I am a bit confused on the concept of an Active Plugin and a Network Activated Plugin

I am running WP 4.0 in a multisite setting. At this time I have 6 different domains in my "network".

In reading about plugins -- Active vs. Network Activated -- I was thinking that once I (a) installed a plugin, (b) went to my base site & then went to the Network Admin level for that base site, and (c) "Network Activated" a certain plugin, that the plugin would be activate on all 6 sites in my "network".

So I tried it according to my understanding of the Network Activated Plugin concept.

But what I found when I went to, say the 3rd site in my "network" and looked at the plugins, I discovered the plugin was not active. I had the option to "Activate" it but it was not already activated based on my expectation from the prior action I took as described above.

If I go to the Network Admin level for this 3rd site in my "network" I do have the option to "Network Activate" it.

So I am confused.

  • What does "Network Activate" mean and what does it do?
  • If you have to activate the plugin for each and every site anyway, why is there a "Network Activate" option?
  • And what's the difference between "Activating" the plugin at the site level or "Network Activating" it and the Network Admin level?

Thanks for helping clear this up for me (and probably many others out there as well).

1 Answer 1


Network Activate does pretty much what you thought it does: It activates the plugin on all sites in the network.

It also takes it out of the default Plugin view on the plugins screen for all those sites, so they no longer have the option to either activate it or deactivate it.

So if you're still seeing it on one of those sites, then it's either not network activated, or that particular site isn't in the same network as the others. I'm thinking that this is the case here, because of this line in your question:

If I go to the Network Admin level for this 3rd site in my "network" I do have the option to "Network Activate" it.

Why would you have a separate "Network Admin" for this site? There is only one Network Admin, per network. Perhaps you have multiple-networks going on here (yes, multi-network is a thing that exists).

  • When you look at /wp-admin/network/sites.php, do you see all your sites there? A "network" is a series of sites. If each site has its own Network admin, then you have them all in separate networks, not as one network containing 6 sites.
    – Otto
    Oct 9, 2014 at 18:42
  • Yes, in that case, you've definitely done it wrong, and Network Activation will do nothing for you. Additionally, all users are shared across all networks anyway, so, your approach doesn't really help you any. If you want separate sets of users, you should have separate installs.
    – Otto
    Oct 9, 2014 at 19:18

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