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Which Forum software ?

I know about phbb and VBulletin but is there a real alternative?



8:41 am on Feb 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I have a forum set up already in phbb and its not very busy which to be honest I'm quite glad about.

To me both phbb and Vbulletin look tired and old. EVERY man and his dog has a forum which looks like thier format.

They are also quite difficult to integrate into the look and feel of my existing web site. These forums want websites to change to look like them not the other way round.

What I would like is a a forum where I can say reserve the top 45 pixels or a set % for MY OWN HEADER, say the right and left 45 pixels or % for my own design and then the rest can be the forum.

The aformetioned forums can't be easily changed.

I have also downloaded and started testing vanilla- I like it's clean looks and simplicity but it seems too simple as I can't find out how to moderate for example.

I have read about Phorum but the download does not contain the files they say it should (like config.php.sample) and their support is not very helpful so they are out.

Are there any other easy to install forums which are highly configurable which can be changed to look like my website and not want me to look like their tired old formats?

[edited by: engine at 10:55 am (utc) on Feb. 24, 2009]
[edit reason] No specific forums, thanks [/edit]


10:41 am on Feb 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I like SMF. It comes with three themes, and there's probably quite a few third-party themes for it. It's open source, so you can design your own if you're ambitious. You can customize some aspects of the page just by modifying the CSS.

The top-of-page mods you described should be easily accomplished by modifying the index.template.php file where the top of page layout is.

They've patched security problems promptly, too.


10:45 am on Feb 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member


I tried FOR HOURS to get our sites header to work with phpbb.

I just don't know enough about includes and php.

All I want is a forum which says add your header html here then it puts its code under that,

I will look at SMF though.

Just been reading about Invasion Power Board but it looks like all the rest,


12:49 pm on Feb 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I just started using BBPress.org (from the makers of Wordpress)... It is free and pretty solid, extendable code. You can find free "themes" to get you started on a custom look, and then there are hundreds of plugins available to add whatever functionality you need.

And if you need more customization, you can very easily write your own plugins, override their function modules, etc.

I have been pretty impressed with the design of it... There are a few quarky things I didn't like... it seems to give a lot of focus to "tag clouds" which I hate, but that can all be removed from the templates if you don't want to use it.

It does take some poking around in their help forum to get solutions to minor problems like removing a field from the user profile page, or changing links to nofollow, etc... but once you figure out how those changes are made (by making your own custom plugin), it really starts become obvious that the design of the software was done very well.


1:08 pm on Feb 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Alternative point of view.

I run frames on my site. My forum runs in that frame. Guess what, it looks like my site.

I know this isn't the answer sought, just pointing out there are many ways to skin a cat. Even if the cat doesn't want to be skinned.


2:44 pm on Feb 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

I've always been able to integrate my template into phpbb. But I've been using phpbb since '01 so I know my way around pretty well. I just "paste" my template header/footer into overall_header.html and overall_footer.html, I don't try to use php include statements as it doesn't seem to work right.

I use phpbb in part because 99% of the forums I visit use vbulletin, they're all cookie cutter sites with the identical blue/white look. Boring... oh plus I don't like the bloated code of vb.


3:22 pm on Feb 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Frames now that's interesting- why can't forum builders emulate this kind of functionality.

Is there anything wrong in using frames which would stop me doing this?

I tried to paste in my HTLM into the header but it just ends up as a mess.

I agree Vbulletin and to some extent phbbb sites all look very samey. Sorry even WebmasterWorld looks dated.

I just want something fresh looking

Anyone heard or Orca?


10:49 pm on Feb 24, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The aformetioned forums can't be easily changed.

I can't speak for VB but the HTML generated by phpBB is nearly all within templates. If you know HTML and CSS you can make it look however you want by modifying the templates and CSS files. You can even use your own php code within the templates if you're using phpbb3.

I tried to paste in my HTLM into the header but it just ends up as a mess.

No offense but the problem lies between the chair and the keyboard. If your HTML doesn't integrate it's not the software's fault, you're going to have the same issues with any forum software. I'll take a quick guess your HTML is inheriting the CSS for phpbb?

As far as the "dated" look of forums I'm not so sure what you're after but forums first and foremost should be able to present information in very accessible way, other than a list there really isn't much more you can do. Certainly you can add some "window dressing" but the content is going to dictate how far you can take that.


8:35 pm on Feb 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Yes you are right it is my fault I realise- yes it probably is inheriting the css from phpbb but I tried to add my css into the style sheet.

I have found that actually trying to find which template does what is very confusing though.

It's not exactly user friendly.

By old fashioned maybe I mean that the same look is used EVERYWHERE.

I like teh look of Vanilla but from what I can see you can't do much with it.


8:44 pm on Feb 25, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

If you look at some of the different themes available for vBulletin, phpBB, etc., you'll see a lot of variety. If you want your forum to look different, I'd also suggest removing some of the stuff that clutters up the typical forum page, like a list of things you can or can't do on a page.


4:15 am on Feb 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Remember the duck. If it walks like one, quacks one, etc. A forum has a certain appearance. Blog comments have a certain appearance. Web pages, too. Change any of that up too much and your visitor won't know what they are looking at. We have over 400 years of printing history that has been tested by trial and error to produce some basic schema that all recognize instantly (text, lists, tables, etc) and trying to reinvent the wheel is counterproductive...and produces poor results. The web does not have 400 years existence, but does piggyback on that publishing history which is the general standard. Nothing wrong with changing colors or widths for the forum, or adding images, avatars, etc, but changing the STRUCTURE is not a good idea.


5:13 am on Feb 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

I like SMF.

Some of the themes are much like the other forum software, but some are very radically different in a way that I've never seen from Vb, phpBB and Invision.

I know nothing about PHP, but even I have been able to copy and paste some interesting solutions with SMF (with the help of their support forums of course).

For a more structured approach, Vb has a nice templating system, but I do find it very 'rigid' and unwieldy personally.


But most forum software is a mess IMO. Like CMSs, they come with the assumption that everyone in the world is interested in 'cool' tools like 'shout boxes' and displaying page load times.

90% of my work, when setting up a forum from scratch, is to strip out the unnecessary gunk and customise the user tools and feedback/error messages so that they make sense to ordinary web users. I remember a popular forum program a few years ago which had the register/login box at the bottom of the page. I'm sure there was a reason for this...



9:22 am on Feb 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks Iv'e just had a look at simply machines.

I am trying all the free codes and the one I go with I will make the donation.

Iv'e just realised another limitation with some forum software.

I need to display google adsense wherever I want in the forum. This is actually possible in phpbb but not as far as I can see in Vanilla. I don't know about simple machines as I can't find an answer in their website.


9:56 am on Feb 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

There is an AdSense mod for SMF. If you search their forum for AdSense, you should find lots of discussion and requests for help (and answers) about it. I think there are several supported locations for displaying the ads.

You can also make the modifications yourself manually, but it involves going in and modifying the PHP code. If you want the ads in uncommon locations such as inside posts, that could be somewhat difficult to figure out. The index.template.php file builds the page headers and footers (relatively easy to modify), but there are other template files involved in creating the rest of the page, and figuring out how and where to modify the code for those would require becoming quite familiar with the inner workings of SMF.

[edited by: SteveWh at 10:02 am (utc) on Feb. 26, 2009]


10:58 am on Feb 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for the reply-I will download smf and give it a go


12:35 pm on Feb 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

This is actually possible in phpbb but not as far as I can see in Vanilla

You can add any HTML code you want anywhere within phpBB. there's a simple explanation here to add them in overall header, viewforum or before posts :

The addtion to overall_header may break Googles TOS because it will display on every page. To take the tutorial a step further you first should understand the switches used in templates. You might add something like this:

Your ad code here
<!-- ENDIF -->

In viewtopic.php this variable is set on line 609:

'S_VIEWTOPIC'=> true,

Therefore the code in between the switch will only be parsed when viewtopic is requested, you could add multiple switches:

Your ad code here
<!-- ENDIF -->

Now it will only be displayed in viewtopic or viewforum. You might want to add it to index.php? There is no switch for index.php but you can add it, open up index.php in your text editor and you'll find this down near the bottom:

// Assign index specific vars
'TOTAL_POSTS'=> sprintf($user->lang[$l_total_post_s], $total_posts),

This first varible is used for total posts, using {TOTAL_POSTS} in template will display the number. In this array we can add the switch, go down a little further and after the birthday switch add the switch for the index page :

'S_DISPLAY_BIRTHDAY_LIST'=> ($config['load_birthdays']) ? true : false,
'S_INDEX'=> true,

Now within the template overall_header.html we're going to make our ad block look like this:

Your ad code here
<!-- ENDIF -->

EDIT: this should be a pipe symbol, you'll need to replace it.


1:08 pm on Feb 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks for the tips- I have found phpbb quite easy to implement adsense. As you say I have not added it to the forum home page in case this would break the google terms.

One reason I didn't mention which is really putting me off phpbb even though it's all set up and ready to go is that it takes so so SO long to load. I think this could be a big reason why we have had no visitors. Even I almost give up as it takes 15 seconds and that is in the new apple safari which I have found is blazingly fast. I am using cable broadband too. My site on a whole takes about 2 seconds to load. People are very impatient and just want instant loading pages

It is linked from every page in our main web site too.

I just set this up through our host as phpbb is offered as a forum and its a quick auto set up through our hosts admin control panel.

Does a MYSQL db connection take a long time? I have not noticed any other forum eg WebmasterWorld to be slow to load.


7:53 pm on Feb 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I would not use webmasterworld as an example of how a typical mysql db board will perform. This board is 100% custom code tweeked to the max for optimal performance.

Have you looked at BBPress yet? I recommended it earlier in the thread and was surprised no one else mentioned it. It is another free forum option.


8:28 pm on Feb 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks I will look at BBPress-

I contacted our host and they said they are working to reduce mysql connection issuers. They even said it was a common complaint.

I hope they fix it as at the moment no matter what I do I don't think people will wait anywhere from 15 seconds to a minute for it to load.


10:21 pm on Feb 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

I hadn't heard of bbpress before so I checked it out. I would advise you to be cautious about it. I found a forum thread where they discussed the next release will actually be 35-50% slower than 0.9 (I'm not sure I can post a direct link here). Anyway, they said until there is a caching solution expect it to be slow. So it looks like bbpress hasn't matured yet (although it is nice that it works with wordpress).


11:18 pm on Feb 26, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Thanks for the tip on BBPress Swanny. I think I will hold off on upgrading and stick with version 0.9...

If required, I would probably implement a memcached plugin to aid in serving up the pages. Hopefully the WP folks will do it for me first before I need that kind of performance...


2:17 am on Feb 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

One reason I didn't mention which is really putting me off phpbb even though it's all set up and ready to go is that it takes so so SO long to load.

I don't know how it compares to other software but it should be lighting fast. Nealy every page on my site spidered by Google is a phpBB page and it reports downloads in 300 milliseconds. Note that I have eaccelerator installed so the page loads will be a little slower without it but overall on average execution time should be well below 1 second. If I remeber correctly it was benchmarked at .8 on a server not under load without eaccelerator however the server was only running a P3.

phpBB3 was built from the ground up with two major things in mind, performance and security .


11:29 am on Feb 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Thanks Iv'e managed to get BBPress running now (I have Phpbb, Vanilla, Phorum and now BBPress) . The documentation is very minimal. I'm not sure I will be able to do much with it though as it seems to be for experts only. It does seem fast though loads in 8 secs compared tpo phpbb which takes 20 secs.


4:12 pm on Feb 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

You have some major server/connection issues if it takes that long. Again my pages execute in less than a second. Click... it's there.


11:51 pm on Feb 27, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I contacted our hosting and they said that it is a common complaint and they are working on it. Below is their obviously standard reply

< sorry, no email quotes >

My forum is brand new and the DB has JUST been set up so it must be as clean as it can be.

All nice words but they didn't offer any time frame. They suggested I have a VPS account which will cost extra.

Today it was taking about a minute to load. I may have to look around. They are generally very very good but no matter what I do people won't visit if it takes 20secs to a minute to load.

[edited by: tedster at 1:33 am (utc) on Feb. 28, 2009]


12:24 am on Feb 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Oasisfan give SMF another try...really is very nice..to make security updates etc..you just click a link ...to change themes ..you just click a link.. most modifications require very minimal manual changes


6:12 am on Feb 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Is it possible to have the DB hosted on another host but the forum still resides on our existing host?


11:44 am on Feb 28, 2009 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I'd strongly suggest looking for another host. Anything more than second on a clean install of a phpBB forum is unacceptable unless you are already consuming a lot of resources.


3:40 am on Mar 1, 2009 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I have just installed SMF.

I like the clean look.

It also loads twice as fast as PHPBB.

I think I will go with this as PHPBb is just too slow (for whatever reason)

SMF isn't as user friendly in the template and theme editing. With PHPBb you can easily change the logo and add google adsense code wherever you want it from the admin panel.

Now to edit the themes so it looks like my site.

These forums are frustrating.

The number one thing people want is to be able to easily customise their forums to look like their websites so why not make this easy?

The second is to integrate advertising such as adesense. Full marks to PHPBB but none to SMF and the others I have tries in this respect.

Anyone know any good tips or pages where I can get some tutorials?

Sorry to keep asking but to summarise my findings

PHPBB is quite easy to make changes to the template to get it at least looking a bit like your site.

PHPBB is easy to set up

PHPBB is slow but this is probaly a reflection of my host.

Vanilla quite easy to set up but for my limited knowledge I can't do anything (wrt to editing its look) with it at all.

It is fast though

BBPress easy to install but again where to from here- I (with my limited knowledge) can't do anything with it

BBPress is fast

SMF-easy to set up, seems fast. Now to customise it...

If any one out there is developing a forum you will have a winner if it is easy to customise.

[edited by: oasisfan at 4:35 am (utc) on Mar. 1, 2009]


4:27 am on Mar 1, 2009 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I run an XMB forum, I have hacked it to death, so it no longer resembles anything like the original forum.

The coders who build the xmb board are really accessible and have helped me change it to reflect my style.

I would recommend them, their help and their just released board.

This 37 message thread spans 2 pages: 37

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