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WordPress MultiSite Subdomains on MAMP

Developing WordPress sites on a local MAMP server provides flexibility, privacy, and security throughout the development process. Setting up a WordPress environment on MAMP is definitely worth the effort, especially if you’re building and testing multiple sites using WordPress’ built-in MultiSite functionality.

The easiest and recommended way of setting up WordPress MultiSite is to use sub-directories. So when you create a new site named “business”, it will be located at http://localhost/business/. Here’s a mini-tutorial on how to use sub-domains for your network sites.

Edit Mac hosts file

After installing MAMP, change the default Apache port to 80. Next, add your sub-domains to the Mac hosts file. To do this, open Terminal and type “sudo pico /etc/hosts” (without the quotes), and then enter your password at the prompt. Use the arrow keys to scroll down to the end of the hosts file and add the following lines:

127.0.0.1       example.com
127.0.0.1       site1.example.com
127.0.0.1       site2.example.com

Edit these entries to match the domain and sub-domains that you want to create with MultiSite. Add as many sub-domains as needed, now or later. Then save the file and exit by typing Ctrl+O, Enter, and then Ctrl+X.

Edit Apache config file

The next step is to add virtual hosts to your Apache configuration file. Open /Applications/MAMP/conf/apache/httpd.conf in a text editor and scroll down to the line that says “#NameVirtualHost *”. Replace that line with the following code:

NameVirtualHost *
<virtualHost *>
 ServerName example.com
 ServerAlias example.com *.example.com
 DocumentRoot "/Applications/MAMP/htdocs/"
 <directory "/Applications/MAMP/htdocs/">
  Options Indexes FollowSymLinks Includes
  AllowOverride All
  Order allow,deny
  Allow from all
 </directory>
</virtualHost>

Change each instance of example.com to match your domain, save the file, and then Restart Apache by clicking “Stop” and then “Start” in the MAMP control panel.

Update: Alternate Method

Yotam Praag sent in an alternate way of implementing this step. Instead of the previous instructions for “Edit Apache config file”, follow these steps:

1. Open up httpd.conf (location: /Applications/MAMP/conf/apache/httpd.conf)

2. Uncomment the line under the “Virtual Hosts” section, so it looks like this (note that the path may vary depending on your setup):

# Virtual hosts
Include /Applications/MAMP/conf/apache/extra/httpd-vhosts.conf

3. Next open http-vhosts.conf (location: /Applications/MAMP/conf/apache/extra/httpd-vhosts.conf)

4. Remove all example entries so you will have an empty file

5. Now add the following lines to your file:

<VirtualHost *:80>
	ServerAdmin webmaster@dummy-host.example.com
	DocumentRoot "/Users/myusername/mysite/"
	ServerName example.com
	ServerAlias example.com *.example.com

	# Uncomment next line if you need to specify the location of your log file
	# ErrorLog "logs/dummy-host.example.com-error_log"
	
	<Directory "/Users/myusername/mysite/">Options Indexes FollowSymLinks Includes AllowOverride All Order allow,deny Allow from all</Directory> 
</VirtualHost>

6. You can add as many of the above as you need by changing the DocumentRoot, ServerName, ServerAlias and Directory entries accordingly.

This method is very similar to the previous technique, but enables you to add more site definitions and keeps your config file slightly less cluttered.

Install & configure WordPress

Now to install WordPress by placing the WordPress installation files in your /htdocs/ directory, creating the database via phpMyAdmin (@ http://localhost/MAMP/), and editing wp-config.php with your database credentials. Then complete the install process by accessing http://example.com/wp-admin/install.php in your browser.

Next, enable MultiSite by adding the following line to your wp-config.php file, just above the line that says, “That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging”:

define('WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true);

With that in place, return to the WP Admin and click on Tools > Network. On this page you will now see an option to use sub-domains for your site addresses. Make sure that’s selected, check the other details, and then click the “Install” button to make it happen. Note that you’ll see a warning message that says, “Wildcard DNS may not be configured correctly!” – we can ignore this warning because we know our DNS is correct.

Finally, complete the steps outlined there on the “Enabling the Network” page (i.e., create a blogs.dir folder and add the required code snippets). After that, re-login to the Admin area and go to Network Admin > Sites > Add New to begin adding your sub-domain network sites.

That’s it! You’re now rolling tuff with WordPress subdomains on a local MAMP development server. The sky’s the limit!

Jeff Starr
About the Author Jeff Starr = Web Developer. Security Specialist. WordPress Buff.
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19 responses
  1. Nice Jeff, thank you! I spent like 3 hours on that issue the other day.

    There is no way to get wildcard subdomains working in the hosts file, is there?

  2. On the advanced tab in MAMP PRO, I add a wildcard server alias in ‘customised vertual host general settings’.

    http://yfrog.com/mf9ekp

    I’ve got the same fixed IP at work and at home, so I just point a wildcard domain in a handy DNS server at the relevant 192.168.x.x address.

    My mamp server is then available to others on the network so I can send links on my machine to my business partner

  3. For those who use WAMP with Windows, follow the same steps as above for the hosts file and httpd.conf file except try the following.

    First, your config file will be somewhere like:
    c:\wamp\bin\apache\apache.ver#\htdocs\

    You will need to enable virtual hosts. Search for:
    "# Virtual hosts" <- without the quotes

    Remove the hash from the line below that. It will look like:
    "#Include conf/extra/httpd-vhosts.conf"

    Save the config file.

    The actual editing that Jeff was talking about will be in a subfolder called "extra". The file to edit is "httpd-vhosts.conf".

    Edit it as Jeff instructed.

    Once you have the config file edited, open your hosts file. You will need to open it as administrator. For Windows users, it is located in: "C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc".

    Copy the info in that file and put it into a new file called "hosts_2". Edit this file to reflect the idea Jeff spoke of above.

    Now, somewhere on your system, create a batch file. Put this code into it.

    cd\
    cd C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc
    rename hosts hosts_3
    rename hosts_2 hosts
    rename hosts_3 hosts_2

    Now, all you have to do is run this batch file as administrator and it will swap your host files from the everyday file to the development file. Doing this will allow you to switch back and forth between the local development site and the live site.

    BONUS:
    By editing the httpd.conf file correctly, you could change the document root of your development site to your DropBox folder.

    Here is an example of my config for my todo list.

    ServerAdmin webmaster@localhost
    DocumentRoot "S:/My Documents/Dropbox/todo"
    ServerName todo

    Options Indexes FollowSymLinks
    AllowOverride all
    Order Deny,Allow
    Deny from all
    Allow from 127.0.0.1

  4. Chris Krycho October 4, 2011 @ 8:13 am

    Out of curiosity, is there a particular reason to use MAMP versus the built-in server capabilities of the Mac? (I had to do a MySQL install and tweak a few PHP settings, but otherwise my default install, both in Snow Leopard and Lion, is perfectly happy running a local server…)

    Thanks for the tutorial, as it’ll be immensely helpful for me as I set up a new site using Multisite over the next month or two!

    • Jeff Starr

      Not really. Ultimately they do the same thing, but MAMP provides some additional options and makes it all easier to change settings from it’s handy little control panel. I’m not sure if there’s anything like that for the built-in Mac files..?

      • Chris Krycho October 4, 2011 @ 8:30 am

        No, you end up digging around in the back end apache files a lot. The GUI alone may make it worth my time to come at from that angle.

        Thanks for the quick response. :)

  5. I’m wondering if anybody else finds this not possible – I keep revolving back to the WordPress Codex which states;

    You cannot choose Sub-domain Install in the following cases:
    WordPress install is in a directory (not in document root).
    “WordPress address (URL)” is localhost.
    “WordPress address (URL)” is IP address such as 127.0.0.1.

    http://codex.wordpress.org/Create_A_Network

  6. Any ideas how to make the subdomain in the host file added automatically? Giving the chance to the user to create its own subdomain ( as it is in wordpress blog new account registration)

    • Web server must be restarted after httpd.conf changed, so I think it’s impossible.

  7. Thanks for this tutorial. After much searching I was able to get MAMP running multisite using your post.

    I followed the steps above but here’s how I configured the FREE MAMP version:

    Got to MAMP’s apache folder and open the httpd.conf file. Uncomment the following line under # Virtual hosts:

    Include /Applications/MAMP/conf/apache/extra/httpd-vhosts.conf

    Then go into the extras folder and open your httpd-vhosts.conf file. Add the following code and replace example with your site.

    ServerName example.com
    ServerAlias example.com *.example.com
    DocumentRoot "/Applications/MAMP/htdocs/example/wordpress"
    Options Indexes FollowSymLinks Includes
    AllowOverride All
    Order allow,deny
    Allow from all
    ErrorLog "/private/var/log/apache2/example.localhost-error_log"
    CustomLog "/private/var/log/apache2/example.localhost-access_log" common

    Restart MAMP and you should be good to go. Also, it’s very important to make sure you have Web Sharing turned off in your Mac System Preferences. Your system Apache interferes with MAMP’s Apache.

  8. I’m stuck at the line that says “#NameVirtualHost *”. where is it? I simply don’t see it on /Applications/MAMP/conf/apache/httpd.conf

    • There appears to be a change with the latest versions of MAMP.
      Now, look for “#Include /Applications/MAMP/conf/apache/extra/httpd-vhosts.conf” and remove the hash at the beginning of the line. Then edit the file referenced in that line.

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