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What is vBulletin?
Want to build an online community centered on shared interests and discussion? You need a forum or bulletin-board management system for this. VBulletin is a popular forum software application available for self-hosting or as a Cloud-based service.
A forum, or a bulletin board service, is an online discussion area where users can post new topics for conversation, and then all the users can discuss through comments. This method of community communication is one of the oldest forms of “social media” on the internet, and remains popular today.
VBulletin is forum and bulletin board management system that allows you to easily set up an online discussion website. It also acts a Content Management System (CMS). This means that if you intend to build a site with a forum and also other types of content (blogs, pages), you don’t need two separate systems.
Vbulletin is not Open Source software. It comes with a licensing fee and restrictions on copying or modifying. However, it is also a professionally developed product with a support staff and a customer service team. Sometimes, this tradeoff makes a big difference.
The software is available in two different forms. VBulletin Connect is the self-hosted version, which you purchase and install on your own hosting plan. VBulletin Cloud is a SaaS (software as a service) offering — they host it for you and you pay a regular subscription fee.
Choosing between vBulletin Connect and vBulletin Cloud
The self hosted version gives you a little more control over your site as compared to the SaaS version. Additionally, certain organizations with particular concerns about data privacy might prefer to host the software themselves.
The biggest difference, from a business decision standpoint, between the two versions is the pricing. With the self-hosted version, you pay more upfront. With the subscription service, you can started with much less investment, but you will end up paying more over a long period.
Open Source Alternatives to vBulletin
Depending on your specific needs (and temperament), you may find that an Open Source bulletin board system is a better fit for your forum project.
If you are already running a website using WordPress, you can add forum functionality with the bbPress plugin. Doing this will ensure tight integration between the different parts of your website, and automatically extend your branding and style to the forum.
Another very popular option is phpBB. This is standalone software, not associated with a larger content management system. It's easy to set up and carries a relatively small footprint, requiring less computing resources that some other options. Significantly, it looks and feels like a typical internet bulletin board, which can either be a feature or a liability, depending on your intended user base.
Why pay for vBulletin when there are free and open source options available?
The simplest reason might simply be that you like the software better. (For example: I don’t use Linux on my home computer. Even though I have to pay for it, I like OSX better.) Its a good idea to demo several options, and if the paid version is the clear winner, then pay for it.
Another reason is support. If you are paying a company for a product, there is clearly someone to call or email when there is a problem. This isn’t usually the case with Open Source software.
Economics might factor into this decision also, and not always in favor of free over paid. If you spend more time dealing with the complexities of managing an open source application, it may be less expensive overall to use the subscription-based service.
VBulletin does have one important feature that (at the time of this writing) the other options lack: Mobile apps. The vbulletin Mobile Bundle license includes software to publish native iOS and Android apps which act as clients for your vbulletin forums.
If you’re not sure which forum management system is right for you, try setting up a demo of each one. Finding out how hard it is to install and setup will tell you a lot about whether you are going to be comfortable running your website with it over the long term.
To learn more about your options in this area, see this page about various forum management systems.
VBulletin Web Hosting
If you decide to use the vBulletin Cloud, you don’t need to worry about web hosting, because they are providing a hosted solution. (Of course, you pay more for that each month than you’d pay for equivalent web hosting.)
If you plan to use the vBulleting Connect, you have to host it yourself, which means you’ll need a web hosting plan that supports its requirements.
vBulletin 5.0.x is designed to run on any server that has PHP 5.3.0 or greater and MySQL 5.1.5 or greater installed. You must also have
URL Rewrite or equivalent and you must upload the included
.htaccess file to your server.
vBulletin 5.1.x requires PHP 5.3.7 or greater and also requires that you have cURL installed
It is recommended to use PHP 5.4.0, or later and MySQL 5.5.0 or later.