MediaWiki – The Software Behind Wikipedia and WikiHow

5 min read
Updated: Feb 21, 2022

There are the all famous content management systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla that are in demand and used by thousands of websites and there is this less popular giant out there, supporting websites that receive millions of page views daily, the CMS powerhouse, named MediaWiki.

What is MediaWiki?

MediaWiki is the software on which Wikipedia runs, Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites across the globe and is ranked at number 6 as of today on Alexa’s global rankings. Wikipedia is a non-profit organization and doesn’t display advertisements or sell any products.

MediaWiki powers another popular website named WikiHow which is one of the biggest sources of how-to guides. WikiHow is specifically highlighted here since it runs advertisements for monetization and can be called as a for profit website.

There are many other websites and wikis running on MediaWiki and available on the open internet, private to organizations, and run by Universities for documentation and tutorials management.

When and Where to Use MediaWiki

MediaWiki is the best software available as of date when it comes to creating collaborative websites where many people work on editing and publishing the content. Such websites are typically called wikis.

A publicly available wiki on the open internet hosts content that is contributed by community of users, any user can edit the content multiple times till the time content is considered up to date and accurate. There is no single owner of the content and content is generally made available for re-use in public domain or under Creative Commons License.

To maintain the quality of content and avoid spamming, many of the wiki websites generally have workflows where edits made by anyone are sent for approval to the experts who moderate the content prior to publishing.

Use of MediaWiki is on the rise among internal organizational sites and university communities. If you need to create one for general public on the open internet , private to your organization or University, MediaWiki is the right software.

MediaWiki Download and Installation

MediaWiki is free to use software that can be downloaded and installed by anyone with minimal technical knowledge. It is publicly available under GNU General Public License version 2.

MediaWiki runs on  PHP and MySQL, you can visit the MediaWiki download link to download the latest release and check for the supported versions of PHP and MySQL.

As far as installation is concerned, there are one click installation software provided by most of the hosting companies. Once installed, you can configure and customize the look and feel of your wiki website the way you want.

You can also go for manual installation, the link to manual installations instructions can be found here.

MediaWiki Skins

If you look at Wikipedia, its interface is quite plain and simple. However, use of MediaWiki doesn’t necessarily mean to create a plain and simple looking wiki websites. There are skins available to theme the user interface as per the website requirements.

MediaWiki skins allow users to change the look and feel of default MediaWiki installation, the name of the default skin is Vector but that is very basic. There are many other skins available with the default installation and the full list can be seen here.

Default skins may not really suffice the needs of a website that demands great user interface, tutorials can be referred to design custom MediaWiki skins.

5 Beautiful and Popular Websites Using MediaWiki

Here are our top 5 MediaWiki based websites that use custom skins and demonstrate great user interfaces –


I personally love WikiHow, WikiHow covers how-to guides about almost everything that you can think of and the beauty lies in the awesome and simple to use interface. WikiHow is built on top of MediaWiki and if we talk about the user experience, it will easily rank as #1 websites in its category.


This looks like basic MediaWiki theme but the use of colors and images makes it very attractive. Usability and user interface can also be compared with Wikipedia but with a much enhanced look and feel.


Wikia again is the power user of MediaWiki, look at the stats as of today in the image below taken from Wikia home page. These stats are all inspiring to get started with your own wiki website using MediaWiki for commercial purposes and making profit.

Baidu Baike

Chinese love to make everything on their own, here is a live stunning example. The Baidu Baike, a.k.a Baidu Encyclopedia. This is among the biggest of the websites powered by MediaWiki.

It demonstrates that MediaWiki usage is global and multilingual capabilities of MediaWiki are unparalleled since this encyclopedia is running in Chinese language.

MediaWiki Extensions

MediaWiki can be easily extended to include additional features as per the specific needs of the wiki project. There are many MediaWiki extensions already available for free use, one can download the extension, follow read me document (typically every extension will have one) and start using it.

It needs minimum technical knowledge to install and configure existing MediaWiki extensions, however, development of new extension would require knowledge of PHP and core structure of MediaWiki.

Most Useful MediaWiki Extensions – My Top Picks

SimpleFeed - To output contents of RSS feeds.
Nuke - To add feature for mass deletion of pages.
EmbedVideo - To embed video clips from popular video streaming services.
Cite - To add footnotes for citing resources referred for writing wiki page.
MetaTags - To add meta tags in head section of the page.
DynamicPageList - To generate a list of pages listed in a category.
BreadCrumbs - To keep track of the users browsing path or trail of links visited.
JSKitRating - To enable social rating and scoring.

you can find the full list of MediaWiki extensions here.

If available extensions do not fulfill features you are looking at, you can even request for an extension development or develop one for yourself. There are many resources available online that provide MediaWiki tutorials and detailed documentation for developing extensions.




@noetic here, the founder of I love coding, quantum physics, and working on my brain to manipulate time.

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