Nathan’s blog about software development, design and the people behind it.

Beautiful Open Source – Forum Software

Written on July 29th, 2008

Recently I’ve been finishing up the new LAN Party Eh website. Midway through development, I decided to search for a forum package to use in the project.

Truth be told, I have not developed with any forum software for over half a year, and as you know, in software time this can be an eternity. I decided that it would be best to take a few days and research my options.

Fortunately for you and I, there are many fantastic opensource forum packages available. The big advantage to this is there are a lot to choose from; if you do not like a certain package for some reason, you can just skip over it, and go on to the next. The downside to so many options is that it can take a while to choose and settle on the right package for your project.

Personally, I have a decent amount of past experience with forum software; from PHPBB version 2, to Phorum, to PunBB, to the Simple Machines Forum, so I generally know what I’m looking for. Each of these packages have their own set of advantages and disadvantages such as number of features, ease of customization and support availability. I wanted something fresh and modern, adhering to the latest in industry standards.

Fortunately, the package I am describing above does exist; after a few days of research, I settled on PHPBB3, the next generation PHPBB.

PHPBB has come a very long way since version 2. And in my opinion, completely outclasses its former self in every way imaginable. At first glance you will notice that it feels much more user-friendly than its previous incarnation. From installation to administration, all of the control panel menus have been cleaned up and simplified. Everything is much quicker to find and easier to use. Kudos to the user-interface guys on the PHPBB team for their great work!

For developers, the styling system has been completely revamped, this is great news as it makes the creation of custom styles substantially easier and less time consuming when compared to PHPBB version 2. While the custom styles themselves are still large compared to other forum packages, the whole system is quite complete and flexible.

Version 2 of PHPBB had a history of security issues, and although it was generally a nice software package, there was a time when it seemed like everyone using it had been hacked in some way. The PHPBB team have learned from the past and PHPBB version 3 seems to be much more secure.

Support for PHPBB3 is generally quite good. It’s one of the more popular opensource PHP boards available and has a significant following. The documentation is generally very effective and to-the-point. The community support forum is active and well populated.

My only complaint is a minor one of developer-friendliness. When creating a custom style for your forum, you are required to enable “Recompile stale style components” in the Server Configuration, Load Settings area of the Administration Panel in order to see any changes made to your CSS or template files. This is not immediately apparent at all. Luckily, I was able to find the solution on a support forum within a few minutes; although I can see many developers getting frustrated over this and possibly losing some hair.

Other than that, it has been a total pleasure working with PHPBB3 so far. PHPBB3 is a great example of beautiful open source forum software. I highly recommend it to anyone considering a forum package for their website.

As for the LAN Party Eh project, development has been going very smoothly and I am looking forward to launching it shortly!

Posted in Open Source