Disclaimer:  Shortly after writing this, we decided to abandon Docker. The setup we have uses Nginx  as the server, so it’s slightly more complicated. While I was able to get it running on my local machine using Docker Compose, I ran into problems when deploying it to a swarm with “docker stack deploy”. I think it was an internal Docker networking issue that was really difficult to troubleshoot. Also, earlier in the process, we couldn’t get one of our Macs to work with a development environment that worked fine on two other machines. This was extremely frustrating, since this is the kind of problem Docker is supposed to solve.  For a more comprehensive list of Docker gripes, check out “Docker in Production: A History of Failure” (I especially liked the GIF comparison under Surviving Docker in Production)

If you want to set up a basic WordPress install using Docker, it’s pretty easy. It’s all laid out on the official Docker Hub WordPress page. But what about Multisite? No images, or even a mention about WPMS. After much weeping, wailing, and bashing of keyboards (…going through Bret Fisher’s excellent course on Udemy didn’t hurt either) I came up with a workable solution.

We are going to use the “wordpress:latest” image that uses Apache for simplicity here, but these techniques should work for the other variations too. I recommend going through this simple setup first before adding other factors, like Nginx, into the mix.

Create a Dockerfile

First, we’re going to create a Dockerfile for our custom WP image. Make sure to use the default name “Dockerfile” so docker-compose knows what to do.

FROM wordpress:latest
COPY wp-config-sample.php /usr/local/bin/
COPY wordpress-entrypoint.sh /usr/local/bin/
ENTRYPOINT ["wordpress-entrypoint.sh"]
CMD ["apache2-foreground"]

The first line says we are inheriting everything from the “wordpress:latest” image. The next line puts the wp-config-sample.php file that we will modify in a safe place until the entrypoint script runs. If we tried to put it in /var/www/html it would get written over when WordPress is downloaded into that directory. The second COPY line puts our custom entrypoint script into the container. The ENTRYPOINT line runs our custom entrypoint script, which is just the default docker-entrypoint.sh script with a minor change we will make. And finally, the CMD line runs our Apache server.

Modify wp-config-sample.php

Add the following just above “/* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */” to a clean copy of wp-config-sample.php:

define('WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE', true);

Create the Entrypoint Script

The default entrypoint script is located in the same directory as the Dockerfile on GitHub. Copy the contents of this file into a new one called wordpress-entrypoint.sh and add the following after line 52:

# Overwrite wp-config-sample.php with the multisite version
mv -f /usr/local/bin/wp-config-sample.php /var/www/html/wp-config-sample.php

Create and run docker-compose.yml

version: '3.1'

    build: .
    image: wordpress-multisite
      WORDPRESS_DB_PASSWORD: mysecurepwd
      WORDPRESS_DEBUG: 'true' 
      - '80:80'
      - wordpress:/var/www/html
      - ./themes:/var/www/html/wp-content/themes
      - ./.htaccess:/var/www/html/.htaccess
      - mysql

    image: mariadb
      MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: mysecurepwd
      - '3306:3306'
      - db-data:/var/lib/mysql


Setting up the volumes isn’t entirely necessary, but it’s nice to have them named something sensible like “wordpress” and “db-data” rather than a random string when you run a “docker volume ls” command like we will do later. Also, I created a mounted volume for our themes directory since this is likely what we’ll be modifying in a development environment.

A note about the wordpress environment section. I was getting an “Unbound Variable” error from WORDPRESS_TABLE_PREFIX until I explicitly set it here. I couldn’t see why I would need to set this but didn’t feel like hunting down the problem. If anyone knows why this is happening, let me know.

After saving your compose file, run:

docker-compose up -d

Install WordPress

Go to http://localhost in a browser and you should see the familiar WordPress installation wizard.

If something goes wrong you can troubleshoot by viewing your wp-config.php file in the running wordpress container by entering: docker exec -it [your folder name]_wordpress_1 /bin/bash This should take you to a shell prompt in your container and you can view your file by running: cat wp-config.php. The first thing I would look for is to see if WP_DEBUG is set to ‘true’ instead of the default ‘false’ value.

Enter your language, username, password, etc. Log in after the installation is complete and enable Multisite by navigating to Tools > Network Setup. After clicking “Install”, WordPress will give you some instructions on how to enable the network by changing wp-config.php and .htaccess. This is what we will do next.

Modify wp-config-sample.php

Add the lines from the admin screen to wp-config-sample.php above the line reading /* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */ They should look something like this:

define('MULTISITE', true);
define('SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', false);
define('DOMAIN_CURRENT_SITE', 'localhost');
define('PATH_CURRENT_SITE', '/');
define('SITE_ID_CURRENT_SITE', 1);
define('BLOG_ID_CURRENT_SITE', 1);

Create an .htaccess file

Copy the text from the admin into a file named .htaccess It should look like this:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L]
# add a trailing slash to /wp-admin
RewriteRule ^([_0-9a-zA-Z-]+/)?wp-admin$ $1wp-admin/ [R=301,L]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f [OR]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -d
RewriteRule ^ - [L]
RewriteRule ^([_0-9a-zA-Z-]+/)?(wp-(content|admin|includes).*) $2 [L]
RewriteRule ^([_0-9a-zA-Z-]+/)?(.*\.php)$ $2 [L]
RewriteRule . index.php [L]

Modify docker-compose.yml

Under the wordpress volumes section add the following line which will override the default .htaccess file with the new one.

- ./.htaccess:/var/www/html/.htaccess

Rebuild the WordPress Image

Now we have to clean up our docker environment by stopping the processes:

docker-compose down

Removing our wordpress-multisite image:

docker image rm wordpress-multisite

Removing our wordpress volume: (you can get your volume’s name by running docker volume ls)

docker volume rm [volume name]

Now that everything has been cleaned up, we can re-run:

docker-compose up -d

This will rebuild our WordPress image and volume with the updated wp-config.php file and our new .htaccess file.

Bask in the Glory of WordPress Multisite using Docker (…see the disclaimer at top)

When you log back into your WordPress Admin, hover over “My Sites” in the top-left. If all has gone well, Network Admin will be the first link you see.