In the past few years, there has been a great increase in the number of websites with user-generated content (UGC). One of the most common Web applications with UGC is a Web forum -- a place where people can share their impressions and opinions on different topics. As forum software is becoming more and more popular, I will compare the three best forum software products written in PHP: vBulletin, phpBB and Kunena.

 

vBulletin PHP Forum Software

 

VBulletinis the most popular commercial forum application. It is developed by Jelsoft and is available in two packages: 1) Forum software only and 2) publishing suite, which includes forum, CMS and blog software.

 

When opening vBulletin forum for the first time, you will be struck by the number of options. In fact, you may find it quite confusing. Nevertheless, you should regard this abundance as an advantage, since you can customize pretty much anything. Also, there are a lot of additional features which are not supported by competitors' software.

 

The most important unique feature is the calendar, which allows you to create a community around events. Payment subscriptions are available as well -- having sustainable members has never been easier. A vBulletin administrator can also limit access to topics to a certain group of users. Integration with leading CMS platforms is also available; vBulletin's publishing suite offers a CMS in the package with the forum and there are bridge plugins for Joomla, Drupal and Wordpress.

 

The biggest hindrance in using vBulletin is its price. It costs $195 for the forum only and $285 for the publishing suite, prices that small communities and start-ups can hardly afford. Other negative aspects of vBulletin are it lacks a spell checker as well as the ability for users to reply to posts via email; social network integration is limited to Facebook; and people who do not know PHP will be met with an unpleasant surprise during the installation: the config.phpfile has to be edited manually.

 

vBulletin Pros:

 

• Customization options

 

• Payment subscriptions

 

• CMS and blog integration

 

• Hidden topics -- limit access to a topic for a user group

 

vBulletin Cons:

 

• Price

 

• Problem finding options in admin

 

• Weak social integration

 

• No email replies

 

• No spell checker

 

• Installation requires editing PHP file

 

phpBB PHP Forum Software

 

PhpBB forumhas three big advantages: 1) ease of use, 2) large user community and 3) no cost.

 

PhpBB offers separate control panels for moderators and administrators. Each of them has all the necessary functions in one place. The developers have done a great job of localizing the software -- phpBB supports more than 40 different languages. If a user helps help, there is a lot of information on the phpBB community forum. Many free plugins and themes can be found on the forum as well. PhpBB has an estimated 500+ plugins and themes developed for it. Best of all, the entire software package can be downloaded free of charge from the official website.

 

The database server support in phpBB is much better than in other forum software. It currently supports MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite, Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle.

 

Compared with vBulletin however, phpBB forum does not have as many features. It doesn't have the calendar and payment subscriptions or a WYSIWYG editor -- formatting the text must be done in BBcode. It doesn't support replying to topics via email either. Also, some features that should be built-in are available only as plugins (e.g. topic tags, related threads).

 

Although the phpBB forum is easy to use, creating subforums is complicated and can take some time. Finally, phpBB has no integrated package with CMS software (only bridge plugins are available for Joomla and Drupal).

 

phpBB Pros:

 

• Free

 

• Easy to use

 

• Big community

 

• A lot of free plugins and themes

 

• Language support

 

• Multiple database server support

 

• OpenID and LDAP support

 

• Spell checker

 

phpBB Cons:

 

• Lack of integration with CMS

 

• No calendar

 

• No payment subscriptions

 

• No email replies

 

• No WYSIWYG editor

 

• Creating subforums can take time

 

Kunena PHP Forum Software

 

Kunena is forum software built for Joomla. It can be downloaded for free, as can the Joomla CMS.

 

Being Joomla-dependent has both advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that Joomla is very popular CMS software with many components and plugins. It means that forum integration with the CMS is very high and that the forum can be combined with many other Joomla extensions, such as blog software or community and social network software. Furthermore, the design is similar to Joomla templates, which is the reason why there are many freely available Kunena templates on the internet.

 

Kunena is the easiest of the forums reviewed here for design and code customization. Everything has its place, so changing the design is done by creating a new template and changing the CSS files. PHP code is written in the Joomla framework, so this type of customizations is easy as well.

 

The main disadvantage of Kunena's dependence on Joomla is many people do not want CMS software along with their forum software and many of them are not familiar with Joomla at all. Also, Kunena does not support a number of features that other forum solutions do, such as calendar, payment subscriptions and replies via email. Kunena does not have a WYSIWYG editor either, and social integration can be done only by using third-party plugins.

 

Kunena Pros:

 

• Free of charge

 

• Integration CMS

 

• Easy installation

 

• Easy customization

 

• Good support

 

Kunena Cons:

 

• Depends on Joomla

 

• No calendar

 

• No payment subscriptions

 

• No email replies

 

PHP Forum Software Comparison Matrix

 

  vBulletin 4phpBB 3Kunena 2
Price Forum -- $195
Publishing suite -- $285
Free Free
CMS Yes Only with bridge components Yes
Social integration Facebook Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, OpenID, LDAP Only with Joomla plugin
Calendar Yes Plugin No
Payment subscriptions Yes No No
Replies via email No No No
Spell checker No Yes No
WYSIWYG editor Yes No No
Hidden topics Yes No No