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10 Best Forum Development Software

Forum Development Software
1 phpBB Having been in the number one position among the free and open source forum creation or bulletin board software, phpBB is used by millions of forum admins world-over. The software is counted amongst the best online forum development tools in the world, and comes equipped with a bulletin board format.

Using phpBB you can constantly stay on top of whatever’s happening across your website, apart from having the ability to communicate with a bunch of people simultaneously.

phpBB database comes with a good variety of user-created notifications and styles that can be employed for customization of the bulletin board. What really sets phpBB apart, and is also the most interesting aspect of it is that it allows you to make alterations to the code, without the need of obtaining consent of the phpBB group. This is possible because the software is offered under the flexible GNU Gen Public license.

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2 vBulletin Considered the most reputed and by far the leading community development software on the Internet, vBulletin is a product of vBulletin Solutions Inc. It was released in the year 2000 and quickly made a place for itself as the go-to premium online forum solution for a large number of businesses on the Internet. vBulletin is the forum creation software choice of many top-notch corporates.

You get a host of built-in apps when you invest into this discussion forum tool, for instance blogs, calendars, groups, photo albums, event management and much more. There are three different variants of vBulletin you can opt for – a Publishing Suite, a Forum Suite and a Mobile Suite.

Some of the regularly talked about features of vBulletin are:
- Supports the BB code in posts
- Private messaging
- Option of unlimited super moderators and moderators
- Preview post option
- Support for HTML in the posts
- Unlimited hierarchy in the forums
- Option to subscribe to forums and threads
- Task scheduler
- Suitable and quick for robust forum development
- Robust templating system
- Option of moderation queues for the forum posts and user registrations
- Full CSS design and layout
- A choice of various forum styles
- Dedicated pages for member profiles
- Private messaging (PM) option
- Custom avatars
- And much more

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3 PlushForums This one is a hosted forum platform that offers you an extremely user-friendly and modern design. The standout feature of PlushForums is that it offers discussions which get updated fairly quickly, enabling users to engage in almost real-time conversations.

There are several integrated features such as private group messaging, member directory, blog maintenance and content monetization via PayPal. Not only is PlushForums extremely secure and fast, it is very easy to administer too. You don’t require any technical knowledge to play around with it; there’s no need of plug-ins as well. There are several great features that make it an overall no-hassle forum solution. Let’s take you through some of them are as follows:
- Excellent and comprehensive mobile support
- Beautiful design, allowing you to brand yourself easily
- Private group messaging and almost real-time discussions
- Integrated member directory and blog support
- Integrated support for PayPal content monetization
- Powerful search feature offering instant results, as well as advanced search options
- Easy to use editor with the automatic drafts facility
- Real-time email and onsite notifications, using hashtags and @mentions
- Option of rewards, rankings and a reputation system
- Highly secure hosting with regular backups and comprehensive spam protection
- Extremely easy to upload files, images and all kinds of embedded media
- Customizable user profiles

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4 Simple Machines Forum This one’s an executive level, free of cost forum development solution that offers you plenty of powerful features both for yourself (forum owner) as well as the community members. It’s extremely simple to use and is widely recognized as a professional forum software package enabling people to create their own online communities in a matter of few minutes.

The engine that runs this software is custom-made and gives you comprehensive control over the message board layout, apart from enabling every forum member to easily communicate with each other.

Simple machines forum software has been developed in PHP language and the database used is MySQL. You get all the features normally expected from a high-end bulletin board. Simply put, it’s a robust, effective and elegant open source online forum development software widely used by forum administrators throughout the world. Some of its well-known features are:
- Incorporates updated search engine optimization strategies, enabling your forum to rank high in the search engines
- Advanced level user management and permissions
- Majority of the actions are IP locked and time-based, so as to prevent hammering
- Option for SMTP or send email
- Allows you to completely disable the member registrations
- Option to create child boards under different boards
- Configuration of permissions for every member group at the board level
- Board accessibility for certain member groups, as well as guests
- Automatic installation or uninstallation of the moderators through Package manager
- Ability to track old and new unread topics
- Simultaneous support for multiple languages
- Ability to put a board in maintenance mode, allowing access only to the admins
- Session-based as well as cookie-based authentication
- Support for I-mode, WAP2 and WAP protocols
- Request for email authentications by sending out authentication links
- ‘Insert quote’ feature, allowing people to quote previous replies in their responses
- Banning members based on host name, IP address, email address or username
- Easy tracking of hits, new members, messages and topics per day

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5 Vanilla Forums Vanilla open source forum software is a potent and free of cost forum creation tool backed by a solid open source community. It can help you build and host excellent discussion forums.

The installation process is extremely easy, usage is simple and you can manage it effectively too, the reason why millions of people use it actively.

When you use Vanilla Forums, you also get access to community contributed plug-ins as well as support of its community forum. You are allowed to modify the tool as per your specific needs too.

The software works equally well for both individual users as well as small businesses.

The customized communities created with the help of Vanilla Forums allow for more accurate content, better user participation and even members being allowed to drive moderations.

The most noticeable benefit of using this forum developer is the ease with which you can migrate to the Vanilla community, from any other platform like bbPress, vBulletin, Simple Press, phpBB, Zen Desk, Simple Machine Forum and others, without any interruptions.

The paid version of Vanilla Forums is packed with various premium features, and can be used free of cost for 30 days.

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6 bbPress In case you have a powered portal, bbPress would be the ideal forum development software for you. It has been specifically designed in a manner that it integrates easily with the WordPress platform. Furthermore, there’s plenty of emphasis on web standards, speed and ease of usage as well. Once you work with bbPress you’d realize that creating online communities was never this easy!

Some of the eye-catching features that make bbPress stand out from the rest are:
- Full integration: One click installation, one unified admin area and one central account
- Light and swift: It has a very lean source code, facilitating optimum forum creation and user experience
- Extremely extensible: Although bbPress won’t toast your bagels, it’d definitely have a plug in for the same!
- Single installation: Step-by-step simple installation process that walks you through all the options
- Simple setup: Easy and simple setup. Clean, fast and easy to moderate
- Multisite forums: Ability to divide website into multiple sections, enabling users to create their own content
- Customizable templates: Who likes wearing the same pants to work every day?! The software gives you the ability to dress up your forum any which way you like.
- Protection from spam: Comprehensive inbuilt Akismet support that constantly protects you from spam
- Simple interface: Everything is kept simple, making things more intuitive

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7 XenForo Counted amongst the best forum development software by various reputed evaluation portals, XenForo provides a robust commercial forum development solution to the corporate users. The software has been created in PHP programming language, and employs the Zend framework. It’s a product of the same team of developers that had created vBulletin.

XenForo is widely recognized as among extremely flexible, most intuitive and extensible community-creation software that deliver a good amount of durability, speed and an overall more than satisfactory community experience to users.

You can make use of a wide range of features including Facebook integration (for ease of content sharing), ability to follow other community members, style property editor (for customizing the feel and appearance of the platform), alerts system, resource manager (with all kinds of add-ons) and much more.

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8 MyBB Another open source, highly reliable and free of cost forum development software, MyBB is an application that’s been scripted in PHP and makes use of MySQL database. Not only is it open source and free, it also has incredibly powerful, extensible and intuitive software that’s widely recognized for its ease of usage, convenient and powerful moderation tools, refined and well-developed admin control, extensive plug-in system, efficient performance, task scheduling system, warning system, robust DBMS support, private messaging, easy CSS editor, template editor, multiple events and calendars, mass newsletters and emails, and various types of user promotions.

If all that wasn’t enough, you’re also allowed to extend MyBB’s functionality and develop an online community exactly as per your requirements, using all kinds of themes and plug-ins.

It employs an instructive discussion board setup that enables users to initiate and respond to communications/interactions, apart from tagging their posts. The forum is kept noteworthy and neat by allowing administrators and evaluators to utilize the moderation and in-line editing features, which contributes to the significance of the discussion system.

On the whole it has everything required to efficiently run a fascinating and effective online forum.

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9 Woltlab Burning Board A PHP-based forum development software that has been around since 2001, Woltlab Burning Board is a product of a German company called WoltLab GmbH. It’s an extremely reliable and quick forum solution whose installation and running requires a dedicated server web space with integrated PHP support. The DBMS used for the tool is MySQL.

Woltlab Burning Board is available in three different premium versions: Community Framework, Burning Board Lite and Burning Board. All of them work very well when it comes to the expansion of a business’ online user base. The software offers a wide range of interesting features, some of which are:
- First class security
- Visual customizations
- Multilingualism
- Solid spam protection
- Extensibility with the help of plug-ins
- Facebook integration
- Swift notifications
- Detection of recent activities
- Easy import from the other forum systems
- Support for search engine optimization

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10 ZetaBoards If you’re in need of a free forum development software that doesn’t have any limits when it comes to the number of members or posts, ZetaBoards free forum hosting solution is one that you must definitely take a look at. Rated amongst the top forum solutions by a large number of independent online entities, ZetaBoards has emerged as a highly efficient forum tool capable of contributing to the growth of any online entity. There are no limitations when it comes to the forum bandwidth, posts or members.

It’s extremely user-friendly and is very easy to use. Custom profile leads, complete customization, support for custom domains, pinned topics and joinable groups are some of the most notable features of this software.

On the whole, you get a very simple forum platform, equipped with powerful features that allow you to create exceptional forums. Its efficient support and large-scale documentation makes it extremely easy to manage the created forums as well.

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What is a forum?

A forum is essentially an online discussion board wherein you give people an opportunity to share their experiences, ask various questions and discuss topics that are relevant to the forum members. Forums work as excellent means to develop social connections and provide people with a sense of community. You can also effectively use forums for cultivation of an interest group related to a specific subject.

People can start discussions surrounding a certain topic or debate solutions of common problems faced by everyone. When participating in a forum, people can ask all kinds of questions, exchange ideas and make use of the expertise of other people on the platform.

Furthermore, a forum can be either a stand-alone platform, open to everyone, or be associated with a specific community. While in the former forum type, anyone is free to post or respond to a topic, it’s only a community member who can participate in case of a community forum.

How to effectively run an online community or forum?

You might have heard that creating a web community can do wonders to a business’s sales. Apart from that, it also contributes to the word-of-mouth publicity and develops customer loyalty over a period of time.

To tell you the truth, if you have a large enough web community that targets an affluent demographic (the kind that advertisers love to reach out to), you are pretty much sorted when it comes to generating regular revenue for your business.

People commonly make use of web forums as their center point for developing a web community. However, making an online forum popular enough isn’t an easy task and requires tremendous amount of dedication and patience. Platforms like Reddit didn’t become a huge success overnight!

Importance of the right forum development software

If we talk about what all it takes to develop a successful and popular forum, there are certain lessons you cannot afford to ignore. Although many people don’t consider it very important, but selection of the right forum software plays a vital role in the long-term success of an online community.

We have detailed the top 10 forum development software above to make this task easier for you. Some of the popular forum software you can use these days are: phpBB, essentially an open source offering which is a major player in the small business forums; another regularly used forum software, particularly used by large corporates (owing to its fee!) is vBulletin. It’s the go-to solution for people who have money to spend on their forums. It helps your build a top forum, with an excellent design. You can go through others in the list provided above.

Please remember, regardless of software you opt for, you’d need to learn how to use it, and master it gradually over a period of time. Hence, it is important to choose one which satisfies your criteria, and only then start playing with it. In case the idea of forum software installation seems intimidating to you, you can avail the installation services offered by a good number of such forum developers. They will charge you a small fee, and one of their community or staff members will do the software installation for you.

You could also opt for remotely hosted forums wherein there is no need of any software installation on your server. Rather, you use a forum hosted on the service provider’s server. Please remember, such type of forum solution might either be advertiser-supported or would cost you some money. We highly recommend that you host your forum on your own server, as that way you would have complete ownership and control over the platform. Other than that, you’d also enjoy various search engine benefits.

No matter which forum software you go for, the most difficult aspect of building an online community is bringing members on board, and then giving them enough reasons to stick around. It goes without saying that your forum should be focused on your business niche or your target market (in case it’s not a business website).

While individual forums created specifically for the good of a community must strictly adhere to that objective and represent the community’s purpose and interests, a business forum must be based on a carefully picked up niche and target it solely (this is extremely critical for its success). And this is where you can learn some very important lessons.

In the beginning when you start creating individual forums and building categories, don’t be surprised if you get carried away and end up creating all kinds of seemingly interesting forums or sub-forums. You’d do that with the hope that everyone will lap them up and start talking away about every interest area that you’ve created for them. It’s the first big mistake you might make. Creating many different forums/sub-forums which don’t have any active topics in them is the first recipe of disaster. Although you might succeed in driving some quality traffic to your forums, once people arrive there and see nothing (but empty space), they would instantly move on. After all who joins an empty forum, unless of course yours is based on some revolutionary idea?

So you may ask what all can you do to progress from an empty forum to one that is filled with buzzing topics when no one’s interested in kick-starting things? Seems like a Catch-22 situation! Doesn’t it?!

The first concept you must always remember and go back to again and again is that it’s people who bring in more number of people. If your forum visitors come across topics, posts and discussions that already have a good number of contributors, and are also on the subjects they’re interested in, their likelihood of contributing to the forum would be much more.

The most difficult phase of developing a forum or a community is the early stages after the launch. However, there are certain tips and tricks that can come to your rescue. Let’s go over them briefly.

Minimalism is the key when building forums and categories

Avoid venturing into many different forums/sub-forums at one time. Four is the maximum number you can start with. In case you come up with many different forum subjects, group them together under one single forum (if possible). You can have multiple sub-forums under that single forum, catering to each area. Once the forum starts growing and there are enough individual entries, you’d be justified in creating new ones.

Avoid over-threading

Although it isn’t a bad idea to create multiple discussion threads, each one having a different focal point, you must not go overboard with them. The first time visitors to your forum might get overwhelmed at the sight of so many threads. Having too many topics also poses the risk of a situation wherein some threads might not get enough action. Instead, it’s better to give your visitors few options, to be in with a better chance of creating a lively discussion.

Being the owner you should contribute regularly

Although this might seem like an obvious advice, people often lose focus and have a hard time keeping up with things as more and more topics are added to the forum. In fact, the initial phase of building the forum is the most exciting one as you can think of all the great topics which can be included and discussed. You must try to get into the habit of adding fresh posts to the forum each day.

Make your forum beautiful

Although forums are mostly about words, it doesn’t mean that their looks aren’t important. You must pay good attention to the appearance of your forum too. The forum members will feel more welcome, and at home, if the platform has been designed specifically for them.

If needed, create some fictional personalities initially

Although it might seem a little unethical, using this little trick can pay rich dividends when it comes to stimulating conversations, and bringing in more member accounts. The idea is to create some fictional members and post from their accounts. You could even have full-blown conversations between these characters! However, remember that using this method requires plenty of dedication.

Regularly publish content

You could either engage full-time writers who write a good number of posts for you on each working day, or you could engage freelancers from platforms like and have them create content on a per unit basis. Although many forum administrators use content from article publishing websites like ezinearticles, this is not a good idea as you’d not be the only one using that content. Using any content that is already present on multiple websites may not go down too well with the Google search engine.

Recruit your friends and spread the word

It’s easier said than done. If you are an average bloke like the many of us, most of your friends may be too busy to contribute or not the forum member types, and hence may not help much. Even if you can find a few friends who can post a comment or contribute to a running thread every now and then, it would be good enough. The general rule is that don’t be shy in asking others. Tell anyone and everyone you can about your forum.

Keep the members engaged

Keeping the members engaged is one of the biggest challenges faced by forum admins everywhere. It isn’t easy to keep people active and have them participate in discussions on a regular basis. You could send out email notifications to your forum members and keep them updated about new posts, likes and replies on the threads they’re interested in.