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ocPortal Tutorial: Advanced techniques for multi-site-networks

Written by Chris Graham, ocProducts
The linking of different installations, linked via a forum, into a 'multi-site-network' (an M.S.N.) is supported by this software. This is an important feature for networks of websites which share a common community, but are segmented, for reasons such as:
  • Division of staff, either on a hierarchical basis or a basis of co-operation by a loose-knit alliance of websites
  • Strong division of content, perhaps for sub-branding or clarity
  • A balance between autonomy and co-operation between websites that wish to share a visitor-base

Shared forum and members

Thumbnail: Choose this option if you want to run each site' discussion forum from its own code and URL

Choose this option if you want to run each site' discussion forum from its own code and URL

All that needs to be done to create an M.S.N. is to install each ocPortal such that they all share a common forum driver and forum database. At its heart, this is all a M.S.N. is: ocPortal provides special features that allow this to work comfortably, but there is no specific 'M.S.N.' feature or setting in ocPortal, nor does ocPortal need such.

If you are using a third-party forum, unless the forum itself is modified to work from different URLs, the forums interface will not be integrated into each site. However, all ocPortal functions that work through the forum driver (e.g. comment topics, or support tickets) may be completely customised for the individual websites.

If you are using the ocPortal forum system (OCF) as your forum, then it is possible to run OCF from each site, without members even knowing (from a feature and visual point of view) that a multi-site-network is in action. All you need to do to achieve this is to set the forum-base-URL (aka the board-prefix) to that of the central ocPortal site, but enable the option shown in the screen-shot (available under site configuration). Note that if you do this, and you decide to move a site you are connecting to the M.S.N. with, then URLs may be broken for things such as photos, avatars and attachments- as these get uploaded locally and are stored on the forum using full URLs. In other words, they are not stored on the central site if they got uploaded from a member site, thus the other sites get a dependency on the member site's URL scheme.

It is also important to note that OCF M.S.N. sites use local privileges and configuration settings: this is actually a feature, as it provides additional control, but it is important to keep in-mind from a security point of view.

OCF may be administered from an M.S.N. site, although some very minor restrictions are put in place, such as prevention of editing rank and emoticon images.

Special note- upgrading

If you are upgrading to a new major release then you will need to upgrade all the sites together, starting with the one that hosts the forums.

Custom profile fields

As custom profile fields are saved to the central site, the central site will need to have any custom profile fields associated to modules that need to save data for them.

For example, if a site uses points, it'll store them in special CPFs. If the central site has had the points addon removed, then the CPF will no longer exist and sites will not be able to save. Therefore it is best to not remove any addons (especially points) from the central site if you intend to use those addons on some of your other sites.

Custom Comcode tags

You should have the same set of Custom Comcode tags on all sites, so that they can recognise each other's Comcode correctly.

Comment forums

ocPortal allows configuration of what forums are used to store portal-generated comments, and support tickets. On an M.S.N. it is important to declare a different forum for each site on the network, in order to prevent conflict.


The theme management screen (in the Style section of the Admin Zone, Themes icon) will help you understand this – it is difficult to describe in words.

ocPortal supports a sophisticated theme detection system, whereby ocPortal themes can be automatically detected based on a priority system:
  1. (whatever a zone might be forcibly set to)
  2. from the "forum-theme-name-to-ocPortal-theme" mapping of the member chosen forum-themes, if the logged in member has made a choice. In other words, if a member Bob selects a forum theme named ForumFoo, then the ocPortal theme would be whatever the map says that ForumFoo's ocPortal equivalent is (e.g. ocPortalFoo)
  3. from the "forum-theme-name-to-ocPortal-theme" mapping of the forum-theme titled after the name of your website name. In other words, if the forum contains a theme titled "My Site" and your website happens to be called "My Site", then then ocPortal theme would be whatever the map says that MySite's ocPortal equivalent is (e.g. MySiteTheme)
  4. the ocPortal 'default' theme
Thumbnail: Configuring the network link URL to point to the central network site

Configuring the network link URL to point to the central network site

This system is complicated to understand and configure, and is optional, but it is useful for some websites. If you do not wish to use this system, simply manually select which themes to use for each zone, by editing the zone.

Basically, ocPortal has a file, themes/map.ini, that contains entries that link forum-theme-codes to ocPortal-theme-codes. Note that the forum-theme-code is not the same as the forum-theme-title: the relationship between these vary between forums, but most forums define both a humanely readable title and a code-name.

The netlink system

Thumbnail: The netlink block

The netlink block

Thumbnail: Editing the netlink definition file

Editing the netlink definition file

The netlink is a simple but useful feature of multi-site-networks. It provides the navigation aid to move between sites on the network, via a simple drop-down list placed on to your panel via the 'side_network' block.

The netlink system can be configured (from the Admin Zone Configuration module) so that all sites on the network point to a shared netlink definition file. The config option allows you to set the URL to the netlink of one of the network sites (usually the central site).


You may share news by placing it on the central network site, and using the RSS blocks (set to use the central site's feed) to link to it on the other network sites.


To share banners across your network, simply add all banners to the central site, and place the URL to the central site's http://<baseurl>/banner.php script as the only banner in the banner rotation for all the other M.S.N. sites. You may add additional banners to M.S.N. sites if you want to mix central banners with individual rotations.

The staff system

Thumbnail: Configuring the staff system

Configuring the staff system

Thumbnail: Managing staff

Managing staff

As permissions are set separately on each M.S.N. site (except for forum access permissions), it is possible to assign different staff access to key functions on different sites by usergroup. However, assigning staff is more than a permissive issue, it is also a presentation issue: for the staff page to work, there needs to be some way for ocPortal to actually list staff other than merely by usergroup permission. This is done via the 'staff filter' feature, available under security/usergroup configuration.

The staff filter works by storing 'staff on' lists under all member profiles that would be staff if the filter was off. These are comma-separated lists of site-names the member is staff-on, and are stored as a hidden ocPortal custom profile field.


A multi-site-network: a network of ocPortal sites that share a member community. ocPortal provides special features that are designed for such a situation
Central site
A site on an M.S.N. that is not a central site
Satellite site
The site-jump system intended for multi-site-networks

See also