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What is PunBB?

PunBB is a free, lightweight bulletin board that aims to provide essential functionality without any unnecessary features. Licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), PunBB is free to use, modify, and distribute.

The “BB” in its name stands for bulletin board. It is a linear bulletin board, meaning that replies are contained within the original topic, but they are not threaded. Instead, each reply is displayed at the end of the topic, usually in chronological order.

PunBB is designed to be as fast and light as possible, without compromising usability. It does not offer loads of features or graphic heavy pages. It’s written in the PHP hypertext preprocessor (PHP) language. Additionally, it outputs semantically-correct pages compatible with Extensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML).

The creator of PunBB intended for it to be stripped of superfluous features, and it is. However, you may now choose from a library of extensions that give you some features typical of other Internet forums. Private messaging, buttons, file attachments, and polls are just a few examples of additional functionality available via extensions.

There are also a number of third-party administrative plugins available to streamline management of a bulletin board. These allow the administrator to easily accomplish tasks such as merging two accounts, modify the author of a post, backup a database locally or to an FTP server, reset caches, merge topics and posts into another forum, display news postings on a website, and remove multiple users and posts.

PunBB is not being actively developed, and no updates have been released since early 2012, but their forums remain active and developers continue to provide updated solutions and bug fixes. If you do intend to install PunBB, it would be wise to review the forums for news about bug fixes, etc. Keep mind that whenever you install software that is not regularly updated, you may open yourself up to security risks.

You may use any host that meets the minimum requirements for hosting PunBB, and some hosting providers offer PunBB hosting packages, which include installation and support. One unique option is free hosting for PunBB. This service is heavily shared, and likely not the best option for a business, but small groups may find this to be all they need.

System Requirements

PunBB requires PHP 5.0 or higher, and database access. MySQL 4.1.2 or newer, PostgreSQL 7.0 or newer, or SQLite 2 or 3 are all supported.

How to Get Started

After checking to ensure your host meets the minimum requirements, to install PunBB simply download the latest version from their website, copy it to the forum folder on your web server, and open the folder in a web browser. From there, you will be prompted with a series of setup and configuration instructions.

If you are attempting to update from a previous version of PunBB, you should consult their support files before getting started, as there are some additional steps you need to take to maintain your existing data.

If you are considering a switch from another bulletin board service, it may be possible to migrate your existing data to PunBB. While there is no official migration tool, there is a third-party extension available on their website which can convert your database to PunBB. Currently, the tool has been successfully tested for migrating forum data from Invision Power Board 1.3, Invision Power Board 2.0, MiniBB 1.7d, phpBB 2.0, PHPNuke 7.4, vBulletin 3.0.0, YabbSE 1.5.5, SMF 1.0.5, SimpleBoard 1.7d, and PHP-Fusion. The developers of the plugin note that it may be possible to convert from other versions of these programs, but they have not been tested. If you’re going to try this option, make sure to back up your original files before you start.

Pros and Cons

PunBB might be for you if:

  • You’re looking for a trimmed-down, fast bulletin board
  • You would prefer to use add-ons to extend functionality, rather than dealing with a feature-bloated alternative
  • You want to customize the software to fit your specific requirements
  • You need a solution that is compatible with most web hosting services

On the other hand, PunBB does not offer as many features as other bulletin board services. You may want to consider an alternative program if you require any of the following:

  • An integrated calendar
  • The ability to attach pictures or other media
  • A built-in WYSIWIG editor

Alternatives

phpBB is one of the most common and fully-featured forum application available. Like PunBB, it’s a free, flat-forum bulletin board. You can expand its functionality through an extensive list of extensions, change functionality through a variety of plugins, and choose from hundreds of styles.

If you’re running a WordPress site, you might consider bbPress. bbPress was developed by the core team of WordPress developers and was designed for easy integration into an existing WordPress site. Like PunBB, the main code contains only essential features, but additional features are available through a list of hundreds of plugins. And like WordPress, this is another free solution.

If you’re looking for a rich, multi-media capable forum, you might consider vBulletin. It offers a streamlined, web-based implementation, with customizable page templates, advanced search features, and a user experience that more closely resembles a social media site than a typical bulletin board. It also includes easy integration of photos and videos, and can be used to create discussion groups, polls, and blogs. However, the added features come at a cost, so if free is your preferred price, this might not be the right choice for you.

PunBB Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a flat-forum bulletin board?

    A flat forum bulletin board is one where each message gets added to the end of the discussion, without relation to any specific message in the discussion. In other words, it does not link a series of ‘replies’ to individual threads within the discussion (that happens in threaded forums). Flat forum bulletin boards often include a ‘quote’ feature, which allows users to include an excerpt from a previous message when responding directly to another user.

  • Does PunBB support multiple languages?

    The default language for PunBB is English; however, there are several dozen language packs available to install via the PunBB website. These are user-contributed language packs, and they encourage users of other languages to develop and contribute their own language packs. If your language is not available, they provide instructions to create your own, along with several localization tools to create languages packs using translations tools such as Trados, Wordfast, DVX and MetaTexis.

  • Is there documentation available in languages besides English?

    Yes. There are unofficial PunBB support sites available in Czech, German, Italian, Polish, and Russian.

  • How hard is it to customize the look of a forum?

    Being a light-weight forum application, there aren’t many customization options built in. However, there are add-ons available to help you customize the look and feel of your forum. Their website also includes a style generator for version 1.3. Using the style generator, you can adjust colors, background, font sizes, borders and more on a test page, and the style generator will output the CSS files necessary to apply that design to your site. There is a similar style generator, as well as some pre-built styles, available for version 1.2.

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