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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Despite being out of date, phpBB2 is still a popular choice for many website forums.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 Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is phpBB?

    phpBB is a bulletin board web application. It is used to set up community forums, or bulletin boards.

  • How much does it cost?

    phpBB is free, open source software. It is licensed under the GNU General Public License.

  • How long has phpBB been in development and who maintains it?

    Version 1.0 was released in December 2000, although pre-release versions had been released earlier that year. The software is currently developed and maintained by a diverse group of teams around the world, divided according to areas of responsibility. The teams include Management, Development, Extensions, Moderator, Styles, Website and Support.

  • What are some of the software’s main features?

    phpBB is perhaps the most feature-rich, open source bulletin board software on the market. phpBB offers full UTF-8 support, making it compatible with all languages, including languages that use non-Latin alphabets. It also is standards compliant, using the latest specifications for HTML5, CSS3 and XHTML 1.0. This ensures phpBB works well with all major browsers and platforms, on both desktop and mobile.

    phpBB also includes a host of features designed to make moderation and administration as easy as possible, while giving admins and moderators the powerful features they need to manage an online community.

    The software is also optimized for search engine spiders, the programs search engines use to index websites, coming preconfigured for over 100 of the most popular ones.

    Users have full control over their accounts, the ability to send private messages and can see what posts or threads are new since their last visit.

  • How secure is phpBB?

    The phpBB team takes security very seriously. Before its official release, the current version of the software was audited by SektionEins, a well-known security firm that specializes in auditing and identifying weaknesses in web and mobile applications. phpBB was also inspected by Stefan Esser, a well-known PHP security consultant. To date, no major vulnerabilities have been reported in the current release of phpBB.

  • How popular is phpBB?

    The software is considered to be the #1 free, open source bulletin board software in the world. Millions of websites the world over currently use phpBB.

  • How widely is phpBB supported by hosting companies?

    Because of its popularity, phpBB is widely available and supported by web hosting companies of all sizes. It is also included in many script bundles, such as Fantastico, Softaculous and SimpleScripts. These script bundles are often included with hosting plans and offer popular software, such as phpBB, as a one-click install option.

  • What alternatives are there to phpBB?

    Thanks to the popularity of online forums, there is no shortage of available bulletin board software, some commercial and some open source. vBulletin is one of the most popular commercial options. MyBB is an open source alternative to phpBB that emphasizes security and ease-of-use.

  • phpBB vs. vBulletin: Which is better?

    phpBB and vBulletin have more things in common than things that set them apart. Both are very capable bulletin board applications, filled with advanced features and offering the support of a vibrant community. One of the key differences is licensing. Whereas phpBB is free, open source software, vBulletin is proprietary software that is licensed for a fee. While that may be a deal-breaker for some, the steady stream of income from licenses doesn’t go to waste. Users often comment on vBulletin’s more polished look and feel compared to phpBB. It also has some features that phpBB does not, as well as better SEO features. Having said that, a vBulletin license starts at $249 for vBulletin Connect, the standalone version, or $19.95 for vBulletin Cloud. For small companies, nonprofits or individuals, that investment may be too much to justify.

  • phpBB vs MyBB: Which is better?

    phpBB and MyBB may draw more direct comparisons due to both applications being free and open source. In spite of that, they do have substantial differences. In particular, because phpBB has been on the market longer it has a larger community and more features. However, myBB continues to get favorable reviews from users for being easier to manage, especially for new users, as well as for having a superior add-on (mod) system. This makes it easier for developers to make mods and for users to install and manage them. It also receives favorable reviews for its interface, with some users describing it as approaching the polish and look of vBulletin. According to W3Techs, phpBB is used by more websites, but MyBB is currently used by more high-traffic websites.

  • phpBB: Is it right for you?

    The answer to that question depends largely on your needs. If you're looking for an extremely powerful bulletin board software that is free, open source and has the support of a very large user community, phpBB is hard to beat. It has more features than many people will use and is actively developed and supported. If, on the other hand, you want the most polished experience and don’t mind paying for it, vBulletin may be a better option. Similarly, if you want free and simple, and don’t mind giving up a few features, myBB may be the right choice.

    All in all, however, it is hard to go wrong with phpBB. It has earned its spot as a top bulletin board application for a reason. It has the features, performance, support, and security make it a solid choice for companies and individuals alike.

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