The Non-Programmer’s Guide to Setting Up a Wiki

I’m not a programmer. I don’t even play one on TV. I have technical skills, but I wouldn’t go as far to say as that I’m a real geek. I like to think of myself as a geek in training. That said, I’d like to take some time to show my fellow geeks in training how easy it is to get a wiki up and running, as well as things to do to modify it to make it your own.

I’ve been working on the redesign of The Pet Wiki, and it’s time to share what I’ve learned along the way. Some of the stuff I found on the web, some in books and others just by dumb luck. (I meant brilliant prognosis leading to the best solutions.) Hope you enjoy.

In the beginning…

I looked around for a hosting site. There are a lot of options out there, but after asking friends and checking out prices, I decided to use (despite their commercials).

I looked for a domain that I thought would suit my purpose and be easy to remember. If you want a .com domain, it’s really hard finding a good one these days. Most of the best are already taken. I really wanted, but no such luck. Adding the word “The” to the domain really broadened my options. I bought from its owner a couple of months ago just to be on the safe side. There was a bit of confusion about the domain, and a few people were going to the wrong place. Better to be on the safe side. has really been a pleasure to work with. They took care of the complete installation. All I needed to do was to click a few buttons on their site, wait a bit, and then I was up and running.

There aren’t as many skins for MediaWiki as there are themes for WordPress, but when you’re starting out, it’s pretty easy to get a new skin up and running. Look online for one that suits you the best. I don’t really care for the Monobook skin that the MediaWiki starts out with. I know that it’s the one that Wikipedia uses, but each time I go to Wikipedia I have to remember where the search bar is. Wikipedia may be able to get away with it because they are Wikipedia, but I like my search box at the top. I chose Cavendish to start with. It’s very clean and simple, and the search box is on the top of the page.

After you find the skin that is right for you, if it’s not one of the pre-installed skins, you’ll need to ftp it over your site. I use FTP Commander because I’ve always used FTP Commander, I’m sure that there are plenty of other great FTP programs out there that will do the job for you. Connect with the client of your choice (you’ll get your connection information from GoDaddy or whatever hosting service you decide on), and upload your skin’s php files and directory. The skin package that you choose should come with a folder with the same name as the skin and a php file.

If you decide to change the skin, once all the files are in place, you’ll need to modify the LocalSettings.php file to make it the default skin for your site.You’ll find LocalSettings.php in the root directory of your site. Use your FTP client to put a copy of LocalSettings.php on your computer. Make a backup of this file for a “just in case” scenario. Open the file in a text editor. It may look a bit scary, but don’t worry. Modify the following line:

$wgDefaultSkin = ‘monobook’;

Change monobook to the name of the skin that you are using. Make sure that the title is in all lowercase letters. FTP the file back over to your site and go check it out. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

If you like Monobook the way it is, you can just change the logo and keep the skin. It’s best practice to put the logo in skins->common->images directory, so FTP the image there. The image should be about 135 pixels X 135 pixels. There are lots of image programs out there that can modify the size of your logo for you. I like It’s free and it’s very powerful.

You’ll need to modify the LocalSettings.php file so that the MediaWiki knows to use your logo. Go to the bottom of the file and add the following line:

$wgLogo = “$wgScriptPath/skins/common/images/yourLogoFileName”;

(Change yourLogoFileName to whatever file name you decide to use for you logo. Note: Do not use spaces in file names – if you don’t, it won’t find the file.)

Create a login, add content and have fun. I’ll get into more modifications another time.