9+ Best Forum Software To Create An Online Community

December 13, 2013

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Forums have always played a big part in building communities and helping each other. Support forums, discussion forums to name a few.

Here we will cover 5+ best forum software options, including:

    1. VBulletin
    2. phpBB
    3. Tribe
    4. bbPress
    5. XenForo
    6. Vanilla
    7. MyBB
    8. IP Board
    9. PunBB
    10. Flarum

What Features Should an Ideal Forum Software Have?

Most of the popular forums will have all the required features a basic community needs. But some forums have additional features when compared to others and always have an “edge”.

So you should be aware of these important features before you pick your best web forum software. Your users or community will appreciate the best features and rich experience:

  • Efficient and Powerful Search: Users should be able to find “relevant” results quickly. Some modern forum software like Vanilla has autocomplete search feature and gives more accurate results
  • Advanced Editor: An powerful rich text editor that recognizes HTML, Images, videos and other rich content.
  • Notifications Feature: Once subscribed to, members can get notification, both In-page and email notification, of whats happening in the community. This creates more engagement and more traffic and gives a “sticky” factor for the forum.
  • Powerful user profiles: Profile customization: This lets members customize their profiles with their personal information.This is also the place where they can quickly see their discussions lists, comments list, badges/achievements etc.
  • PM (Private Messaging): Some users may want to have a private one-on-one discussion. This way members can discuss certain matters in private
  • Signatures: This feature permits adding a member’s signature to all of the member’s posts. In the Signature section, for example, a member may use for promoting his/her business.
  • Roles and Permissions: Roles can be assigned to members and thus allowing them to perform specific activities. For example, a Moderator permission lets a member to edit content so that they can moderate posts. An Admin role gives permission to do all activities in the forum including adding roles.
  • Reward Feature and User levels: Users who engage more, are given more points and when they each certain points they are rewarded with certain awards/badges etc. This is setup to increase engagement in the forum. Also when users reach each “level”, which is based on activity or amount of time spent in the forum. they are give more privileges.

Let us now see the list of Best Forum Software.

VBulletin Community Forum Software

vbulletin forum review

vbulletin forum featuresvBulletin is one of the earliest Premium forum software that was available on the market. It is world’s leading forum and community publishing software.

Vbulletin boasts a forum software that has security, powerful administration features and speed. Plus it has premium features such as built-in SEO and is mobile ready as well (responsive web design). Also using VBulletin you can have private forums as well as an unlimited hierarchy of forums.

It has launched more than 100,000 websites or  online communities so far. Vbulletin also has very good technical technical support. Latest version is vBulletin 5.0 Connect.

Vbulletin has been recommended by forum administrators of big sites who has forums as well  and has good security features.  Top customers include Sony pictures, NASA.

How to launch your vbulletin forum or Community?

  1. You need to purchase license first from vbulletin. Purchase license here.
  2. Then you can install the forum software in a reliable and stable hosting environment. Bluehost, an award winning and reliable hosting provider is providing free installation of Vbulletin as part of their hosting package. Make best use of this and avoid the hassles of installing the software. Buy Special VBulletin optimized hosting from Bluehost

Update(Sep 2018): You can as well choose VBulletin Cloud, which is a hosted option.  This is a also a good option.

  VBulletin optimized hosting from Bluehost

PhpBB – #1 Free, Open Source Bulletin Board Software

phpbb open source bulletin board softwarePhPBB is the the best OPEN SOURCE BULLETIN BOARD SOFTWARE and of course, it is free.  It is the best free forum software out there.

It is a developer supported forum software and plenty of plugins or MODS are available to make the forum software better. You can also choose from different designs or styles so that your forum looks unique. This forum also qualifies for what is termed as php community forum.

You can also modify it to match with your current website design. Another advantage is multi-Language support also known as Language packs which lets you translate forum language to any language.

There was a time when many phpbb forums were plagued by spammers and autobots that hijacked/filled phpbb forums with junk messages. But due to good support from loyal develoers mods are available to fight spam.

How to start a PhPBB forum?

Most popular web hosts have 1-click installation for installing PhPBB forum and is a breeze. Since this is open source software, you don’t have licensing issues.

Popular web hosts like BlueHost offer secure and reliable phpBB Hosting, that includes a free automated installation of phpBB , to get you started quick.

bluehost phbb forum hosting
BlueHosst is ideal for phbb forum hosting


PhpBB optimized hosting from Bluehost – Free PhpBB software installation

Tribe – Powerful Community Platform

Use Tribe for Powerful Community PlatformTribe is a fully customizable and modern community platform that strikes a perfect balance between the preferences of new-age web users and the business requirements of brands building online communities.

Following are the key elements of the Tribe Community Platform:

  • AI-based activity feed: Communities powered by Tribe keep their users hooked with familiar feed-based design (similar to Facebook). It continuously learns from member behavior and actions to deliver highly personalized content.
  • Embeddable widgets: Widgets are great to select certain components of the community and embed that inside another site or product. For example, if you are running a marketplace site and you would like to add discussions in different sections/categories of the site, you can simply add the widgets to have social touchpoints in the site.
  • Apps and integrations: The platform comes with many valuable apps such as advanced SEO app, Social login, SSO, etc. It also integrates well with leading third-party tools like Google Analytics, Slack, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and MailChimp for easy data flow between apps and workflow automation.
  • API: API can be used to further customize the way community integrates with existing business processes of the company and modify community operations based on your specific requirements.
  • Moderation tools: The powerful moderation tool allows you to enforce community and content guidelines easily while scaling with user growth. For instance, you can set rules to block posts that contain certain blacklisted keywords, allows members with a certain reputation score post in the community and disallow new members from posting content straightaway.Your members are also empowered to report any content that they deem offensive or violates community rules.
  • Gamification: Keep users engaged with gamification techniques such as badges, reputation score, and leaderboards.
  • Custom domain: Keep your community under your domain to ensure that you are capturing all the incoming traffic and keeping your brand at the forefront.
  • Content types: Tribe supports a wide range of content — right from short updates like Facebook status updates and questions on Quora to links, images, videos, and blogs. Enable or disable any content type depending on the nature of the community you are building.
  • UI Customizations: Change the design elements at a granular level by modifying the CSS, selecting colors, adding branding elements such as a logo, and merging the navigation menu with your main site.
  • Pricing: Get started with the forever free plan without any restriction on the content and the number of members.
  • Responsive and modern design: Communities powered by Tribe are fully responsive and woo the members with beautiful design. Tribe platform loads the same set of functionalities on any screen size (including mobile) so the members have a seamless experience across devices.


bbPress And WordPress : Made for each other!

If you already have a wordpress blog or site, you can quickly add a nice community interaction using bbPress. bbPress, is a free, lightweight forum plugin and is well know for it’s ease of integration with wordpress, ease of use, and speed. Being an open source software, bbPress has over 300,000 active forums.installs and is easyly one of the most popular and highly rated wordpress forum plugins.

You should also know that, one of the lead developers of bbPress plugin is Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress.

bbPress is flexible and is not bloated with unnecessary features. It wiil not slow down your site and has good security features.

bbPress Features

  • Simple Setup
  • Lightweight
  • Tight Integration with WordPress
  • Easy to moderate.
  • Fast, and clean.
  • Fully Integrated One central account.
  • One unified admin area.
  • One click install.
  • Multisite Forums Divide your site into sections. Allow your users to create content

How to Create a bbPress Forum

Login to your WordPress site as admin, then Install and activate bbPress plugin, and you’ll be redirected to a welcome page. Then Go to Forum Settings link at the end to complete forum settings.

Best bbPress Forum Hosting

Get started today, I mean now, with WordPress and bbPress. Get bbPress Hosting from SiteGround hosting company. Their handmade hosting solution for bbPress has optimized servers. Faster Servers, very good Support. Siteground bbPress support staff is very good and they can ensure that bbPress runs smoothly on their servers and that your forum(s) are safer and faster.

Get bbPress with WordPress

XenForo – Compelling Community Software experience

xenforo forum softwareXenForo aims to provide a compelling community experience, with emphasis on Social Engagement. Top features include:

  • Built-in SEO – This sets this forum software apart from others. It has in-built seo features within framework. You do not need extra efforts for SEO. It is optimized for search engines.
  • Great add-ons – Add-ons are available to add functionalty to XenForo framework.
  • Social Engagement: Reward scheme to keep forum visitors coming back by rewarding them “trophies”.

How to start a XenForo Forum?

XenForo is a premium forum software and hence you need to purchase it first. Steps:

  1. Click here to purchase it first.
  2. Install XenForo in a stable hosting environment.

Vanilla Community Forum Software

vanilla community forum software

Vanilla forum software is open source and free. It lets you create online communities that are intuitive and engaging.

Big plus point of Vanilla it that allows you to create a community or forum that rewards positive participation, automatically curates content and lets members drive moderation.

Auto-save: Your hard work is not lost
Vanilla auto-saves your content as you are entering your comments. So even if you accidentally closed your browser window, it is not lost.

Vanilla is relatively new forum software, but it’s client includes big ones like HubSpot. Feedback from web masters have been very good. Vanilla has  plenty of addons that can enhance functionality of your forum or community software. Vanilla also qualifies for what is known as modern forum software.

Optional: Vanilla also has a “Cloud version” of forum software, which is premium. Cloud version has better features like speed optimzation, migration services etc in addition to other premium features.

Vanilla can sure handle most popular forums.

How to launch a Vanilla Forum or community website?

Since Vanilla is open source, popular web hosts like Bluehost has created special hosting packages for Vanilla forums .

Buy Vanilla optimized Forum hosting package from Bluehost

MyBB – Free and Open Source Forum Software

mybb forum softwareMyBB is a free open-source  powerful forum software that is very easy to use. End users can customize the way they view discussions.

Admins have more control over spammers, aggressive users, user signatures etc. MyBB functionality can be enhanced by adding plugins. Many plugins are available and can be installed within minutes.

Since this is free software, you can setup a MyBB forum by purchasing a MyBB optimized Forum hosting package from Arixe, which includes free MyBB software installation

Get MyBB

IP Board Discussion Forum

ipboard forum software

IP Board forum software

IP Board is a new innovative forum software with Unrivaled discussion capabilities.

IP Board has support for and you can give individual permissions and settings to each forum/sub-forum, allowing better permission control.

Other features include automatically remembering what a user has seen, so that unseen content can be highlighted for them.

You can sort topics in different ways: by last post, by topic started, by views or by using a custom filter. Users can “tag” posts thus  helping other users to identify similar content.

Visit IPBoard Forum software

PunBB – Lightweight forum software

punbb forum software reviewPunBB, a fast (lightweight) Php Discussion Board. is an open source forum software and is free(released under the GNU License).

It is faster, smaller and less graphically intensive as compared to other discussion boards.

PunBB has less features when compared to other discussion forums, but is compensates by being lightweight, faster and outputs smaller, semantically correct XHTML-compliant pages.​

Get PunBB

Flarum – New-Gen Forum with Two Pane Interface!

flarum forum software review
Flarum is kind of a new-gen forum software with a sleek look and feels great out of the box. Flarum is  Optimized for mobile devices (‎100% responsive), and it has amazing smooth animations. It also has swipe features for mobile optimization.

Two-Pane Interface: No more going back and forth

Unlike other forums, Flarum has a two-Pane Interface and this way you can
quickly work on unread discussions, without going back and forth to main discussion list. Best part is, just bring your mouse to the left side of the screen and tadaa! .. The discussion list will conveniently appear.

Infinite Scrolling: No more Next Page buttons!

Shows more posts automatically as you scroll down.. No more next page links..
Also Flarum remembers your last position and come back to same position where you left off..

Floating Composer : Read and compose replies!

You can read while you write! Your reply form remains open , while you read other posts.. This makes it possible for you to read other discussion posts and and write a well prepared reply!

Get Flarum

Final Words

So you have 9+ good options for building a forum or community.  Choose the best one that you think is the one that fits your website.

Also do not forget to choose a stable host like BlueHost or SiteGround, from where you can install most  of the  popular forum software using a 1-click install feature.

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