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Best Free Website Forum Software

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Introduction

Forum applications are server programs that create discussion-based websites. Many are free or open-source PHP codebase applications that use a MySQL database. They are small but complex webapps that generally come in at under 4MB for the zipped installer file. A 'forum' is the word we commonly use, though bulletin board was more popular at one time; and a forum now is usually a container for several different 'boards', which are the actual main-topic start pages. 

Forums, like most PHP - MySQL server applications, are easy to install remotely via FTP and browser. They can be managed by browser, and can usually be expanded and upgraded by the use of plugins. There are many similarities with other server-based website programs, such as the way they are browser-managed, the backend admin, the template-based layout, and the extension process.

Most server software like this is designed to run on a LAMP server (the standard Linux-Apache type of server that the web is based on). However, some are designed for a Windows / IIS server, which is the next in popularity, based on Microsoft code. A forum application can be installed in three different ways: as a standalone application, sometimes sharing webspace with another website application such as a blog or CMS; as a bridged application, connected into a CMS and sharing the same database, but not actually being part of the other application; or as a CMS plugin, an integral part of a CMS.

The criteria we could use to judge forums might include admin usability; security; appearance and style; features and functions; visitor usability;  ACL; SEO; robustness and reliability; and several other areas, since this type of server application generates a complex dynamic website featuring extended visitor interaction.

Because forums are similar in outline form and technical operation to other website main applications such as blog and CMS software (most use a text-based code and a MySQL database), it is easy to compare them. Unfortunately forums do not come out well from this comparison as many CMS and blog applications are light years ahead in on-page assets, SEO, and especially admin usability. Forum software has a long way to go to catch up.

It also needs to be remembered that forums are the most vulnerable to attack of all server software. Unfortunately, some forums have a poor record in this area. Security has to be the ultimate criterion because of this, and it is the reason why a fine-looking new or relatively unknown forum cannot really be trusted for two or three years - there may be many exploits of it in that time. Ultimately, the choice of forum software to use must hinge on security as much as anything else.

Who this review is for
Due to the wide range of forum software available, it's necessary to define the job description we want the website software to fulfill. Here, we are looking for a solution that suits a small or medium size site with an average or inexperienced webmaster. We are not looking for a forum solution for a giant site (aka a 'big board'), or for an experienced forum webmaster with an extensive agenda, or for an owner with a big budget.

Discussion

SMF - Simple Machines Forum

SMF is my top tip in freeware forums. That doesn't mean it's problem-free, but it does its job, all round, better than any other I've tried.

The Simple Machines Forum is the benchmark for these programs because it is widely known and appreciated; it is one of the most frequently installed; and most forum users will be familiar with it. It's easy to install remotely via FTP and browser. The usual MySQL database parameters need to be input - username, password etc - and installation is smooth and quick.

Documentation is improving and offers real solutions to issues now. And of course, the Support forum is excellent :-)

Templates of some kind are the basis for the page layout in all dynamic web applications; in this project they are called Themes. Three default ones are supplied as standard, and you can get up and running with one of these easily.

SMF forum - template example 1   SMF - template 2    SMF template 3     SMF forum template example 4                                                        

Unless you go the commercial route though, you'll find that SMF templates, in common with all other default and free forum templates I've seen, are severely deficient in modern web requirements, when compared to other applications like blogs and CMS. As regards on-page assets, the situation is not just sparse - it's non-existent. The very least that any user would require now are additional optional menu positions; and of course other module positions for Adsense / PPC, banner positions, news, announcements, top pages, new content and so forth. A module is the usual word for a block of content displayed separately from the main page subject, and can include anything from an image slideshow to a news section. Forums as a whole don't comply here for some unfathomable reason, and SMF is no different. Luckily, though, users now have the option of using a plugin called SimplePortal that installs on-page modules of the same type a CMS uses, and this is a big step forward.

The plugin system as a whole, and the installation procedure in particular, is very good in SMF. There is nothing any webapp developer could teach the SMF people about plugins - the entire system here is excellent. There is even a pre-install test run that tells you if a new plugin is likely to cause problems, and what those might be. The SMF plugin system scores 9 out of 10 and is a joy to use compared to some webserver software. Plugin numbers have about doubled in the last year or so, with around 1,000 available now.

SEO (aka search engine optimizing) is the process of increasing website earnings by increasing traffic and improving the website. It is of course the cornerstone of web success now as without search engines and social media promotion, you can't get optimum traffic - and you can't make best use of visits unless the site works properly. The SEO situation here is not brilliant, however. The core application is poor in this respect (though that is par for the course, with dynamic apps), and it's not much better with plugins installed. In any case there are only about 5 or 6 SEO-related plugins. This situation is common to all free forum programs so it's a universal problem. The authors don't seem to have caught on to the fact that it doesn't matter how good your website is, if there are no visitors it's not much use. Visitor traffic depends on success in the search engines; search success depends on SEO. And good SEO in a website application (after clean code) starts with short, flat, relevant URLs and unique per-page metadata

In both these areas SMF is limited, though the URLs are at least acceptable when the correct plugin is used. The metadata is a different story. You can only have boilerplate meta and that's that. Unique per-page metadata is important to search success, so the authors either don't know this or discount website traffic as unimportant. Also, session IDs are unfortunately used occasionally, when the application identifies a user-agent wrongly, and this is a huge negative for SEO. If you want search success, you have to lose the SIDs.

The admin usability rating is OK for SMF. It is limited by the use of the commonly-seen text-based (as against panel-based) backend management apparatus. This method is a limiting factor, and the admin system needs to be more streamlined and task-oriented.

There is only one glitch in the install and admin procedures worth mentioning; the common situation which all forums seem to suffer from, that there is no working board after installation. Trying to set up the first board, on a new forum program, by a new forum owner, will be the most difficult task faced in connection with forums. This seems common to all forums, and of course should be fixed, but usability is never a priority.

ACL - Access Control Levels (or Lists) - refers to who can do what and where. This aspect is good on SMF, and is all that the vast majority of owners will need. Granular ACL (fully detailed control) always makes an application very much harder to use, and thankfully they have stopped short of going down that road.

Visitors are well served on SMF. It's an attractive, logical and easily-used forum. Templates of course have a big role here, and there is a very large range to choose from. There is a complete lack, however, of any of the multiple page assets that users of every other kind of website software would consider essential. It makes for a clean but very basic and limited page view. As stated, this is fixable with a plugin, but an additional menu and a module display block or three should be basic options on one of the default templates.

Usability is fine for experienced forum visitors, but not so good for newbies. This is of course a universal problem in any case. As an example, if you take an office worker who uses a PC and the Internet everyday in their work (and is therefore hardly a complete noob), but has never used a forum before; then ask them to post their first message - you will find they can't. They don't realise that you first need to register and login before the buttons to post a message are visible. This is something I see in usability testing all the time: software is written and maintained by experienced people, and they just cannot see the problems new users have. Very easy indeed to fix of course - simply  have a large menu link to a new user's help page. Only trouble is, forums are still a hundred years out of date and don't have additional menus you can add to the page...

In conclusion, the negatives are common to all forums. This is a very smooth forum solution that deserves its tag as the benchmark in freeware forums. It looks simple, but does many complex things so smoothly it is deceptive. The good points are SMF's mature status and smoothness; its superb plugin system; the vast range of templates; its easy LAMP install; the attractive page layout; the good ACL; the good visitor experience - and of course its notably good security record, in marked contrast to one or two other big-name forums.

The bad points are the Stone Age SEO; the complete lack of any on-page assets; the tricky first board set-up; the occasional session IDs; and the lack of an included manual with the basic download.

SMF is the top tip in freeware forums because it's an all-round good choice. There are other forums that do one or two jobs better, but this all-rounder does the trick.

Update: SMF 2.0 is out soon and this review will be updated to include it.

 

Kunena for Joomla

Kunena is an example of a CMS plugin forum. We include it because it is a genuine contender for the best free forum choice, even though it cannot exist outside of Joomla CMS. It would be entirely feasible to install the CMS just for this purpose, and not generate any other content pages. In this way, the forum would be the only content; and since the advantages over other forums in the areas of on-page assets, SEO, owner usability and a dozen other areas would be substantial, this is not such a strange idea. In any case, with the CMS potential, it is unlikely that the forum would remain as the sole website content for long. One thing forum owners desperately need is a way to include something - anything - that is additional to the barebones forum display; and Kunena in Joomla might just be the answer to a prayer for them.

Installing it is simple and quick, since it is a plugin. The main application has already taken care of the database configuration and so on. Documentation is basic but it isn't really necessary as the Fireboard issues have been solved (Kunena is based on Fireboard, which had a glitch near the end of the install when you had to create the first forum).

Because Kunena is part of Joomla, templates are a strong point - any Joomla one can be used; and that means the widest choice on the planet. You can even have a different template on each page, which points out the capability.

Fireboard forum with CMS template      Fireboard Joomla forum template example       A Fireboard template       Fireboard forum template with a right column                  

On the SEO question there is only one answer: the finest SEO of any forum solution by a long mile. There are many reasons for this, but it devolves to being a part of a CMS that - when properly managed of course - is superb in this area. It only falls down on full W3CAG support, but since only 0.1% of users are likely to know what that means, it's hardly an issue.

Admin usability isn't bad. It is similar in most ways to other forums with a text-based admin backend, and very familiar in all respects. There are even some useful configurations here that are missing from standalone forums.

ACL in Kunena, used in Joomla 2.5, is now sufficiently capable. Private boards for different usergroups are easily arranged.

The visitor experience is good, and improved of course due to the availability of all the CMS on-page assets. In this respect Kunena kicks all other forums into touch. Many forums have attempted to introduce some CMS capability, but obviously Kunena has them all beat by a long mile as it is used within the best rich media CMS around.

The conclusion is that Kunena for Joomla is a remarkably good solution. At first, the idea of installing a CMS just to have a forum is a bit crazy, I guess. But when you look at all the individual issues, the initial worry fades away. You're left with a forum that has superb SEO and on-page assets such as menus and modules (content block displays), a choice of tens of thousands of templates, a choice of additional content pages if you need them, good security, and a dozen other pluses.

The negatives? Well, it may not be the best choice if you have very heavy traffic, as a forum loads a server up more than just about anything else. But this can be solved by load-balancing of course, and in theory, if you have good traffic, you have a good income, so multiple servers are possible. Although if the forum is the main site content anyway, this won't be an issue. In any case we're talking about 10,000 visits a day plus, just on the forum.

There is a possible security negative, in that sites that are attacked heavily will find an advantage in keeping the various website sections separate. Then a problem with any one part will be contained and firewalled: limited to just the database it was on. Forums are inherently more vulnerable to attack because they allow users to register, to write to the DB, to possibly include some code, and so forth. With the current webspam battles added to this, forums are a massive target for bots, so you cannot argue against a security policy that keeps them separate. To be completely honest, this has always swayed my decison in the past, and where I thought it safer I installed the forum separately.

In the case of a blog, I would never use a plugin solution, only Wordpress or an alternative; there are a bunch of reasons why this is a better solution. But in this case, a plugin forum doesn't seem to have much in the way of negatives at all. It only gets second place to SMF because it would be too far out to suggest it for the #1 spot...

There is also an interesting point to be made here about other CMS forums - Kunena for example is far better than the integral forum in Drupal CMS. You certainly wouldn't install Drupal with the idea that the forum is going to be a major part of the site, as it can't really be described as a proper forum - in complete contrast to Kunena / Joomla.

 


Other contenders
Some other choices that you may want to look at - a mix of free and commercial apps.

MyBB
If SMF doesn't do it for you, try out MyBB. This free forum is much younger than SMF so expect some development work before it is 100% smooth. There is a lot of positive feedback for this app though, so if there is anything you don't like about SMF then MyBB is the one to look at next.

phpBB3
The phpBB series is a very popular free forum solution, perhaps even more so than SMF. The phpBB2 version has a big following and is well-supported, but had major security issues (whether or not due to user-added extensions is a popular debate). The new version, the 3.0 series, has the best ACL in forums, which is fully granular; but this results in admin usability issues. Together with other negatives, it means that phpBB3 is not currently a contender. However the installation routine is probably the best in forums and is to be commended - maybe even the slickest in website apps, although WordPress is a contender. Note that this is probably the only modern webapp that doesn't have a plugin system (at least, when I tried it, it was), so the core files have to be hacked for every extension, and you can't upgrade it without numerous issues as a result. This forum app is very capable, but only for experienced webmasters or coders.

vBulletin
If you are running a site with a commercial agenda, you need the best SEO solution in your website software. That's because you will get the highest traffic and the best results this way. You would also have the funds to pay for it, if by chance the best option is a commercial one like this. In the case of forums (as against CMS, blogs and wikis), the best option purely from an SEO point of view is a commercial application, vBulletin. Not unusually in the world of database-driven webapps, this is because of the plugins - in this case a powerful plugin called vbSEO. This simply takes the forum to a higher level than any other forum available apart from an integral one in a CMS with top SEO. Forums have the potential to be absolutely appalling in SEO terms, and some make full use of it - but vbSEO fixes this for vBulletin. However it means that a fully-loaded vBulletin forum might set you back up to $500. Not a problem if you have a commercial site or other resources.

Because SEO is of major importance to website owners (unless traffic or popularity are not a concern), I thought you should be aware of this situation. It will not be so important when the forum is not the main and only website component. We can only hope and wait for the day when free / open-source forum developers change their attitude and catch up with colleagues in the CMS world.

Xenforo
This is a commercial fork from vBulletin, and the creation of the original lead devs from vB, who left when vB was bought out. Now 18 months old it is mature enough to use. Many vB users are moving over to Xenforo because it is a complete code rewrite and intended to the job properly without having to make adjustments for suboptimal initial code choices. For example it doesn't need vbSEO to fix about 100 issues, as vB does. It's commercial, like vB. If you are seriously considering a commercial forum app then this is the one to look at first - that's what developers tell me, at any rate.

IPboard
IPboard has been round a while now and is a commercial alternative to vB but without the same size of community. It had major security issues in the past, and you'd probably need to be assured this era is past before you signed up to put this software on your server. Many people like it because it is simpler than vB. 

 

 
Related Products and Links

A forum comparison matrix: http://www.forummatrix.org
Excellent for basic spec comparisons, less useful for vital considerations like SEO potential, admin usability, past exploits vs current situation, and all the other detail we flag up.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Internet_forum_software
As usual, good for a topical overview and some more links. Some good comparisons if you follow the links, also more on ASP forums that we don't cover here, for those on Windows servers.

Have Your Say

Please visit the Website Software forum. Here you can enquire further or state your opinions on the various offerings (or this review). The Comments area below is mainly for brief software suggestions and similar, any discussion may be removed to the forum.

Quick Selection Guide

SMF - Simple Machines Forum
4
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Combines a web service with a stand-alone program
Best free forum, easy to administrate, great plugin system, good choice of templates, good ACL, plenty of options, good security
Poor SEO (in comparison with the top CMS software), occasional session ID URLs (SIDs), basic docs
http://www.simplemachines.org/
1.1.4
2.13 MB
32 bit only
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
LAMP; servers with PHP and MySQL

Choice of templates: 100's
Number of plugins (estimate): 500
SEF URL solution tested: PrettyURLs
SimplePortal plugin - modules & menus

To learn more visit its forum or online help.

FireBoard for Joomla
3.5
 
Combines a web service with a stand-alone program
Best SEO in forums, best templates, best trouble-free solution, easy admin, good security
No docs at all, poor ACL, a simplified solution, less options than standalone solutions
http://www.bestofjoomla.com/
1.0.4
0.8 MB
32 bit only
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
LAMP servers with Joomla CMS

Additional software required: Joomla CMS - www.joomla.org

To learn more visit its forum.
NOTE: the 'latest version' is Kunena forum - Kunena: http://www.kunena.com
download: http://joomlacode.org/gf/project/kunena/frs/

Editor
This software category is maintained by volunteer editor Chris Price. In the computing area his interests include freeware / open-source software, website software, web usability for all, and web business management.
Registered site visitors can contact Chris by clicking here.
Tags

best free forum software, best forums, compare forums, forum comparison, best website forum

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Comments

by Greg Ttibo on 15. July 2013 - 8:01  (109249)

Hello everybody!

Need your advice. I still do not understand about the application MyBB and phpBB3. What is better to use?

Thank you!

by chris.p on 19. July 2013 - 17:47  (109410)

If you don't like SMF then give MyBB a try. Some prefer it to SMF. It may still have some bugs at this time as someone told me it doesn't work with the Safari browser without a code hack - but it works fine on Safari for me.

My view is it's a good choice, you need to install SMF and MyBB and see which one works best for you. Because forum code is generally so poor, if you want your site to become popular you will probably want to see which has the best SEO plugins to suit your requirements. For example old SMF versions had very few SEO plugins, so it had problems such as the same metadata on every page. Check out these issues first.

by Subaduppy (not verified) on 6. December 2011 - 10:01  (84485)

As a beginner which web hosting services is better for me? I would like to know some informations about different hosting providers and their plans, can anyone help me?

by Maria_F on 5. December 2012 - 11:31  (103371)

Well, I would say that Phpbb is the best forum software from far.
I use it through www.forumotion.com which is a free forum creation website.
That's definitely the best solution to have a great and customized forum, mine has over than 300 members now and I was a beginner 2 years ago. I also won a free domain name.

[Commercial reference removed]

by chris p (not verified) on 6. December 2011 - 13:27  (84501)

This is a big subject but your best bet is to start in the forum, there are some good resources there. For example:

http://www.techsupportalert.com/freeware-forum/website-design-support-and-maintenance/532-please-help-me-in-choosing-web-hosting.html

by Tammy (not verified) on 3. December 2011 - 17:05  (84326)

Hi, We have a community website that we now have a forum in it that needs to be updated.

Is there a forum where when a user signs into our communities website using a username and password, he then can click "forum" in the navigation bar and go straight to it without having to resign in again.

Are there any forums you offer that is capable of doing this?

by chris.p on 3. December 2011 - 23:37  (84338)

This facility is called a bridge. It is a piece of middleware (an app that sits between two other bigger apps) that joins them to create a single login, and maintains a user session in both. It's what we use here on Gizmo's: a bridge between the Drupal CMS and the vBulletin forum.

So this basically depends if there is a bridge available between your main website app (a CMS maybe?) and the forum. Since we don't know what you are using for either, it's hard to offer any advice here - sorry.

Another option is to use a webapp that does both. For example Joomla CMS will run the main website, and also has a plugin forum called Kunena.

Give us more to work with, and perhaps we can help more.

by Stacy (not verified) on 10. September 2011 - 21:40  (79388)

Are any forum platforms better in terms of controlling spam? I moderate a forum and it's nearly impossible to keep the spammers at bay.

by chris.p on 11. September 2011 - 11:45  (79414)

As with most dynamic server apps (ones that run on a database), it's the plugins that make all the difference. The capability of these apps is often directly related to the number of plugins available, because the basic app is commonly just a framework.

This applies to forums and their security plugins. The forum with the most plugins for spam control will do the job best. vBulletin is superb as it has a range of them that do everything required, but it's commercial software.

We need to know exactly what forum app you are using, to make any further suggestions.

by MidnightCowboy on 11. September 2011 - 6:34  (79407)

The editor will be able to offer some first hand advice. In the meantime, there's some useful information here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forum_spam

by Assurancetourix (not verified) on 10. June 2011 - 5:52  (73588)

Hi. You can't be serious?
How can you make an "Best Free Website Forum Software" article without mention of MyBB ??
MyBB is growing fast and is now always in the Top 3 of all Forum Software comparison :)
Try it and you will quickly understand why it became so popular ;)

by Sally.B (not verified) on 9. March 2011 - 4:09  (67665)

i just can say that this is new for me, but thanks...
bye,
sally

by supanut on 6. February 2011 - 2:09  (65901)

You should review FluxBB.
It's very good, an perfect alternative to payware services like Activeboard.
Sadly it doesn't have attachments capability; but it can be added through mods.
The software is quite young, but it is worth mentioning. Even I'm using it right now and I can say...very good.

by charleswilliam175 (not verified) on 29. January 2011 - 16:01  (65448)

I think you need to revise your review and treat phpBB3 with the respect it deserves as a excellent free internet forum ware.

by charleswilliam175 (not verified) on 28. January 2011 - 17:29  (65382)

Thank u very much i am helpful to you.

by bezgranicaha (not verified) on 14. January 2011 - 0:31  (64477)

I just want to thank you for create the best forum. Gracias adminos!

:)

by Lookupl (not verified) on 23. October 2010 - 16:35  (60009)

Hi everyone I’m new here. Forum looks great.
I wanted to Say "Hi"

I look forward to participating in threads here

by EnvidgeEphepe (not verified) on 21. October 2010 - 19:19  (59886)

hell yea.thanx for sharing this post with me.i just found it buy google couse i was searching for
more info about this.Ang WOOHOO! i found your post that was so usefull for me :)
feel free to drop me email i will send small donation! love for all you here.

by ekta mahajan (not verified) on 5. August 2010 - 5:23  (55481)

Hi to all of you,

I have a commercial website and i want to start a Question and answer forum(Q&A) by using a community software.
My requirements are :
1. I need the same layout of Q&A forum like my website.
2. The Q&A forum should be match with our existing website language i.e. asp.net+ MySQL database.If it is necessary
3.I will be able to customize the Q&A in case of any need in future.

Please suggest best software according to my requirement.Kindly reply

Thanks
Ekta

by chris.p on 10. August 2010 - 15:21  (55743)

Hi Ekta,

I'm sorry but we don't cover ASP software in this review, it's not open source / freeware in the strict meaning of the word because you will have to buy MS products at some stage (such as a database). LAMP stack software is free all down the line.

Anyway: ASP forums are hardly known at all compared to PHP ones, so you'll have to do your own research - google 'forum software asp' for example.

Maybe start as per usual on the Wikipedia page, it's as good a place as any:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Internet_forum_software_(ASP)

You'll need to purchase an additional MS SQL Server database, most likely, if you run this on your existing server.

With ASP apps, before you do anything else, you need to find out what Trust environment they run in and if that is compatible with your hosting.

When choosing any dynamic app (one that runs off a DB), one of the most critical points is how many plugins are available, because everything is done with plugins. If trying to choose between two apps, pick the one with the most plugins. It means that (a) the community back that app more and therefore have more confidence in it, and (b) you'll be a lot more likely to find tools to do your required jobs.

Chris

by Daniel Audette (not verified) on 19. August 2010 - 22:35  (56381)

ASP at one time was a paid for product. You can now get free microsoft products that will allow you to develop asp apps and there database engine sql server has a free version as well.

Daniel

by Anonymous on 12. May 2010 - 22:15  (49670)

Phpbb v3.0.7pl is without a doubt my #1 choice in this category for the following reasons:

1. This version is super secure (updates and patches are timely and get easier to apply all the time). The introduction of custom profile fields, which are easy to apply, recapcha integration plus loads of great mods make v3.0.7pl as tight as any expensive commercial forum software. BTW, most of the V2 issues arose from lazy admins refusing to stay on top of security releases leaving their forum open to attacks.

2. phpBB probably has the best support of all the software listed here. Since it's community based, the support comes from other users. This to me is a huge plus because no one is more knowledgeable about what's going on with the software than other power users. If this sounds biased, I admit it is. I tend to lean towards open source software as it offers the most insight into the coding that goes into making it up, plus the freedom to modify it to my needs. That, and the fact that I get the chance to stick it to the corporate weenies who want to constantly pick my pocket, by forcing inferior products on me --- means I'm there!

3. I was once a VB user and loved the software. Unfortunately, since it was sold to a corporate entity, it has now become (imho) nothing more than an over bloated cash cow for the new owners. VB's developers were always arrogant. However, this new crew of corporate criminals who now own VB take greed and arrogance to a whole new level! I could live with the old VB arrogance because (dare I admit this) they had a point with being the very best forum software solution out there. I can not however justify price increases of 200-300% with absolutely no control over ownership rights to what I'm paying for.

4. phpBB is 100% FREE! Let me repeat that --- 100% totally, unequivocally FREE, with I might add, almost total control over how long, where and for what the software is used! To me phpBB, in it's current form, is a no brainier.

by SevendWorm on 14. April 2010 - 14:37  (47629)

This forum is very informative. This would really work for me.

by Anonymous on 5. April 2010 - 16:41  (47026)

phpBB3 is a different beast from the lousy v2. But people are not even willing to forget the massively exploited nightmare v2 was, and evaluate the v3 for its own merit, security and reliability.

And lets be real, regardless of anyone's personal preference or bias, we're looking for valid relevant alternatives, ideally also free. Here, nothing beats this list as the top recommendable ones.:
- phpBB *3*. The reversed postbit can be a big inconvenience for those not used to it.
- SMF (kinda same feel as phpbb, except easier to manage). As easy as it can be, there is no way it can be the top recommendation for anyone but unsophisticated admins. Its also fallen behind big time.
- MyBB (vBulletin 'clone'). Thats about the most recommendable one. Active modding community, but some locations are behind a subscriber-only paywall. A novel way for mod authors to make some money from free mods, while including support too.
- ocPortal (a full solution, from which some original ideas from it were implemented in commercial software)

And the original smallfry:
- NovaBoard (an IP.board 'clone')
- anElectron (AEF)

~ LeadCrow

by chris.p on 14. May 2010 - 12:30  (49779)

I take your point that phpBB3 is a different proposition from phpBB2.

However when I tried it at phpBB 3.0 there were a ton of issues. Because of that I assumed it had been rushed out to get away from phpBB2 as fast as possible - but then someone criticised that statement and said it had taken years to write phpBB3. That surprised me due to the large number of issues: the generated pagecode was terrible, for example it used session IDs (!) and every other SEO factor was poor. There were no SEO plugins to fix the numerous faults, and no templates (although this is understandable in a brand new version).

The plugin system was by far the worst I have ever seen in any dynamic webapp - there wasn't one, you hacked the core files with odd bits of code pasted in. It's as if the authors had been living in a cave for the past 5 years. In addition the admin usability was again the worst I've ever seen in any database-driven server software.

Due to the large number of problems I could never recommend it, especially to the novice webmasters with small sites who this review is for. It may be a different story for experienced coders who can re-work the basic app.

I guess it's time to revisit phpBB3 as it has probably evolved by now. But if it still uses SIDs, has poor admin usability, has no SEO plugins to fix the various issues such as boilerplate meta and SIDs - or even no plugin system - then the verdict will still be the same: it's not suitable for novice webmasters who want a quick solution that works well without a lot of time investment.

As I said, it may be a very good choice for big boards with several people to fix things as they want, and/or the time and money to do it, but that isn't who this review is for. Even though SMF has stalled, like Joomla, due to core team issues, it's still a better proposition for our audience. And if the funds are there and any app could be used, phpBB would need to be very good to beat vBulletin. For a coder who can really get down and dirty, I can't argue that phpBB is a candidate, maybe even better than vB for that person; but this is not big numbers, the masses are better off with something else (if phpBB3 is still anything like the first 3.0 version).

chris.p

by sunsettommy (not verified) on 25. June 2011 - 15:54  (74327)

"The plugin system was by far the worst I have ever seen in any dynamic webapp - there wasn't one, you hacked the core files with odd bits of code pasted in. It's as if the authors had been living in a cave for the past 5 years. In addition the admin usability was again the worst I've ever seen in any database-driven server software."

The ACP is useful.But ONLY for big boards and having many user groups and forum sections.To manage.

Otherwise it is massive overkill for small and medium forums.It was too much work for me to deal with.

"The plugin system was by far the worst I have ever seen in any dynamic webapp - there wasn't one, you hacked the core files with odd bits of code pasted in. It's as if the authors had been living in a cave for the past 5 years. In addition the admin usability was again the worst I've ever seen in any database-driven server software."

The forum owner,I was doing site administrative work with.Despite being an expert computer expert.Showed a strong reluctance to add a Mod.He added a few themes and that was it.

Then we left that phpBB3 mess for SMF and learned to loathe it as well.It IS better than phpBB3,but aside from a solid plug in manager.It was old crap under the hood.

After I took over ownership of the forum.I moved to myBB and finally found the set up I can reasonably understand and use.They have since gone to version 1.6 where the needed changes have made it easier to manage a larger membership base.

I understand that phpBB4 will FINALLY have a decent plug in system.Plus their recent upgrades of the 3.0 version series have finally addressed some of their deficiencies.Maybe they are wising up these days?

"Due to the large number of problems I could never recommend it, especially to the novice webmasters with small sites who this review is for. It may be a different story for experienced coders who can re-work the basic app."

Agreed!

Newbies should NOT try phpBB3 series.It is designed as a large board set up.

SMF 2.0 is better but a little buggy.Great plug in system and can handle from small to big board set up.
myBB 1.6 is stable and simpler to use out of the box.Ideal for small to medium forums.

"I guess it's time to revisit phpBB3 as it has probably evolved by now. But if it still uses SIDs, has poor admin usability, has no SEO plugins to fix the various issues such as boilerplate meta and SIDs - or even no plugin system - then the verdict will still be the same: it's not suitable for novice webmasters who want a quick solution that works well without a lot of time investment.

As I said, it may be a very good choice for big boards with several people to fix things as they want, and/or the time and money to do it, but that isn't who this review is for. Even though SMF has stalled, like Joomla, due to core team issues, it's still a better proposition for our audience. And if the funds are there and any app could be used, phpBB would need to be very good to beat vBulletin. For a coder who can really get down and dirty, I can't argue that phpBB is a candidate, maybe even better than vB for that person; but this is not big numbers, the masses are better off with something else (if phpBB3 is still anything like the first 3.0 version)."

Please do.And SMF too.

You need to take a serious look at myBB 1.6 series.

phpBB3 team appears to be waking up due to a lot of criticism about their software.Their next version will address the plug in system.

Over at AdminAddict forum.

There is a post that explains why SMF is great in the admin panel:

post 46:

http://www.adminaddict.net/forum/community-forum-software/mybb-vs-smf-phpbb-761/index4/#post12183

This one if from the why I hate phpBB3 thread:

Post 27

http://www.adminaddict.net/forum/phpbb/why-does-everyone-hate-phpbb-3058/index2/#post43304

LOL

by Anonymous on 9. March 2010 - 22:58  (45270)

I'd give 50/50 odds of SMF even surviving 2010. Here's a link in case you haven't been following the drama:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simple_Machines_Forum#Simple_Machines_restr...

by chris.p on 10. March 2010 - 12:03  (45295)

Interesting. I wondered why the 2.0 version was taking so long.

It's sad to see this but these restructures are a natural progression in the software world. They often lead to better things - look at Mambo >> Joomla. In fact there seem to be some similarities with SMF to the Mambo fork affair. Mambo owned the original company (although they didn't own the code, it was always open source), and most of the devs left to create Joomla. Here it looks like the SMF organisation owns the code, so it can't be forked, it will have to be re-written from scratch by any dev team that leaves to create a new fork. No doubt that's what the main issue here is, if not for that maybe they would have gone earlier.

It can be done though, so perhaps that will be what happens. It looks as if SMF will survive though because the code is protected.

Forks are a good thing, they are one of the main ways code improves. You might even say that forum software teams are more in need of some team forks than any other webapp group, they are all so far behind the times. Compared to the CMS teams, many of them still seem to be in the Steam Age. Forum pagecode is awful, web standards are ignored, SEO (ie commercial success) is ignored, general quality control is terrible, there are no modern on-page assets, content publishing of any kind is next to impossible, and so on. Yeah, let's have a few forks - please.

chris.p

by Anonymous on 7. March 2010 - 6:31  (45144)

I don't understand your comment that SMF doesn't have a working forum after installation. Every time I've installed one (and I've installed a lot) there is indeed a working forum complete with dummy posts and categories etc as soon as you've followed the very basic and easy install page instructions. All you have to do is delete the existing posts and add your own category/sections then play around with themes or whatever to make it your own. Couldn't be easier.

by chris.p on 7. March 2010 - 13:04  (45152)

It's just that I don't agree with installing dummy data on principle. On some webapps doing that will result in a terrible mess to try and get rid of, and hours of work. Could be it's OK on SMF, I just don't go that route due to previous issues.

Also I don't agree on principle that new users should have to install a dummy data set just to get basic features up.

Since everyone everywhere will need at least a single working forum on install, it just seems like a no-brainer to have one there. Then it can be adjusted further, or cloned for new boards.

chris.p