15 listings of free and open-source Forum software

NameCMS RatingCurrent version (stable)Latest release dateDemo available
Advanced Electron Forums1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (90 votes, average: 3.72 out of 5)
bbPress1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (50 votes, average: 3.74 out of 5)
FluxBB1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (62 votes, average: 4.44 out of 5)
FUDforum1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (36 votes, average: 4.56 out of 5)
Phorum1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (34 votes, average: 4.26 out of 5)
QuickerBB1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (43 votes, average: 4.05 out of 5)
Simple Machines Forum1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (65 votes, average: 4.17 out of 5)
SMF1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (54 votes, average: 4.07 out of 5)
UseBB1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (54 votes, average: 3.96 out of 5)
Vanilla Forums1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (44 votes, average: 4.11 out of 5)
Vesthelm Engine1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (33 votes, average: 3.97 out of 5)
Viscacha1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (36 votes, average: 4.14 out of 5)
W-Agora1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (39 votes, average: 4.33 out of 5)
XenForo1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (62 votes, average: 4.32 out of 5)
XMB1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (59 votes, average: 3.93 out of 5)

An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site. It is the modern equivalent of a traditional bulletin board, and a technological evolution of the dial-up bulletin board system. From a technological standpoint, forums or boards are web applications managing user-generated content.

People participating in an Internet forum can build bonds with each other and interest groups will easily form around a topic’s discussion, subjects dealt within or around sections in the forum.

Forums are a community where online discussions take place and forum software is what powers these communities. It provides the website framework and makes a forum easy to manage for webmasters.

Forum functionality

With forums, conversations or topics are called threads and replies are posted on the forum as posts. In this sense, forums are a collection of threads and posts that are organized within specific categories that the forum owner or webmaster has created. These categories correspond to the different conversation areas that users may want to engage in discussion about.

Forums are unlike online chat rooms. Rather, a thread (topic) can be much longer than your typical few lines of text like you might see in a chat room. Forums also come with user access levels and sometimes, threads (topics) and even posts (replies) will need to be approved by a moderator before going live and being visible to the community.

One of the most popular forums is Reddit, crowned the front page of the internet. What made Reddit so unique was the ability of its forum users to create their own SubReddits, which are essentially entire forums of their own accessible under a single platform. However, this doesn’t mean that Reddit ended all other forums. In fact, tight-niche communities built on forum software are still growing rapidly.

What is forum software?

Forum software is what enables website owners and webmasters to install and operate their own online forum. There are opensource forum scripts like PHPBB as well as commercial software that comes at a premium price like vBulletin. There is even some forum software provided as a SaaS subscription.

How does forum software work?

As explain previously, conversions or topics are called threads. Typically, when a member of the forum has something to discuss, they will create a thread for it. They do this only after they have chosen the appropriate category within the forum. As the thread starter, they are able to create the first post within the thread which will appear at the top and all further posts (replies) will be displayed chronologically below this. This system also comes with some unique features such as thread “bumping,” which means that when a user posts something to the thread, that thread is bumped to the top of the listings within the category it was posted to. Additionally, threads can be “stickied” within categories and those threads will always display at the top regardless of the last time a user posted.

What are the common features of forum software?

Forum software comes with a lot of prepackaged features that can be useful to your community. It’s not just about threads and posts. Here are some of the common features that typically come standard with any opensource or SaaS forum script:

Users and group permissions

Just as new users can register to join the community, they will also be placed into a default group with a certain permission level. This is incredibly useful to the forum owner as it allows basic permissions to be widely applied to all users, granting moderator and administrator access to staff and above. On some forums, moderator privileges are provided to highly active users that wish to become a part of the management team.

Private Messaging

Almost all forum software comes with the ability to send private messages. This allows users to engage in private conversion on matters that don’t pertain to a thread or the community. It’s a useful feature that users will appreciate.

BBCode or HTML

Most forums accept either BBCode or HTML within threads and replies. This allows users to input images, links, and other important content onto your forum. Most forum scripts even have a GUI with a WYSIWIG editor for easily adding this type of content.


Now better known as emojis, emoticons are what people use to communicate and express feelings. It can make your board seem much more personal and it’s a great addition to have. Emoticons can easily be added to threads and posts through their equivalent text representations, such as :p for a small smiley face with its tongue protruding.


Forums are social communities and one way for your users to stay engaged with one another is to initiate a poll. It’s fun and it encourages interaction. Most forum software and website scripts provide poll functionality.

Forum software comes in many varieties and there are plenty of opensource options. PHPBB has long been considered the best forum script but rivals like vBulletin have gathered dedicated fanbases.