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Canvas - Instances, Sub-Accounts, and URLs

The Universities of Wisconsin (UW) Digital Learning Environment (DLE) Canvas account is divided into three instances, each containing a variety of sub-accounts. This structure is important because instances and subaccounts can have different settings, access rights, branding, and custom URLs. This article explains the hierarchy of instances, sub-accounts, and URLs.


In the Digital Learning Environment deployment of Canvas, the three instances have separate purposes, user authentication systems, and settings.

Instructional Instance:

  • Used for all instructional credit courses (term and non-term based)​.
  • Contains the sub-accounts which are integrated with campus Student Information Systems (SIS) to automatically pull course creation and enrollment data.
  • Sub-accounts use the same hierarchy structure as SIS for reporting and consistency​.
  • Authentication through Federated System.​
  • Allows student self enrollment for manually created (non-SIS) courses in some sub accounts. For the Universities of Wisconsin institutions, the supplemental course sub account allows student self enrollment for manually created courses. 

Training & Development Instance:

  • Used for employee training​.
  • Users must authenticate through Federated System​.
  • Allows self enrollment​ into courses.

Continuing Education Instance:

  • Used for continuing education courses for UW and non-UW users.​
  • Often uses Canvas Catalog as an entry point to register for courses​.
  • Integrates with payment gateway for payments related to continuing education courses.
  • Allows self enrollment​ into courses.
  • Non-UW users can register and authenticate for access to continuing education courses, UW users are authenticated through Federated System​.

Users with UW who log in to the Instructional instance can automatically access the Training & Development and the Continuing Education instances through a one way trust relationship between the Instructional instance and the other instances. When a user logs in to the Instructional instance, they should see all of the Training & Development and Continuing Education courses they're enrolled in. Continuing Education non-UW user accounts will only work on that Continuing Education instance.


    Each instance is further divided into sub-accounts. For an explanation of sub-accounts, see the What is the hierarchical structure for Canvas accounts? guide.
    The Instructional instance of Canvas typically has one "Instructional-Top Level" subaccount for each UW institution, and that institutional subaccount is further subdivided into three main types of sub-accounts, each with its own permissions:

    Instructional Courses (SIS Integrated)

    Used for credit courses.
    Course creation and student enrollment are strictly controlled by the campus SIS.
    Sub-account structure follows the academic organization structure in the SIS.

    Master Courses
    Used for migration, course development, and building master courses.
    Each institution builds out the structure to support their departments/programs. 
    This area is used for course development, then instructors can copy courses to the Instructional Courses area when ready​.

    Instructional Supplemental Courses 
    Used for courses related to instructional courses.
    Courses to support an academic program that are not term based. 
    Examples include non-credit training for students, pre/post - tests, manual enrollment for dual-enrollment programs, etc.

    Custom URLs

    As a convenience, UW campuses have vanity URLs to direct their users directly to their branded sub-accounts. 
    For the most part, the custom URLs are cosmetic. A user's experience is (mostly) the same no matter which URL they log in with. There are a few cases where logging in to a campus-specific URL is beneficial: 
    1. It allows users to see custom campus branding.
    2. It allows Canvas Support to more quickly identify which campus a user is coming from, and to identify any campus-specific support information.
    3. It allows instructors to use the Create Sandbox Course tool under the Canvas Help menu.

    Other Environments

    Root administrators and campus field administrators may have access to other Canvas environments, primarily used for testing.

    Keywordsdomain, url, vanity url,Doc ID93399
    OwnerThomas A.GroupUWSA DLE
    Created2019-07-26 12:53:35Updated2023-12-26 11:08:20
    SitesUW System Administration DLE
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