I’ve been using a multi-site setup for my Drupal sites for sometime now – it’s easier to configure, maintain and manage – but I’d realised that one thing I was lacking was a decent version control system. I’d been relying on backing up to daily & weekly archive files, but this was starting to become unmanageable, with several months worth of files to deal with.

I’d previously used Subversion, but decided that I needed to look at git for several reasons. Setting up a basic git system was fairly straightforward, but I wanted a system where if needed I could easily extract a fully working single site from within the multi-site setup. Storing the Drupal code in git lets you track any changes you make to the code, i.e. altering a theme or updating a module, see what changes have been made and if needed role them back and then either regenerate the entire setup (for example on a development server, or if your main server has a disk failure), or you can extract a fully working single site from the setup.

To do this, I’ve used functionality in git known as submodules – basically it allows you to integrate a number of separate git repositories (repositories are how git stores ‘chunks’ of code); one for the main configuration and one for each subsite into one large code store. With this in place, I can retrieve either a fully working multi-site setup (either to undo some changes or possibly to setup a development server) or a single working site.


A standard multi-site setup within Drupal will have a structure something like that shown below:

multisiteAny shared code will exist in the base setup, with each unique site existing in the sites folder with any unique modules, folders etc – so for example, this site lives in a folder called sites/ .

Setup of Git

To create a fully working setup, you need one repository for the main code and one for each sub-site (excluding all & default). When setting this up, I follow the existing procedure:

  1. Create an empty repository in the base install directory
  2. Create a sub repository for each site and populate it
  3. Add the sub-repositories to the main repository
  4. Add the remaining core files and commit them to the master repository.

As an example, assume I’ve setup a server with the main Drupal code in /var/www and a single subsite To create the basic repositories, you’d need to perform the following steps (I’m assuming a Linux server here, but the same basic steps would work on either Windows or a Mac).

  1. cd /var/www
  2. git init
  3. git commit –allow-empty -m “Commit of empty master repository”
  4. cd sites/
  5. git init
  6. git add .
  7. git commit -m “Initial commit of”
  8. cd /var/www
  9. git submodule add /var/www/sites/ sites/
  10. git add .
  11. git commit -m “Initial commit of base files and subsite”

Steps 1-3 create the initial, empty repository that will eventually hold the non-site specific files from Drupal. Steps 4-7 then create another repository containing the files specifically for Step 9 tells the master repository where the site specific repository can be found, and then finally steps 10-11 add the remaining non-specific files to the master repository.

Using Git

Once these repositories have been created, git can then track any changes to the code as per normal.

For example, if we created a new file in sites/ – say files/newfile.txt, and then query git, we might see something like:


Considerations & Warning

The only thing that must be remembered when using git in this way is that the files in the sub-repositories MUST be processed whilst in the correct directories, i.e. if the file above was added in sites/, DON’T add or commit it while in the master repository – it must be added whilst within the sites/ folder.