Working with MediaWiki
2nd ed., HTML version

Chapter 1 About MediaWiki

MediaWiki is an open-source wiki engine originally developed for use on Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is still by far the best-known use of it. But MediaWiki is also in use on at least tens of thousands of wikis around the world – it's almost certainly the world's most popular wiki software. It's also most likely the world's most powerful wiki software, although that statement will require more justification – hopefully this book will provide suitable proof.
In this chapter, we'll start with some of the non-technical aspects of MediaWiki.

History of MediaWiki

"WikiWikiWeb" for a while referred to four things: the website hosted on, the software used to run it (written in Perl), and later any user-editable website (what is now known as a wiki), and any application used to run such a site (now known as wiki software). There was no great distinction for the first five years or so between the code used to run a wiki and the content on it, partly because there was nearly a 1:1 correspondence between the two: many of the original wiki administrators were programmers, and they tended to create their own new, or modified, version of the software to run their own wikis.
Wales and Sanger later had a falling-out over philosophical differences, and now Sanger has become one of Wikipedia's most vocal critics. That fascinating turn of events is a subject for another book; but in any case, the path was in place for Wikipedia to achieve its meteoric rise in popularity. It soon fundamentally altered the course of wikis, and later it would fundamentally alter the world as well.
MediaWiki has been used by all Wikimedia websites since 2004. And almost since the beginning of MediaWiki's existence, it started getting heavily used on non-Wikimedia sites as well. By now, there have been tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of wikis, both public and private, that use MediaWiki software.
At this point, most early wiki software, like UseModWiki, MoinMoin etc., is no longer in widespread use, but there are certainly wiki applications other than MediaWiki that are still in regular use and under development. Interestingly, nearly all of the wiki applications in widespread use today were originally created between 2002 and 2006. They include, besides MediaWiki, the open-source applications DokuWiki, PmWiki, Tiki and TiddlyWiki, and the proprietary application Confluence. There are also various content-management systems that include some limited wiki functionality: these include Traction TeamPage and Microsoft SharePoint.
During the roughly twenty years that MediaWiki has existed, it has had contributions from hundreds of developers, translators and testers, along with dozens of usability experts, graphic designers, project managers, etc. It would be difficult to list here all of the people who have made significant contributions to MediaWiki. Previous versions of this book at this point listed Brion Vibber and Tim Starling as two names that stood out above the rest, but it would be difficult at this point to say conclusively that these two really contributed the most of anyone (though their total contributions remain invaluable). Suffice it to say that many people have made (and continue to make) MediaWiki the world-class wiki software it is today.

Community and support

There's a strong community of users and developers around MediaWiki, who can provide support. The best ways to get support are the mailing list, the IRC channel, and on the MediaWiki website at
Special mention should also be made of mediawiki-enterprise, a very low-traffic mailing list about the use of MediaWiki in companies and organizations. In the future, this list may take on a greater role.
You can see information about these and the other mailing lists, like how to subscribe, here:
You can also get support at To ask questions about core MediaWiki, you can go here:
And for any specific extension, you can use its talk page on to get support.
The “Events” page shows a constantly-updated list of MediaWiki-related events and hackathons around the world:
This is often the best place to make feature requests as well.
It would be odd not to mention my own company here – WikiWorks ( I certainly recommend contacting us, although we are far from the only company that provides such services.

Wiki farms

Instead of setting up a new wiki on your own domain, from scratch, you may want to have your wiki hosted on an existing website dedicated to wiki hosting – such sites are usually referred to as "wiki farms", or, as Wikipedia prefers to call them, "wiki hosting services". The advantage of such a setup is that it's much easier to get started – you can often set up a wiki on a wiki farm, and start editing it, in minutes. Also, for the most part, you don't have to worry about the software – you don't have to set up MediaWiki or any extensions, and you don't have to update it as new versions come out, because the wiki farm presumably takes care of that.
On the other hand, there are disadvantages to using a wiki farm, as there are any time that one's data is put in "the cloud". There's no guarantee that the wiki's contents won't be lost, if the website in question stops operating, or there's some technical glitch, or it gets hacked. And if your wiki is meant to be private, there's the risk that its contents will get revealed due to some security leak. Of course, all the same risks exist on any computer network that your wiki might run on – but on third-party websites, the perception, at least, is that the risk is greater.
A short history of wiki farms: in retrospect, the “golden age” of wiki farms seems to coincide exactly with the golden age of wiki software: 2002–2006. It was soon after the launch of Wikipedia, when the potential of wikis seemed limitless. A number of startups formed to provide wiki hosting for companies, schools, fan communities, etc. These first wiki farms tended to use proprietary software, so that in many cases the only way to use that particular wiki software was to run a wiki on that site.
Within 10 years, this first wave of wiki farms had more or less died out; there simply wasn't enough money in paid subscriptions to pay for all the development work needed to maintain their software. Wiki farms that ran on subscriptions either shut down (, Wikispaces, Wiki Site), seemingly turned into shells of their former self (SocialText, PBworks, Wikidot, iMeet Central), or got subsumed into general pop-culture websites (WetPaint, although it too later shut down).
Since 2006, there has been a new wave of wiki farms. These 2nd-generation services fall into two camps:
  • The “cloud” software. Like most of the non-MediaWiki wiki farms that came before them (SocialText, PBworks, and so on), these are sites where the software is only available in hosted form. Unlike most of the previous batch, though, these new solutions don't bill themselves as wikis, or really even as websites; rather, they are billed as all-in-one productivity solutions, which include wikis, task managers, blogging, file managers, chat, and so on. (One could point out that MediaWiki can also do many of these things, but that's another story.) They also tend to have a mobile app component that is considered an integral part of the service. Examples include Nuclino and Notion.
  • Standard wiki farms. These all run on MediaWiki. (Yes, really.) Making use of MediaWiki enables much lower development costs. And though there are other wiki applications that could be used, there doesn't seem to be an application other than MediaWiki that has ever been used to run a wiki farm by someone other than the makers of that software. Example include Fandom (, Miraheze (, MyWikis (, ShoutWiki ( and WikiHoster (
You can see a fuller listing of MediaWiki-based wiki farms here:
How to choose one of these? For simple wikis, it shouldn't really matter. But if you have the need for special features, you can try looking at the site's "Special:Version" page, to see what version of MediaWiki it's running, and what extensions it has installed. You can also look at any of the wikis already hosted on that farm (usually there are a few linked from the homepage), to see what they look like, whether they're inundated with spam (you can check Special:RecentChanges for that), how quickly they load, whether they have a distracting amount of ads, etc.