WordPress Multisite Plugins Management and Installation

We have learned how to set up WordPress multisite network, domain mapping in wp multisite and how to use thesis theme in WordPress multisite network sites. Now the important thing to do in wp multisite management is to configure and set up mu plugins in all the network sites using the network admin or super admin.

The plugin installation in a multisite network is the same as normal WordPress plugin installation in wp-admin dashboard. The only thing we need to check is whether the WordPress plugins available in the plugins directory are compatible with  multisite or not.  The main goal of this post is to answer the points below:

  1. What happens when we install a plugin in WordPress multisite network?
  2. How do you activate or deactivate a multisite plugin in single site of the WordPress mu  `network?
  3. What is mu-plugins folder? Is this really necessary?
  4. What are the differences between multisite plugins network activate and site admin plugins activate? How about mu-plugins activate?

What happens when we install a plugin in WordPress multisite network?

Before answering this question, first we should know how to install plugins in WordPress multisite.  Since there are network admin, site admin and mu-plugins folder in WordPress multisite, these create confusion on where to install multisite plugins.  Next question is what happens when you install it in mu-plugins or in network admin.

Where to install wordpress multisite plugins?

We have three plugins section in every multisite dashboard listed below,  so where exactly we need to install plugins?

  1. Network admin?  or
  2. mu-pugins folder?  or
  3. Site admin?

Generally, in wp multisite, all the individual sites are connected with the network admin or super admin. The ‘site admin’ is the wp-admin dashboard or individual sites which are mapped in the multisite network. In WordPress multisite, there are no plugins install or theme install option in site admin dashboard because the main use of the WordPress multisite is to manage all the plugins needed in individual sites at one place called network admin.

So we should install all WordPress plugins and themes for any individual site or all sites in the network using network admin. Some of the multisite developers may recommend using mu-plugins folder (‘must-use plugins’) for some important plugins which are necessary for multisite network setup and all network sites like domain mapping, etc. We will learn about mu-plugins folder and its uses on the third question. For now, consider mu-plugins folder not necessary for multisite.

Now we have a conclusion as we should install all the WordPress multisite plugins and themes in network admin same as normal wp-admin plugins install.

What happens once we install plugins in network admin?

Search one multisite compatible plugin in WordPress plugins directory using ‘add new’ plugins link in network admin dashboard (for example: ‘google xml sitemaps for multisite’). Once found, just install the plugin.

Now check if it is asking for network activate this plugin or return to dashboard. Don’t network activate right now.  First, check if this plugin is needed for all sites in the multisite network.  If ‘yes’, you  may now network activate this multisite plugin. Then the plugin settings will be available in all individual sites admin dashboard. We can configure the same plugin differently in each site in the network. The plugin setup otions are available under settings or tools tab in the site admin.  In some cases, we don’t want that multisite plugin in all the network sites, only some of the network sites need this multisite plugin for this kind of situation so we should not network activate that multisite plugin. Click return to dashboard link.

The reason for returning to dashboard without activating the plugin is when we do a network activate for a multisite plugin, which is activated in all individual sites in the network.  We cannot deactivate a network-activated multisite plugin in a single site of the multisite network sites. So during installation, click ‘network activate this plugin’ only if it is needed in all sites.

Wordpress multisite plugin network activation

Wordpress multisite plugin with network activation

The above image shows ‘active plugins’ and ‘wordpress multisite switcher’  are the two plugins has been activated network wide. So we cannot deactivate in site admin until it is network deactivated.  Akismet and google xml sitemaps are not network activated we can activate it in individual sites site admin.

We will see in the next section how to activate multisite plugins on some of the sites in the network.

How to activate or deactivate a multisite plugin in single site of the wp multisite network

To enable plugin in some of the sites in the network, just install the multisite plugin in network admin but remember not to network activate it for now.  When we go to plugins page in site admin of individual site, here you will see the plugins list which is installed but not activated in the network admin plugins page.  In individual site admin plugins page, we can activate the network installed plugins and configure it for a particular site. In the same way we can enable this plugin in all individual sites we needed.

But if you  have already network-activated the plugin, this plugin will not show in the site admin plugins list and it will be activated in all sites in the network. So to disable plugin in one site, just network deactivate that particular plugin in network admin and enable it in all site admins for configuration, except one admin. We don’t need that multisite plugin.

One site plugin activation on wordpress multisite

Wordpress multisite plugin activation in single site

What is mu-plugins folder? Is this really necessary?

If you don’t have mu-plugins folder, all the plugins files installed in the multisite network will be available inside the plugins folder. In the network admin ‘installed plugins’ page, you will see some of the plugins are network activated while some are not. The network-activated plugin settings are available in all site admins. Some of the network-deactivated plugins can also be active in all site admins in the network if it is enabled individuallty in all site admins.

In network admin plugins page, we will see all the plugins installed in the network and whether they are network active or not. So to determine, there are must needed plugins in the WordPress admin. Some multisite users are using ‘mu-plugins’ folder.  Mu-plugins means multisite ‘must-use plugins’.  The plugins installed inside the mu-plugins folder are a must for all network sites and multisite network setup and these are automatically activated in all sites of the wp multisite network. These mu-plugins will be separately shown in network admin plugins page.   The plugin installation inside the mu-plugins folder is not the same as normal wp-admin install. First, download the plugin form from the plugin owner site and unzip the plugin folder. Find the readme text file and follow the instructions to install the plugin in mu-plugins folder.

mu-plugins folder in wordpress multisite

mu-plugins folder in wordpress multisite

Whether the plugin is installated in plugins folder or mu-plugins folder, it will not affect the multisite setup or operation. If you install plugin away from WordPress.og plugins directory, read the readme text carefully before installation as some of them may harm your databases.

Who can deactivate network activated plugins?

Only super admin can enable or activate plugins in the network admin dashboard and mu-plugins folder. Other network sites admin users can configure the plugins using the setup options in the individual site admin dashboard.

What are the differences among multisite plugins activation?

There are three types in multisite plugin activation which are listed below

  1. Network activate
  2. Site admin plugins activate
  3. mu-plugins activate.

If the plugin is network-activated or network-enabled, this plugin settings is available  in all individual site amdin and we can configure it separately. But it should be available in all the network sites. We cannot disable the plugin in individual sites because this network-activated plugin will not show in the site admin plugins list.

If you have not network-activated or enabled a plugin, it will be shown in all individual site admin plugins page if we need this plugin in particular site we can enable here.

If the plugin is in mu-plugin folder, it will be automatically enabled in all sites in the WordPress multisite network because these are must-needed plugins.

One-click upgrade for all plugins in the multisite network

Network admin has an incredible option called ‘updates’ tab in sidebar. It has two links–one is available upgrades, and another is network update. Available upgrade lists all updated needed themes and plugins list. Network update is used to upgrade all the plugin and themes update in single click.

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Leave a Comment

  • Mark November 23, 2011, 5:19 PM

    Thanks for Awesome tutorial

  • Maria February 25, 2012, 1:08 PM


    Thanks for your tutorial. I’ve never heard of Wordpress Multisite, though, I’ve been using wordpress for many years. I like the way that Multisite does but you know, wordpress is prone to hacks, so, how’s the security feature of Multisite?

    • Sean @ DB Web Development July 13, 2012, 1:20 PM

      Maria, Wordpress Multisite is just as secure as the same version of non-Multisite Wordpress since they are the same code. It is just something you enable in your regular Wordpress config file to run as a Multisite.

      As long as you update your Wordpress site regularly and make sure the plugins/themes you are using are of good quality (and are coded to be secure) you should be alright.

      Suresh, thanks for clearly explaining the mu-plugin folder.