Forum software comparison

In our forum software comparison, we introduce you to the most popular products for online communities. We include proprietary software, open source projects, and cloud solutions including hosting.

vBulletin

The fee-based forum system vBulletin from the Californian company, vBulletin Solutions, is one of the most successful software solutions in the community sector. The powerful forum software is currently available in its 5th version and is primarily aimed at demanding users who want to create professional community projects. This focus is also reflected in the price since vBulletin is located in the upper price range. Users either opt for an unlimited software license for a one-off payment or they choose the rental model for cloud operation that comes with monthly costs.

If you operate your forum with vBulletin, you benefit from a trusted software with an enormous range of functions including messengers, user groups, surveys, and blog functions. The robust software architecture is designed for flexibility and performance. Add-ons such as the Mobile Suite for iOS and Android or footers without branding can be added to your order for a fee. In addition, users of the popular forum system can access a wide range of third-party plug-ins. The user interface of the forum can be adapted to the operator's taste. The software provides customizable themes in a responsive design. Integrated SEO features such as search engine friendly URLs, meta keywords, and description tags are designed to ensure more success with the search engine.

According to the developers, the installation and configuration takes only 15 minutes. In the cloud model, vBulletin Solutions also handles hosting, maintenance, and software updates. Operating a professional online forum is therefore also possible for users without any previous forum knowledge. If you want to monetize your community project, you can use an advertising plug-in provided by vBulletin in cooperation with the advertising service provider Nativo.

Technically, users of the PHP-based forum software are tied to the MySQL database management system. Only from vBulletin 5.2.6+ onwards, is the MySQL-Fork MariaDB supported in a different way. From version 5 onwards, the software is compatible with PHP 7.

System requirements:

  • PHP 5.6+
  • MySQL 5.5+ or MariaDB 5.1.5+ (from version 5.2.6+)

Demo version available

Advantages

Disadvantages

✔ Powerful solutions for large forums

✘ Comparatively high costs for the software license

✔ Optimized for mobile devices

✘ Only supports DBMS MySQL up to version 5.2.5

✔ Optimizable for search engines

✘ Only comes without branding for a fee

✔ Ready to go in 15 minutes

 

✔ Cloud solution available

 

  •  
Note

If users are restricted to a certain database management system by forum software, we considered this to be a disadvantage in our overview. MySQL was especially criticized by users after it was taken over by Oracle. The reasons for this are a lack of transparency and functional differences between the open source version and the proprietary product. The best case would be for the forum system user to have the choice of which DBMS to use.

phpBB

The forum software phpBB is a free forum system whose ever-growing feature set can compete with even high-priced proprietary solutions such as vBulletin. The open source software is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) and boasts a large user community worldwide.

The current version phpBB 3.2 has a modular design and can be adapted to the respective needs of the user by various extensions. The community offers a large selection of free styles. If required, themes and templates can be individualized. A responsive layout has been supported since the previous version.

Even in the areas of administration, moderation, and rights management, phpBB is in no way inferior to other forum systems. The open source solution does not offer SEO features such as search engine friendly URLs.

Technically, phpBB is characterized by a broad support of common database management systems. The current version is compatible with PHP 7 and can be integrated into the Joomla! content management system via an authorization plug-in. Bridges for other CMS are not available.

System requirements:

  • PHP 5.4+
  • MySQL 3.23+, MySQLi, PostgreSQL 8.3+, SQLite 2.8.2+, SQLite 3.6.15+, Oracle, MS SQL Server 2000+, or MariaDB 5.1+
  • PHP extensions: json

Demo version available

Advantages

Disadvantages

✔ Free forum software

✘ Not optimizable for search engines

✔ Open source

✘ Support only via the community

✔ Optimized for mobile devices

 

✔ Integration in Joomla!

 

Note

If the source code of a software is publicly accessible, we regard this as an advantage. Open source ensures transparency and creates pressure for the quality to be good. Program errors in open source software are usually better documented and corrected more quickly. Industry giants such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google have also recognized the advantages of open source software and are now increasingly involved in open source projects. Please note, however, that open source software is not necessarily free of charge.

WoltLab Suite

The German forum system WoltLab is promoted by its developers as the “engine of successful communities”. A special feature is the integrated CMS. The software is currently available in its 3rd version and offers everything for modern forum operation with its responsive templates, individual design options, and a search engine friendly website structure.

The basis is a modular software architecture. While the core of the proprietary WoltLab Suite is available free of charge, all other components such as the forum, a gallery, calendar functions, file management, and the blog area can be purchased as separate apps if required. Forum operators, who want to use the software without branding, have to pay a significant surcharge, as with vBulletin.

If desired, forum operators can connect WoltLab with social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus and thus enable users to register via their social media profile. In addition, the forum software offers interfaces through which content can be conveniently distributed via Reddit, Pinterest, or WhatsApp.

WoltLab GmbH provides an official plug-in store on its website where users can purchase extensions, styles, and developer tools. The resources are both official extensions and third-party software.

The forum software WoltLab Suite (written in PHP) requires DBMS MySQL or MySQL fork MariaDB. When purchasing the software license, an installation service can be added. A cloud version of the forum software is not available.

System requirements:

  • PHP 5.5.4+
  • MySQL 5.1.17+ or MariaDB 10.0.22 with InnoDB support
  • PHP extensions: mbstring, libxml, dom, zlib, pdo, pdo_mysql, json, pcre, and hash

Demo version available

Advantages

Disadvantages

✔ Integrated CMS

✘ Only comes without branding for a fee

✔ Optimized for mobile use

 

✔ Optimizable for search engines

 

✔ Numerous extensions

 

Invision Community

Invision Community is the latest version of the popular Invision Power Board (IP.Board) from IPS, Inc. The powerful software combines discussion forums with CMS functionality and offers numerous extras for professional community projects. Extensions are offered via an official online marketplace.

The functional spectrum of Invision Community includes user-defined member profiles, a multi-level moderation system, detailed permission settings as well as interfaces to the most common social networks. If necessary, community members can be kept happy with gamification tools. A cloud-based anti-spam system helps forum operators reduce unwanted posts from spam bots. Professional forum operators also benefit from monetization options such as paid premium memberships and interfaces to advertising networks. If required, a web store can be integrated.

With Invision Community, IPS focuses primarily on the distribution of cloud solutions. Although acquiring a self-hosted license is possible, it has to be renewed every six months. Anyone who fails to do so will lose access to software updates, technical support, the anti-spam system, the marketplace for software enhancements, and support forums. As an alternative to the standard version, IPS offers the forum software as an enterprise solution with extended support.

If Invision Community is used on its own hardware or as part of third-party hosting, PHP, and the DBMS MySQL must be provided. The vendor recommends PHP 7. An installation service can be purchased when buying the software license.

System requirements:

  • PHP 5.4+
  • MySQL 5.5+
  • PHP extensions: all standard extensions as well as GD2 and mbstring

Demo version available

Advantages

Disadvantages

✔ Wide range of functions

✘ Comparatively high costs for cloud operation or purchasing the software license

✔ Optimized for mobile use

✘ The self-hosted license has to be renewed

✔ Optimizable for search engines

✘ Supports only DBMS MySQL

✔ Cloud solution available

 

MyBB

The MyBB (originally: MyBulletinBoard) offers basic functions for a professional forum operation and is available to users free of charge under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL).

The basic features of the software include administration and moderation functions, private messages, a reputation system, calendar, and events as well as a template editor. Administration tasks can be managed in the background via a task scheduling system. Unwanted user behavior can be punished by a warning system.

The core software shows weak points in the areas of mobile and SEO. However, various resources for extending the open source system are available to forum operators directly via the project website.

The PHP-based forum software MyBB supports MySQL, the free DBMS PostgreSQL, and SQLite.

System requirements:

  • PHP 5.2+
  • MySQL 5.0+, PostgreSQL 8.1+, or SQLite 3
  • PHP extensions: SimpleXML, mbstring, gd as well as the corresponding vendor specific database PHP extension.

Advantages

Disadvantages

✔ Free

✘ Not optimizable for search engines

✔ Open source offer

✘ Not optimized for mobile devices

✔ Compatible with various DBMS

✘ Support only via the community

XenForo

XenForo is a proprietary forum software in the medium price range that focuses on social commitment. An intuitive “like” system allows users to earn trophies and therefore receive appreciation for good contributions.

Standard features include user-defined color schemes, a central activity display, and an alarm system for quotes and answers. For success in the search engines, XenForo provides easily readable URLs and the possibility of semantic annotation.

The forum software is designed to be an expandable system. Forum operators adapt the software individually to their respective requirements with the help of add-ons. The provider recommends Media Gallery and the Resource Manager as possible extensions. Additional add-ons can be obtained from third-party vendors. This may incur additional costs. Users can also find various styles in responsive design in the add-on area on the provider's website. This means that the forum system also looks good on mobile devices.

In order to operate a forum based on XenForo, users must have PHP and the MySQL database management system. Other DBMS are not supported.

System requirements:

  • PHP 5.4.0+
  • MySQL 5.5+
  • PHP extensions: MySQLi, GD (with JPEG support), PCRE, SPL, SimpleXML, DOM, JSON, iconv, ctype, cURL

Demo version available

Advantages

Disadvantages

✔ Modular system

✘ Supports DBMS MySQL only

✔ Optimizable for search engines

 

✔ Optimized for mobile devices

 

Ultimate Bulletin Board (UBB)

The first version of the Ultimate Bulletin Board (short: UBB) was released in 1997. The proprietary software is therefore one of the oldest forum systems. UBB distribution is based on unlimited software licenses. The update service and support end after one year, but can be renewed for another 12 months. UBB is in the mid-price segment.

The modular forum software consists of three components: As an extension to the basic module with a contribution area and member administration, UBB provides an optional photo gallery. Both modules can be integrated into the UBB portal if required. Users can thus create a complete website based on UBB.

With detailed administration and moderation functions, spam protection in the form of captchas as well as search engine friendly URLs and mobile friendly templates, UBB offers all basic functions for modern forum operation. However, UBB does not offer the possibility to extend the core software with plug-ins according to individual requirements. This makes the forum system much more rigid than comparable proprietary products such as XenForo or the WoltLab Suite.

Technically, the PHP-based software relies on the MySQL database management system. Other DBMS are not supported.

System requirements:

  • PHP 5.4–5.6
  • MySQL 5.5+
  • PHP extensions: GD or ImageMagick, mbstring

Advantages

Disadvantages

✔ Integrated portal (optional)

✘ Expansion via plugins not possible

✔ Optimized for mobile devices

✘ Supports DBMS MySQL only

✔ Optimizable for search engines

 

Simple Machines Forum (SMF)

With Simple Machines Forum (SMF), forum operators have another open source system with a large user community available free of charge. According to the developers, users with SMF can implement professional community projects in just a few minutes.

The current version 2 of SMF offers a completely revised template engine that allows users to adapt the web interface of the forum system to their individual requirements. The SMF community has a large selection of ready-made themes available free of charge in the download area of the project website - many of them in a mobile-friendly design. Users can also find various extensions for the core software here. CMS bridges are available for XOOPS, mambo, and Joomla! among others.

As a scalable forum system, SMF is equally suitable for small and large communities. According to the development team, the focus is on performance. In addition, the requirements of search engines were taken into account. The open source project is characterized by good documentation.

SMF supports MySQL and the free DBMS PostgreSQL, SQLite, and SQLite 2.x. The forum software is not compatible with SQLite 3.

System requirements:

  • PHP 5.4.0+,
  • MySQL 4.0.18+, PostgreSQL 8.0+, SQLite, SQLite 2.x

Demo version available

Advantages

Disadvantages

✔ Open source

✘ Support exclusively through the community

✔ Free

 

✔ Active community

 

✔ Compatible with various DBMS

 

✔ Optimizable for search engines

 

✔ Optimized for mobile devices

 

✔ Bridges for selected CMS

 

FluxBB

FluxBB is also available free of charge. The current version 1.5 comes with a function spectrum reduced to the essentials, which is beneficial to its performance. However, users do not have to make any compromises in terms of administration and moderation. On the other hand, there is a need for improvement with regard to SEO and usability on mobile devices. The selection of ready-made themes in the responsive design is straightforward. Users that aren’t satisfied with the functional spectrum of the core software will find various resources on the provider's website for individualizing the forum system.

Please note: FluxBB 1.5 will be replaced by its successor FluxBB 2.0 in the near future. The development team has decided to continue the open source project under the name "Flarum". A beta version is already available for download at flarum.org.

System requirements:

  • PHP 4.4.0+
  • MySQL 4.1.2+, PostgreSQL 7.0+, SQLite 2

Advantages

Disadvantages

✔ Free

✘ Not optimizable for search engines

✔ Open source

✘ Discontinued model

✔ Streamlined software

 

✔ Various extensions available

 

Finding the right forum software

Which forum software is right for you depends on what your planned community project requires. If you only want to run a hobby or lifestyle forum to share your interests with like-minded people, free open source solutions are ideal. Without major investments, forum systems such as phpBB, MyBB, or SMF can be used to build fully functional communities with all the necessary features. If the demands on the project grow or the number of members increases, you can switch to another product and move the forum. Many of the providers presented have a so-called merge system that allows you to change the forum software without losing any data.

If, on the other hand, you are planning a professional community project, for example to provide an additional contact channel for the customers of your web store, you should rely on a professional hosting basis and complete support right from the start. Cloud solutions such as vBulletin or Invision Community are ideal here, where the forum software is available as an all-inclusive package including hosting and maintenance.

A comparison of forum software

To make it easier for you to select the right forum software for your project, we have compared the presented community solutions in a table depending on their core functions.

 

vBulletin

phpBB

WoltLab Suite

Invision Community

myBB

Developer

vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

phpBB Limited

WoltLab GmbH

Invision Power Services

MyBB Group

Version

5.3.1

3.2.2

5.0.5

4.1.19.4

1.8.14

Programming language

PHP 5.6+

PHP 5.4+

PHP 5.5.4+

PHP 5.4+

PHP 5.2+

DBMS

MySQL 5.5+

MySQL 3.23+

MySQLi

PostgreSQL 8.3+

SQLite 2.8.2+

SQLite 3.6.15+

MariaDB 5.1+

MySQL 5.1.17+

MySQL 5.5+

MySQL 5.0+

PostgreSQL 8.1+

SQLite 3

License

Proprietary

GNU GPLv2

Proprietary

Proprietary

LGPL (free software)

Cost

Upper price range

Free

Mid price range

Upper price range

Free

CMS

Integrated blog functions

Integration in Joomla! possible

Fee-based blog app available

Integrated CMS functions

Integration via plug-in possible

Mobile friendly

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Plug-ins

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Themes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Optimized for search engines

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

No

 

XenForo

UBB

SMF

FluxBB

Developer

XenForo Limited

UBBSystems, LLC

SMF Team

FluxBB Team

Version

2.0.1

7.6.1.1

2.0.15

1.4.12

Programming language

PHP 5.4.0+

PHP 5.4 - 5.6

PHP 5.4.0+

PHP 4.4.0+

DBMS

MySQL 5.5+

MySQL 5.5+

MySQL 4.0.18+

PostgreSQL 8.0+

SQLite

SQLite 2.x

MySQL 4.1.2+

PostgreSQL 7.0+

SQLite 2

License

Proprietary

Proprietary

BSD (from Version 2.0)

GPL

Cost

Mid price range

Lower price range

Free

Free

CMS

Integration via plug-in possible

No

Integration in Joomla! possible

No

Mobile friendly

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Plug-ins

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Themes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Optimized for search engines

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

 


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