What is a multisite?

The goal of a Drupal multisite is to combine several websites within the same Drupal installation. This results in a collection of websites that are created, managed, deployed and updated in a more efficient and better way. Websites within a multisite setup can have different web addresses and may also differ in functionality depending on your needs.

Different approaches

With Drupal you can create multisite platforms in different ways. Let's take a look at the different options.

1

A multisite setup, where every website shares the same code, but each site has its own database.

2

A domain access setup, where each site shares the same code and database, but uses the Drupal role system to differentiate content and users between multiple domains, subdomains or sub-levels.

3

An install profile, where each new site is based on a general blueprint of a website, but lives its own life, without sharing content nor code.

multisite

Drupal multisite

A Drupal multisite is relatively easy to set up and is a good strategy in some cases. When your websites do not benefit from sharing content or users, but require the same look and feel and functionalities, a multisite is the preferred method.

When applying this strategy, you need to take a number of properties into account:

  • Files are not shared between the different subsites
  • Content is not shared between subsites
  • In the case of a data import, this must be done per subsite or a separate data synchronization functionality must be developed.
multi domain

Domain access

Domain access is a versatile multisite strategy that primarily focuses on sharing content and granularly assigning permissions for users. It is also advantageous when rolling out updates and new functionality.

This strategy should take into account the following elements:

  • Workflow (Draft - Needs Review - Published) is the same on all domain sites. If a node is published on one domain site, it is published on all subsites.
  • The structure of a Content Type (e.g., news item) must be identical on all subsites.
  • Page graphics can be developed separately for each subsite. (but not required)
  • User and roles are present on all domain sites, but can be granularly granted or taken away.
  • Files can be used across all domain sites
install

Drupal install profile

A distributed approach via an install profile is fundamentally different. Here, a blueprint Drupal installation is created, which contains all the functionality and configurations that future websites will need. Then this installation is used for each website to create a new website, which is then refined and styled as needed.
The main advantage is that, when you need the same functionalities for many different sites, but not for the same brand, users, regions or scale, you really reap the benefits of only having to develop the main website functionalities once, and use them on many different websites which can then start their own lives.

The websites can then continue to grow independently in terms of functionality, styling or integrations with other systems.

A good example of a Drupal multisite setup is our client Meat&More. Their team works with the Drupal multisite environment on a daily basis. Both their corporate site and the 2 retail sites use it.

For the non-profit Herita, we built a CMS and CRM platform with domain access as a multisite architecture. Herita is the organiser of, among other things, the Flemish Heritage Day, the largest cultural one-day event in Flanders.

Since we developed an install profile multisite for Emmaüs, they offer all of their healthcare facilities the ability to have their own website. Better yet, automation of this platform allows Emmaüs to roll out a new site themselves. Each healthcare institution activates one or more functionalities in the install profile, and can configure its layout itself through a theme configurator.

Another good example of a Drupal multisite is the web platform of Q8, an international active distributor of fuels.

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