A genuine contender for the best free forum choice


Our rating: 


Pros & Cons:

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.

Our Review:

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.

SMF forum template 1 SMF forum template 2 SMF forum template 3

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 decision 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.

System Requirements: LAMP servers with Joomla CMS.

Additional software required: Joomla CMS. To learn more visit its forum.

Kunena was reviewed by on