Debian, WordPress and Multi-site

For quite some time, the Debian version of WordPress has had a configuration tweak that made it possible to run multiple websites on the same server. This came from a while ago when multi-site wasn’t available. While a useful feature, it does make the initial setup of WordPress for simple sites more complicated.

I’m looking at changing the Debian package slightly so that for a single-site use it Just Works. I have also looked into the way WordPress handles the content, especially themes and plugins, to see if there is a way of updating them through the website itself. This probably won’t suit everyone but I think its a better default.

The idea will be to setup Debian packages something like this by default and then if you want more fancier stuff its all still there, just not setup. It’s not setup at the moment but the default is a little confusing which I hope to change.

Multisite

The first step was to get my pair of websites into one. So first it was backing up time and then the removal of my config-websitename.php files in /etc/wordpress. I created a single /etc/wordpress/config-default.php file that used a new database.  This initial setup worked ok and I had the primary site going reasonably quickly.

The second site was a little trickier. The problem is that multisite does things like foo.example.com and bar.example.com while I wanted example.com and somethingelse.com There is a plugin wordpress-mu-domain-mapping that almost sorta-kinda works.  While it let me make the second site with a different name, it didn’t like aliases, especially if the alias was the first site.

Some evil SQL fixed that nicely.  “UPDATE wp_domain_mapping SET blog_id=1 WHERE id=2”

So now I had:

  • enc.com.au as my primary site
  • rnms.org as a second site
  • dropbear.xyz as an alias for my primary site

Files and Permissions

We really three separate sets of files in wordpress. These files come from three different sources and are updated using three different ways with a different release cycle.

The first is the wordpress code which is shipped in the Debian package. All of this code lives in /usr/share/wordpress and is only changed if you update the Debian package, or you fiddle around with it. It needs to be readable to the webserver but not writable. The config files in /etc/wordpress are in this lot too.

Secondly, we have the user generated data. This is things like your pictures that you add to the blog. As they are uploaded through the webserver, it needs to be writable to it. These files are located in /var/lib/wordpress/wp-content/uploads

Third, is the plugins and themes. These can either be unzipped and placed into a directory or directly loaded in from the webserver. I used to do the first way but are trying the second. These files are located in /var/lib/wordpress/wp-content

Ever tried to update your plugins and get the FTP prompt? This is because the wp-content directory is not writable. I adjusted the permissions and now when a plugin wants to update, I click yes and it magically happens!

You will have to reference the /var/lib/wordpress/wp-content subdirectory in two places:

  • In your /etc/config-default.php:  WP_CONTENT_DIR definition
  • In apache or htaccess: Either a symlink out of /usr/share/wordpress and turn on followsymlinks or an apache Alias and also permit access.

What broke

Images did, in a strange way. My media library is empty, but my images are still there. Something in the export and reimport did not work. For me its a minor inconvenience and due to moving from one system to another, but it still is there.