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I understand that technically there can be 18446744073709551615 users (db limitations). But I heard at a talk that the vanilla install of WP in actuality can't handle many users that well due to caching issues, especially if you add user_meta. Can someone confirm this?

The speaker recommended that to make wordpress more able to handle the large amounts of users it's a good idea to install BuddyPress, but honestly the code is a mess and there is little documentation. So I'm considering scrapping that and going vanilla again.

Does anyone have any expertise and can shed light on this?

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I seriously doubt this. This is more related to the amount of trafic your server can handle –  JMau Jul 10 '13 at 21:04
    
I have not heard this rumor but I have 8,000 + users on one site. Seems to be fine. –  s_ha_dum Jul 10 '13 at 21:19

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I wouldn't advise you to use BuddyPress if you don't have a specific use for any of the special features that are offered by BuddyPress.

From what I've seen from the BuddyPress core is, that it doesn't change any core existing WP functions. So I don't believe that BuddyPress actually changes the handling of user_meta. I seriously doubt that BuddyPress changes anything (wether to the good or to the bad) in regards to the performance of the user handling in Wordpress.

Also from my experience (had up to 15.000 users in one install until now), the performance is still good with vanilla WordPress. No performance degradation measurable. Especially if you have object/database-caching in memory.

If you reach the performance limits of the core API functions you could still easily change your application to hand-crafted and tuned SQL queries and optimize your query and index structure to deliver maximum performance for your specific user_meta queries.

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That's really helpful. From what I remember from the talk the caching happens in the dashboard, but 15k is a sizable amount and you'd feel it if it were a problem. Thank you. –  r00tAcc3ss Jul 11 '13 at 12:26

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