When it comes to social discussions on the web, there’s only one thing for it: forums. They’re everywhere nowadays, providing support for professional products and services to general chit-chat about anything – there’s no reason why your website can’t jump on the bandwagon and start a forum from scratch. Here, I’ll cover 5 of the best free forum solutions available for you to host on your own server.
Probably one of the most famous and trusted free forum solutions out there at the moment, phpBB prides itself as being “the #1 free, open source bulletin board software” and it’s not hard to see why – the vast amount of customisable options within the administration panel is enough to keep the keen webmaster busy and excited for the best part of 2 days, however, to the beginner web administrator it may all prove just too much to handle. Let’s have a run down:
Est. number of plugins/mods*: 504
Est. number of styles/themes*: 537
Current stable version*: 3.0.10
Widely used, yet hardly heard of (or at least not appreciated enough, in my opinion). From my personal experience with MyBB, setting up this advanced forum software is a doddle, as is upgrading – although to upgrade and modify themes, one must be familiar and comfortable with using FTP and PHP/HTML editing. Settings are explained, updates are regular and it’s an all round tip-top solution!
Est. number of plugins/mods*: 765
Est. number of styles/themes*: 369
Current stable version*: 1.6.8
Simple Machines Forum (aka SMF) is another widely used and advanced free forum solution, for what it offers though it’s hard to believe that such a system is free, the vast amount of settings and tweaks that can be made to mods, themes and in fact the whole system in general is mind-blowing. Although the default theme may be appear a little dull and ‘so last Century’, it really doesn’t do the ocean of features it packs and justice.
Est. number of plugins/mods*: 1,878
Est. number of styles/themes*: 1,276
Current stable version*: 2.0.2
Once a standalone package, bbPress is now a plugin from the developers of WordPress. The main benefit of this? A well established bridge between the core system functionality of WordPress and bbPress – useful for WordPress sites which have a large registered user base. One downfall, however, is the lack of options and settings to tweak the forum system, however this maybe a welcome bonus to new webmasters who don’t require all the bells and whistles of more advanced systems like those discussed earlier.
Est. number of plugins/mods*: ~125
Est. number of styles/themes*: N/A
Current stable version*: 2.1
Another lightweight forum solution, Vanilla Forums provides either a hosted or self-hosted app. Unlike the other forum solutions, Vanilla lacks alot of settings and instead focuses on appearance by default. In my opinion, Vanilla has one of the best default administration and front-end themes, this may be favoured by the newbie webmaster.
Est. number of plugins/mods*: ?
Est. number of styles/themes*: ?
Current stable version*: 126.96.36.199
*At time of publishing this tutorial