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Drupal multisite: how it works and when it is the best choice

22.05.2019
Drupal multisite
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Drupal allows you to find the most effective solution for every business case. Large organizations often need more than one website but a collection of related sites, which would be easy to manage. To meet this need, there is the Drupal multisite feature that has become popular among education websites, government websites, corporate websites, and so on. Let’s explore what Drupal multisite is, how it works, and when it is the best choice.

What is Drupal multisite?

Multiple sites combined in the same Drupal installation — that’s the basic essence of Drupal multisite feature. Instead of one site, you have a collection of websites that are created, managed, deployed, and updated from one place because they share one codebase. They have different web addresses and also may differ in nuances according to your requirements.

Drupal multisite architecture

In the multisite setup, different Drupal sites share:

  • Drupal core
  • codebase
  • available modules
  • available themes

At the same time, they do not share:

  • base domains or URLs
  • databases
  • enabled modules
  • enabled themes
  • configurations
  • files
  • user profiles
  • content

Here is an example of Drupal multisite feature created by our company for a global retail chain of goods for homes. Websites for different countries work from the same Drupal core and have different features enabled from the admin dashboard and saved in configuration.

Drupal multisite example

Drupal multisite benefits

For some companies, a strong multisite feature is one of the reasons they have chosen Drupal at all. Here’s why.

The Drupal multisite is valued for its big savings in time, effort, costs, and resources across website development, installation, and management. Sites are hosted on the same server, have the same codebase, and all the processes can be performed on them at once. This is especially noticeable when there are numerous sites.

For example, updates and upgrades don’t have to be repeated for all websites — one action is enough. This includes core, module, and theme updates, as well as updates to the server OS, applications, and database software.

With multisite, it is also easy to introduce new features. Say you create a new module for your site — and it is easy to share it across others.

Another benefit of Drupal multisite is the presence of useful solutions and tools. Among them:

Drupal multisite risks

In some cases, Drupal multisite can present risks — the "flip side" of its benefits. They have caused some heated discussions in the Drupal community.

Namely, if there are any traffic spikes or security issues on one site, this can potentially influence others. And any mistakes during website updates or changes can harm other websites as well.

So Drupal multisite setup and maintenance is a responsible task for experienced teams with advanced technical skills. Websites should be managed with great care, best practices and tools, and always kept up-to-date.

And, of course, multisite should be chosen when it suits the particular case, recommendations for which we will discuss next.

When Drupal multisite is the best choice

As usual with benefits and risks, they are relative, and depend on the situation. Here is when Drupal multisite is a good fit, smooth in management, and most beneficial:

  • First of all, a “rule of thumb” for choosing multisite is that functionality should be similar across websites.

They may look differently due to different enabled themes, or even represent completely different industries.

Alternatively, they may look similar (like in the case of departments for the same organization), and have similar functionality with slight differences necessary for specific departments.

  • You can consider multisite if you are not planning to introduce serious feature changes to selected sites from your “cluster.” If serious changes are planned, they should apply to all sites.
  • Multisite is most successful if sites in the collection are the responsibility of the same development and support team. And, remember, it should be a careful and experienced one.

If the functionality on websites is significantly different, it is better to use other approaches instead of multisite. It’s possible to considerably optimize codebase management using Git version control system, Composer package manager, and more. 

Let’s discuss multisite for your case

To decide whether you will benefit more from the multisite setup or from separate sites, from just multilanguage, and so on, you can always consult our development team. We will also be your development or optimization team to fulfil these ideas. Our 11 years of expertise let us do it perfectly.

Remember, we started this post by saying that Drupal has an effective solution for every business case. And it’s true. Let’s find one for you!

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