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Many websites are built around discussion forums, and phpBB is one of the most common and fully-featured forum applications on the web. It's free and open source, so many website hosting companies offer it as a 1-click installer on their hosting packages. phpBB is lightweight enough to be used on shared hosting accounts, while very busy forums warrant a virtual private server (VPS) or dedicated server.

Version History

phpBB is a veteran solution that has been powering discussions for more than a decade. There have been three main versions of phpBB, although only two have been in widespread use:

  • The original phpBB was released in July 2000, with the official v1 following in December.
  • phpBB2 was developed from February 2001 as a complete rewrite of the original. It was written to run on PHP versions 3.0 and 4.0. phpBB2 was supported through to 2009.
  • phpBB3 was unveiled in March 2007, with the first official version following in December. It was written for PHP version 5 and offers better registration forms, automated upgrade notifications and other revised features.

Despite being out of date, phpBB2 is still a popular choice for many website forums. Users find it easier to administrate, and it still has a very lively user community that continues to develop and update plugins for it. If you're starting completely from scratch, phpBB 3 offers better security and a more modern administration interface.

Why phpBB?

As the web has evolved, website owners have many options for encouraging discussion. As blogs have become popular, comments are almost standard, and many sites incorporate social media commenting as well. The humble bulletin board pre-existed many of these features, and phpBB has evolved since 2000 to serve millions of users worldwide.

phpBB has some other features that make it a popular choice (many of these are phpBB3 only):

  • The software uses a template system to control the design; templates can include images, colours and layouts
  • Language packs help to localise phpBB; there are dozens available
  • The forum's functionality can be extended using plugins, known as modifications (MODs). There are hundreds of MODs listed in the official repository
  • The latest version supports HTML5 and offers responsive layouts for better usability on mobile
  • It has fine-grained search engine spider control, letting you manage visibility and restrict spiders from indexing pages you don't want them to see
  • Users can pull in Gravatars, mark Friends, send private messages and join groups
  • It's free
  • It's easy to install and is distributed as part of Softaculous
  • It's open source
  • In phpBB2, installing MODs was a cumbersome process that involved lots of manual edits. Now, with phpBB3, the process of installing MODs is totally automated, which makes it far easier for a non-technical person to work with

Security Problems

Concerns about security have made some website owners wary of using phpBB. The main source of the problems was a wide scale script injection attack which occurred more than a decade ago, but which tainted phpBB's reputation for some time.

Some of the security features from phpBB3 have actually been reverse engineered into phpBB2. Still, phpBB3 has better measures to prevent spam registrations.

The phpBB team also invested in a complete security audit prior to the release of phpBB3 to make sure it stood up to third party scrutiny.

About MODs

phpBB MODs are essentially plugins that modify the behaviour of the software. MOD isn't an acronym; it's a convention that developed on the phpBB website.

As with many web applications, it's the plugins that allow website owners to personalise the software. MODs are generally developed by users and contributed to a community repository.

System Requirements

phpBB can be installed on most hosting accounts with the LAMP stack - Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. If you don't have MySQL, you can use MS SQL, Oracle, SQLite or PostgreSQL. You will also need PHP 4.3.3 or above.

phpBB Frequently Asked Questions

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