The question on almost every WordPress Multisite admin's mind— a question that lurks in the background at the beginning, then comes barreling to the foreground as your site grows— is: how do I manage this when people leave?
While the answer to that is going to vary significantly depending on your institution's specific situation, vision, and goals, we do have some tips that can help you develop your plan of action as well as decide which methods and tools to use.
When users leave a WPMS institution or organization, there are some common considerations that need to be taken into account when deciding what to do with their sites.
First of all, you'll want to have some sort of general policy in place for these scenarios that both aligns with your vision for your multisite as well as protects your time and effort.
Perhaps the top consideration when it comes to archiving old or unused sites is maintenance. This includes work like keeping plugins, themes, and software versions updated, as well as making sure that any site visitors are seeing what they're supposed to be seeing. As you may have guessed, this consideration is inextricably tied to security. When sites are left unmaintained they are vulnerable to attackers who can get into them via security holes in themes, plugins, or elsewhere.
Tim shares his own experience with unused site maintenance in a 2016 comment on Jim's blog post, Get Sitesucker, Sucker:
We used to have a WP Multisite instance at vsteconference.org with previous years archived to a subfolder site, but we still had to manage plugin updates and things breaking. I started archiving the sites to HTML and put the folders up on the server with each year so vsteconference.org/2015, vsteconference.org/2014, etc. all are static sites that look practically identical to the dynamic versions and cause no maintenance overhead.
We're going to consider two definitions of "accessibility" here: the first being how easy it is for visitors using assistive technology to access a site and the second being the site's general "findability."
Assistive Technology: This will require a site's metadata to be as well maintained as possible so that assistive technology will be able to interpret it accurately for the user. So, archiving a site by just capturing screenshots, for example, is definitely a no-go.
Findability: Archival is different from deletion, and many institutions are interested in keeping as much of previous user's work as possible to showcase what's been done in their WordPress multisite in the past. When deciding what method you're going to use to archive your sites, it's important to keep in mind that one of the main objectives here is for people to be able to find those sites and use them, or, at least, observe them. What format would work best for your purposes? Do you want to host the archived site in a set location, or do you want to package it up and send it to people?
Methods & tools
It's ultimately up the institution to decide what archiving means and looks like to them. After thinking through some of the considerations discussed above, check out some options for actually getting the archiving done.
Static site archiving
Archiving a site as flat HTML has significant benefits in many of our areas for consideration, most notably in Maintenance and Space. Static sites are flat HTML disconnected from a database or other server resources, minimizing security risks. Since there is nothing dynamic happening on these types of sites, updating is not necessary. They also take up a fraction the space compared to full-fledged CMS sites like WordPress.
Here are a few tools we like to use for static site archiving:
- Site Sucker
Site Sucker is a paid, macOS-specific application for quickly and easily converting your WordPress site into a static one. We've been fans of this at Reclaim for some time, as it's been blogged about not one but two team members. Furthermore, this tool isn't exclusive to WordPress, but works for many types of websites.
Site Sucker quickly and neatly packages your WordPress site up and stores it locally to your machine. Once this is complete, you're free to add it back to your WPMS as a subdomain or give it to the owner to host elsewhere. Keep in mind, if the site owner wants it back to continue building, they likely won't want a static site. At that point, you would want to do a WordPress export for them.
HTTrack is very similar to Site Sucker conceptually. Unlike Site Sucker, however, HTTrack is a free, cross-platform static site converter that mainly runs on the command line. While this may be a learning curve for some folks, there are some distinct benefits to choosing this archiving method, especially if you're not running on macOS. Anecdotally, some Reclaim team members have found that HTTrack tends to get along better with a larger variety of websites than Site Sucker, so if you're having trouble with the latter this might be a good option for you. HTTrack also makes a local copy of your site to your computer, saving storage space on your WordPress account. Taylor shared his experience with HTTrack here: Flattening sites to HTML with HTTrack
- Simply Static (plugin)
WordPress Multisite admins have likely heard of this plugin before, and for good reason. Simply Static is a go-to for WordPress community members (including us at Reclaim!) for archiving WordPress sites into static ones. That being said, the plugin does require you to have space in your current WordPress instance for the static version of your site, as it does not save locally. This could be a problem is one of the reasons you're trying to archive your site(s) is due to low storage space.
Interactive site archiving
Another method to mention here is characterized as "interactive" site archiving. This type of archiving method is a bit more complex than the conventional static sites, as it is particularly good at capturing and maintaining (to some extent) custom site functionality. If one of your WPMS sites is especially fancy and you'd like to be able to showcase its dynamic features, this method may be a better pick for you than the basic static site conversion.
Webrecorder isn't a single tool, but rather "a suite of open source tools and packages to capture interactive websites and replay them at a later time as accurately as possible."
Unlike the static site converter options, Webrecorder is geared toward the user rather than the admin so that they can archive any site from their own web browser via an extension. Once complete, users can revisit and replay archived sites from the extension's homepage. There is also a tool in this collection that helps you create an entire site for replaying your archives.
Archiving in the WPMS Dashboard
WordPress Multisite does, in fact, have its own archiving and deletion functionality. Keep in mind that WPMS archiving only affects who has access to the site, not whether the site is connected to or takes space on your server/databases. This functionality could be particularly helpful to work into your overall archiving process as a way of assessing which sites could be worth staying up, formally archiving, or deleting.
In order to archive a site in your WPMS, go to your list of sites from the Network Admin dashboard (you can read about how to do this in our article Accessing Sites within the WPMS Network Admin Dashboard), hover your mouse over the site you want to work with, and click Archive.
Confirm that you'd like to archive this site. The site will still show up in your sites list, but will have a light red background.
Now that the site is archived, when someone (who is not a network admin) attempts to visit the site, they'll be shown the following:
When you're ready to delete a site (and be sure you're really ready to delete, because this can't be undone) repeat the above steps but, instead of Archive, select Delete and Confirm. You'll see that the site is no longer listed on your sites list, and if you try to go to the former URL, you'll get a 404 error page.
If you are interested in using this method to archive or delete sites in bulk, please let us know and we can work with you on that.
Do you have a tool, method, or trick you'd like to see included in this article? Contact us!