and you’re using this configuration for testing or personal use, you can use a self-signed certificate instead. This provides the same type of encryption, but without the domain validation. Follow our self-signed SSL guide for Nginx to get set up.

      When you are finished with setup, log in to your server as the sudo user to continue.

      Step 1 — Creating a MySQL Database and User for WordPress

      WordPress uses MySQL to manage and store site and user information. Although you already have MySQL installed, let’s create a database and a user for WordPress to use.

      To get started, log in to the MySQL root (administrative) account. If MySQL is configured to use the auth_socket authentication plugin (which is default), you can log in to the MySQL administrative account using sudo:

      If you have changed the authentication method to use a password for the MySQL root account, use the following command instead:

      You will be prompted for the password you set for the MySQL root account.

      Once logged in, create a separate database that WordPress can control. You can call this whatever you would like, but we will be using wordpress in this guide to keep it simple. You can create a database for WordPress by entering:

      • CREATE DATABASE wordpress DEFAULT CHARACTER SET utf8 COLLATE utf8_unicode_ci;

      Note: Every MySQL statement must end in a semi-colon (;). If you’ve encountered an error, check to make sure the semicolon is present.

      Next, let’s create a separate MySQL user account that we will use exclusively to operate on our new database. Creating single-purpose databases and accounts is a good idea from a management and security standpoint. We’ll use the name wordpressuser in this guide — feel free to change this if you’d like.

      In the following command, you are going to create an account, set a password, and grant access to the database you created. Remember to choose a strong password here:

      • CREATE USER 'wordpressuser'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED BY 'password';
      • GRANT ALL ON wordpress.* TO 'wordpressuser'@'localhost’;

      You now have a database and user account, each made specifically for WordPress.

      With the database tasks complete, let’s exit out of MySQL by typing:

      The MySQL session will exit, returning you to the regular Linux shell.

      Step 2 — Installing Additional PHP Extensions

      When setting up the LEMP stack, it required a very minimal set of extensions to get PHP to communicate with MySQL. WordPress and many of its plugins leverage additional PHP extensions, and you’ll use a few more in this tutorial.

      Let’s download and install some of the most popular PHP extensions for use with WordPress by typing:

      • sudo apt install php-curl php-gd php-intl php-mbstring php-soap php-xml php-xmlrpc php-zip

      Note: Each WordPress plugin has its own set of requirements. Some may require additional PHP extension packages to be installed. Check your plugin documentation to discover its PHP requirements. If they are available, they can be installed with apt as demonstrated above.

      When you are finished installing the extensions, restart the PHP-FPM process so that the running PHP processor can leverage the newly installed features:

      • sudo systemctl restart php7.4-fpm

      You now have all of the PHP extensions needed, installed on the server.

      Step 3 — Configuring Nginx

      Next, let’s make a few adjustments to our Nginx server block files. Based on the prerequisite tutorials, you should have a configuration file for your site in the /etc/nginx/sites-available/ directory configured to respond to your server’s domain name or IP address and protected by a TLS/SSL certificate. We’ll use /etc/apache2/sites-available/wordpress as an example here, but you should substitute the path to your configuration file where appropriate.

      Additionally, we will use /var/www/wordpress as the root directory of our WordPress install in this guide. Again, you should use the web root specified in your own configuration.

      Note: It’s possible you are using the /etc/nginx/sites-available/default default configuration (with /var/www/html as your web root). This is fine to use if you’re only going to host one website on this server. If not, it’s best to split the necessary configuration into logical chunks, one file per site.

      Open your site’s server block file with sudo privileges to begin:

      • sudo nano /etc/nginx/sites-available/wordpress

      Within the main server block, let’s add a few location blocks.

      Start by creating exact-matching location blocks for requests to /favicon.ico and /robots.txt, both of which you do not want to log requests for.

      Use a regular expression location to match any requests for static files. We will again turn off the logging for these requests and will mark them as highly cacheable, since these are typically expensive resources to serve. You can adjust this static files list to contain any other file extensions your site may use:


      server {
          . . .
          location = /favicon.ico { log_not_found off; access_log off; }
          location = /robots.txt { log_not_found off; access_log off; allow all; }
          location ~* .(css|gif|ico|jpeg|jpg|js|png)$ {
              expires max;
              log_not_found off;
          . . .

      Inside of the existing location / block, let’s adjust the try_files list. Comment out the default setting by prepending the line with a pound sign (#) and then add the highlighted line. This way, instead of returning a 404 error as the default option, control is passed to the index.php file with the request arguments.

      This should look something like this:


      server {
          . . .
          location / {
              #try_files $uri $uri/ =404;
              try_files $uri $uri/ /index.php$is_args$args;
          . . .

      When you are finished, save and close the file.

      Now, let’s check our configuration for syntax errors by typing:

      If no errors were reported, reload Nginx by typing:

      • sudo systemctl reload nginx

      Next, let’s download and set up WordPress.

      Step 4 — Downloading WordPress

      Now that your server software is configured, let’s download and set up WordPress. For security reasons, it is always recommended to get the latest version of WordPress directly from the project’s website.

      Change into a writable directory and then download the compressed release by typing:

      This changes your directory to the temporary folder. Then, enter the following command to download the latest version of WordPress in a compressed file:

      • curl -LO

      Note: The -LO flag is used to get directly to the source of the compressed file. -L ensures that fetching the file is successful in the case of redirects, and -O writes the output of our remote file with a local file that has the same name. To learn more about curl commands, visit How to Download Files with cURL

      Extract the compressed file to create the WordPress directory structure:

      You will be moving these files into our document root momentarily, but before you do, let’s copy over the sample configuration file to the filename that WordPress actually reads:

      • cp /tmp/wordpress/wp-config-sample.php /tmp/wordpress/wp-config.php

      Now, let’s copy the entire contents of the directory into our document root. We’re using the -a flag to make sure our permissions are maintained, and a dot at the end of our source directory to indicate that everything within the directory should be copied (including hidden files):

      • sudo cp -a /tmp/wordpress/. /var/www/wordpress

      Now that our files are in place, you’ll assign ownership to the www-data user and group. This is the user and group that Nginx runs as, and Nginx will need to be able to read and write WordPress files in order to serve the website and perform automatic updates:

      • sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www/wordpress

      Files are now in the server’s document root and have the correct ownership, but you still need to complete some additional configuration.

      Step 5 — Setting up the WordPress Configuration File

      Next, let’s make some changes to the main WordPress configuration file.

      When you open the file, you’ll start by adjusting some secret keys to provide some security for our installation. WordPress provides a secure generator for these values so that you don’t have to come up with values on your own. These are only used internally, so it won’t hurt usability to have complex, secure values here.

      To grab secure values from the WordPress secret key generator, type:

      • curl -s

      You will get back unique values that look something like this:

      Warning: It is important that you request unique values each time. Do NOT copy the values shown below!


      define('AUTH_KEY', '1jl/vqfs<XhdXoAPz9 DO NOT COPY THESE VALUES c_j{iwqD^<+c9.k<J@4H'); define('SECURE_AUTH_KEY', 'E2N-h2]Dcvp+aS/p7X DO NOT COPY THESE VALUES {Ka(f;rv?Pxf})CgLi-3'); define('LOGGED_IN_KEY', 'W(50,{W^,OPB%PB<JF DO NOT COPY THESE VALUES 2;y&,2m%3]R6DUth[;88'); define('NONCE_KEY', 'll,4UC)7ua+8<!4VM+ DO NOT COPY THESE VALUES #`DXF+[$atzM7 o^-C7g'); define('AUTH_SALT', 'koMrurzOA+|L_lG}kf DO NOT COPY THESE VALUES 07VC*Lj*lD&?3w!BT#-'); define('SECURE_AUTH_SALT', 'p32*p,]z%LZ+pAu:VY DO NOT COPY THESE VALUES C-?y+K0DK_+F|0h{!_xY'); define('LOGGED_IN_SALT', 'i^/G2W7!-1H2OQ+t$3 DO NOT COPY THESE VALUES t6**bRVFSD[Hi])-qS`|'); define('NONCE_SALT', 'Q6]U:K?j4L%Z]}h^q7 DO NOT COPY THESE VALUES 1% ^qUswWgn+6&xqHN&%');

      These are configuration lines that you can paste directly in your configuration file to set secure keys. Copy the output you received now.

      Now, open the WordPress configuration file:

      • sudo nano /var/www/wordpress/wp-config.php

      Find the section that contains the dummy values for those settings. It will look something like this:


      . . .
      define('AUTH_KEY',         'put your unique phrase here');
      define('SECURE_AUTH_KEY',  'put your unique phrase here');
      define('LOGGED_IN_KEY',    'put your unique phrase here');
      define('NONCE_KEY',        'put your unique phrase here');
      define('AUTH_SALT',        'put your unique phrase here');
      define('SECURE_AUTH_SALT', 'put your unique phrase here');
      define('LOGGED_IN_SALT',   'put your unique phrase here');
      define('NONCE_SALT',       'put your unique phrase here');
      . . .

      Delete those lines and paste in the values you copied from the command line:


      . . .
      . . .

      Next, let’s modify some of the database connection settings at the beginning of the file. You’ll have to adjust the database name, the database user, and the associated password that was configured within MySQL.

      The other change you should make is to set the method that WordPress uses to write to the filesystem. Since you’ve given the web server permission to write where it needs to, you can explicitly set the filesystem method to “direct”. Failure to set this with our current settings would result in WordPress prompting for FTP credentials when we perform some actions. Add this setting below the database connection settings, or anywhere else in the file:


      . . .
      define( 'DB_NAME', 'wordpress' );
      /** MySQL database username */
      define( 'DB_USER', 'wordpressuser' );
      /** MySQL database password */
      define( 'DB_PASSWORD', 'password' );
      . . .
      define( 'FS_METHOD', 'direct' );

      Save and close the file when you’re done.

      Step 6 — Completing the Installation Through the Web Interface

      Now that the server configuration is complete, you can finish up the installation through WordPress’ web interface.

      In your web browser, navigate to your server’s domain name or public IP address:


      Select the language you would like to use:

      WordPress language selection

      Next, you will come to the main setup page.

      Select a name for your WordPress site and choose a username (it is recommended not to choose something like “admin” for security purposes). A strong password is generated automatically. Save this password or select an alternative strong password.

      Enter your email address and select whether you want to discourage search engines from indexing your site:

      WordPress setup installation

      When you click ahead, you will be taken to a page that prompts you to log in:

      WordPress login prompt

      Once you log in, you will be taken to the WordPress administration dashboard:

      WordPress login prompt


      WordPress should be installed and ready to use! Some common next steps are to choose the permalinks setting for your posts (can be found in Settings > Permalinks) or to select a new theme (in Appearance > Themes). If this is your first time using WordPress, explore the interface a bit to get acquainted with your new CMS.

      If you’re looking for a one-click solution to install a WordPress Droplet, learn more about the WordPress One-Click App.

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