Hari's Corner

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phpBB: to BB or not to BB

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted on Wed, May 11, 2005 at 11:40 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:30 IST)

Of the current generation of online forum software, phpBB is one of the most popular scripts to power a bulletin board. Being Open Source, phpBB has gained a huge following among a wide audience who cannot afford the more powerful, secure and versatile vBulletin. vBulletin comes at a stiff price tag and those who can afford it will get their money's worth... which leaves phpBB for the rest of us.

Actually, one of the main problems of phpBB is that fact that it's not exactly rich in features. Sure, the basic feature set might be enough for most of us, but if you're like me, you won't be satisfied with it. Sooner or later, you'll end up "modding" it, that is enhancing its features by making changes to the code-base, incorporating more scripts and so on. And this is where the problem lies. By "modding" your board heavily to enhance its functionality, you will soon end up with a cluttered board: namely you will be unable to automatically install upgrades which are released not infrequently to address security issues. And phpBB, believe me, is notorious for its security issues, having recently been in the centre of media attention for the "highlight" exploits and the Santy worm which spread like wildfire using google to hack into phpBB powered boards. Another disadvantage of modding phpBB is that you're likely to introduce new security issues as well when poorly coded "mods" are installed. In short, you'll end up with a pretty cluttered board which would become a nightmare to maintain (read "upgrade").

The phpBB group has been working on phpBB 3.0 (codenamed Olympus) for quite a while now and to anxious people like me, it's taking far too long to come out of "beta". Till date, a "release" version has not been announced and is unavailable for download.

So where does that leave me? For one, I have been struggling to keep up with the ever frequent updates from phpBB.com. My board is heavily modded of course. And I have no choice but to make the code changes (updates) manually, editing each file painfully, one by one and then running the update script. Something that becomes more and more of a chore and cuts into my productivity.

Too bad I didn't do a bit of research before I implemented phpBB as a forum solution. Simple Machines Forum (SMF), which is a successor to the old YaBBSE, is a much more feature-rich forum solution with a lot more flexibility and a much more powerful administration control panel. To convert my existing board to SMF would leave me with a lot of data loss (thanks to the "mods") and yet, wisdom tells me that phpBB 2.0.x is not the ideal solution and sooner or later, a better solution will have to be found.

A catch-22 situation, but one that needs a solution. Allow me the liberty of advising you if you are planning to add a forum to your site. If you are thinking of phpBB, I suggest that you consider the pros and cons of phpBB very carefully before make a decision. With the existing feature set, phpBB won't satisfy a power-user. Unless you wait for phpBB 3.0 to come out (which can take some time to be released). On the other hand, SMF is a powerful and free solution and can easily be used "out of the box" with no mods. It's admin interface is somewhat complex, but with some learning, you can really configure almost every aspect of your forum with it. Definitely gets my vote on the "free" list.

Choose carefully and choose wisely. If you can afford a paid solution like vBulletin (and I've tested its admin interface in the free demo online: it's great!), go for it. It's worth the money if you're planning to build a serious community in the long run.

2 comment(s)

  1. Under the Fantastico in my cPanel there are two options for BB.1. PHPBB2. Simple Machines ForumHave you ever tried the SMF BB app?

    Comment by Matthew Jabs (visitor) on Wed, May 16, 2007 @ 19:44 IST #
  2. Yeah, I've not used SMF myself, but I've administered an SMF forum and it's pretty cool. Currently I use vBulletin for my forum software at literaryforums.org

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Wed, May 16, 2007 @ 20:11 IST #

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