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Adding the Networks endpoint to WordPress core

So as part of the Nijmegen WordCamp, I run the core team at the contributor day. Even through this took up a lot of my time, I still had a little time to work on networks endpoint for core. There was an existing ticket for this and it is on the Multisite roadmap that we have been working on. But of the two require endpoints for full support of the multisite is core (sites and networks), networks may seem like the less important of the two. After all, networks are created rarely (in most cases only once) compared to sites, where sites can be created all the time. However, there is one important feature of multisite that doesn’t have api rest endpoint that really needs it and that is network options. Adding a networks endpoint would add an api not only for networks but also it’s options (meta) as well.

Network options, a history

Network options (or site options as they are sometimes known) different from site level options and are not a feature of WordPress that many people know about it. Network level options are used to core network level configuration in multisite, however not many plugins bother with network level settings. This is partly because many developers do not bother to test their plugins with multisite. The other reason is there isn’t currently a developer api to add network pages and settings easily. For single site WordPress, there is a settings api that makes it easy for developers to build out there own settings panels in the admin terminal. However, there is nothing like this for multisite. Currently the process adding a network options is manual, adding to manual posts requests and manually saving values in the database. This means that developers have to do all their own data sanitation and escaping themselves. There is a ticket to add a similar network settings api written by one Joost de Valk the creator of WordPress SEO however this ticket at time of writing is over 7 years old. With a new endpoint for networks in core, we have an opportunity to improve the whole network options interface. Once there is api for networks, developers can use the CRUD (create, read, update and delete) methods to interact with options and not need to have to do all the data sanitation themselves. We can can extend this more, by creating a network settings interface, that allows developers to register settings to network settings pages. There network settings pages, then become a single page application written in React or similar. This could result in some really nice user interface and make network settings a better than site level settings.

Blocker to this bright future

Even through there is now a patch up for a networks endpoint, there is a lot of work to be done. Currently the first patch, only has read methods. This is because in core there are not currently create, edit and delete network functions. To add this functionality to the api, the functions must be added to core. There is a ticket for this that are based on some of the code in WP Multi Network plugin. The reason these functions have no been added before, is because it would then mean that WordPress core officially support multi network setups. Core has unofficially support multi network for a while, with many commits (#40486, #40590, #40591) going in the last couple of releases. Adding these functions to add a maintenance cost as well, the multisite codebase is large and only has a couple of maintainers work on it at any given time.

Another blocker are the current CRUD functions for network options. Currently there are following functions

  • get_network_option
  • add_network_option
  • update_network_option
  • delete_network_option

I worked on these functions  as part of the 4.2 release and were introduced in #34777 . However, these functions were just a simple replacement for the existing *_site_options functions. I wanted to go further  with these functions and use it as a chance to leverage the meta api. Under the hood, network options are stored in a sitemeta table. This means that data is structured like meta in the database. This means that the meta api used by post / user / comment / term meta could be used here. It adds a number of key benefits, including

  • Improved caching profile
  • New filters and actions
  • Enables use of register_meta
  • All improves to meta api, filter down to network options.
  • Possible integration with fields api

I have been working on a ticket for a while now, however this is not a small change. It fundamentally change network options and that has effect on every piece of code that uses them. An example of the effect is if code is saving network options for id 0. It is impossible to have a network with id 0, however some plugins have been using 0 as a way to store global settings. This would break if we use the meta api doesn’t allow for 0 or negative numbers.

As you can see, there is a lot of work to done to make this a networks endpoint happen, but I think it is really worthwhile. Once this work is done, it will make developing for multisite much easier.

How you can help

The key tickets that need feedback and code review are

Any help with these tickets is more than welcome. You can also join in on a weekly multisite meetings on slack in the #core-multisite channel every Tuesday at 4pm UTC.