Building communities: forum software comparison

Forums provide important platforms for anyone wishing to discuss, share, and gain knowledge. They are a part of internet culture and form meeting places where anyone and everyone can gather and search for answers. Users share tips, tricks, and their own personal experiences with the community and topics range from IT and technology, to cooking or fashion. A forum needs to have the right technical requirements in order for it to be successful. There are many factors that need to be considered when choosing which forum software to use. We reveal the five best options in our forum software comparison.

vBulletin

The fee-based forum system vBulletin is the perfect solution for experienced users who are planning on building a professional forum and require especially powerful software. The installation itself is relatively simple; even beginners should be able to get the hang of vBulletin.

There are numerous add-ons and themes available for users to choose from, and subsequently personalize their forum. This software also takes security very seriously – all extensions are tried and tested before being released. The downside is it’s quite an expensive option. Besides operating your forum yourself, there’s also the possibility of having everything managed for you on the vBulletin Cloud. Hosting, maintenance, and upgrades are then carried out by the provider.

  • Powerful solution for large forums
  • High standard of security
  • Cloud option available
  • System requirements: PHP 5.4.0 +, MySQL 5.1.5 +
  • Demo version available

phpBB

The forum software phpBB is an open source solution, but thanks to its wide range of functions, it’s definitely a worthwhile alternative to fee-based software. But there are a few limitations that you have to live with, particularly regarding mobile device optimization.

The obvious advantage: this software is completely free. Beginners will find the clear user interface and valuable support (e.g. through tutorials) especially helpful. PhpBB is also an option for professional projects since it has sophisticated administrator permissions and its impressive performance make it suitable for large communities with lots of users. Like many others, this software can be expanded with plugins.

  • Free forum software
  • Good administrator permissions
  • High performance
  • System requirements: PHP 5.3.3+ , MySQL 3.23 +
  • Demo version available

Invision Power Board (I.P. Board)

The Invision Power Board is also a fee-based option and can be used for building large communities and implementing commercial offers. Professional providers benefit from integrating numerous modules into their own website. It’s possible to add different language packets to your forum later on and there’s also a support forum if you have any questions.

There are different designs available and the basic framework can be extended with add-ons. With just a few clicks you can add a chat function or anti-spam precautions. I.P. Board is the highest performing forum system in our list and so has a relatively high price tag. It’s suitable for large communities and optimizes your forum for mobile devices.

  • Upper price range
  • Optimized for mobile use
  • Powerful system
  • System requirements: PHP 5.4+, MySQL 5.1+
  • Demo version available

MyBB

The MyBB (formerly known as My Bulletin Board) forum software is completely free (just like phpBB) and is perfect for beginners. This open source software offers numerous built-in functions, lots of extension options, and an intuitive administration interface. The basic functions can also be extended using a variety of plugins. A further plus is the impressive support and quick response when it comes to fixing problems such as security gaps.

  • Open source software
  • Plugin system with many extension possibilities
  • System requirements: PHP 5.2 +, MySQL 5.0 +

Finding the right forum software

Free software, such as phpBB, is recommended for beginners since you can still build a fully-functioning forum with all the most important features. As the number of members grows, so do the demands on the forum, which is when a higher-performance and more extensive solution like WBB or vBulletin comes into play. Changing forum software is usually not a problem – most providers offer a merge system that allows you to change forum systems without losing any data. This option means you can easily upgrade from a free open source solution to a professional software for bigger projects.

Forum software comparison:

  vBulletin phpBB WBB IP. Board myBB
Price $$$ free $ $$ free
Security XXX X XXX XX XX
Performance XXX XX XX XXX X
Range of functions XX XX XXX XXX X