Creating an online forum helps you to engage with your target audience and send the message across. It is also a smart way to nurture communication and relationship with different communities of society. This article will review 15 of the best online forum software in 2021, along with their pros and cons.
Online forums have been a staple of online communities, especially in gaming communities, since the early days of the modern internet. Even after the rise of different social media platforms, these online forums have been the haven for those looking to connect with people of the same mindset.
Forums help you bring communities together. Regardless of what you are in real life, you can connect with people who feel the same way you do in forums. Online forums serve a bigger purpose and help one communicate. Forums are also a favorite medium of communication for introverted people.
However, before starting, we should check out some things about the online forum software.
What to look for in great online forum software?
Every online forum out there lets you register and chat with other people on the forum. That is the primary function of it. But some features make forum software stand out among the others.
Aside from essential functions, look for some critical features before choosing an online discussion forum platform for your website.
- Customization: Profile customization is one of the most incredible things that forum software can offer. It enables the users to customize their profile picture, avatar, or icon.
- Text editor: A powerful text editor is a must. Forums are 100% text-based. So, having an excellent text editor increases the comfort of texting for your users.
- Private messaging feature: Forums are a public messaging platform. But often, small groups or individuals might need a private or secure messaging option. Having a private messaging feature fulfills that need.
- Signature: Having a comment signature feature is beneficial. This software is likely to increase user engagement and offer them more fun on the forum.
- User-level/ Achievement: Some online form features a system called “User Level”. This system ranks users in their activities and unlocks unique gifts and options in the chat.
However, one thing is sure that you don’t always have to have these features. And sometimes, it may be redundant to your website. Choose the goal and set up the forum according to your community’s needs.
Best Online Forum Platforms
Here is a complete list of the best forum software that you can use today. In addition, we have added its pros and cons.
1. phpBB (Free)
phpBB is a flexible all-purpose online forum platform. With this, you can create forums where users can register and chat with each other. In addition, you can set up boards for your forums. After you set up the forum with phpBB, you can set as many boards as you want.
Along with all the basic features phpBB lets, you add extensions to implement extra functions. And there are hundreds of free extensions to choose from. phpBB is an open-source program. So, you don’t have to pay for anything. phpBB offers multiple themes to customize the boards. Not only that, your users get a bunch of options to customize their profiles. Overall, we recommend phpBB for its flexibility and functions.
- It comes with a robust forum app with hierarchy options.
- The users can customize the chats and profiles.
- phpBB offers customization of the forum and supports extensions.
- There is a community working behind phpBB. So, there are regular updates and fixes.
- Some of the phpBB forums themes seem outdated.
2. MyBB (Free)
MyBB is a free WordPress forum software that is used by hundreds of users. It comes with all necessary functions like user registration, setting up boards, and moderations. There are certain similarities with phpBB. Like phpBB, MyBB is also open-source and free to use. It offers theme customizations and useful plugins. But MyBB is much more modern than phpBB.
On MyBB, the users can customize their avatars and the boards. MyBB has an active community, and they are adding more and more features to it. It also has a feature-rich control panel that gives you complete control over the forums. Your users can also create private chats if they want.
- It comes with communication and gamification plugins to install on the forum.
- MyBB offers user-reputation systems.
- Your users can use calendars to schedule events.
- It has hundreds of extensions to customize the chats.
- It supports multiple languages.
- Compared to phpBB, it is not feature reached.
3. Vanilla Forums (Free/ Paid)
Vanilla Forums offers both free and a premium version of their software. The free version is open source, and the premium version starts from $689/ month. They intended the premium version for enterprise-level customers. However, the free version covers more than enough features to make it a valuable free online forum platform.
Vanilla Forums offers centralized forum creation focused on business products and services. This software lets the customers find the features they need instantly. It is a well-designed solution for creating forums for any community. Vanilla Forums stands out for its polished features and easy-to-use interface. Your users can customize their profiles, share texts, and more. It also comes with various themes and add-ons. It also gives you access to gamification features.
- With Vanilla Forums, you can set up stunning online forums.
- It has a built-in powerful text editor.
- Vanilla Forums has options to create Private Forums.
- It lets you create a knowledge-based system focusing on business products and services.
- The collection of free themes and plugins are limited.
4. Simple Machines Forum (Free)
Simple Machines Forum is an excellent alternative to the phpBB forum software. It is one of the best Best Online Forum Software because it is flexible and has a modular system. It comes with customizable theme features and supports multiple languages. Simple Machines Forum is a free tool for creating custom forums. It uses a package manager that makes installing and managing the modules easier.
Simple Machines Forum offers the most variation of themes, plugins, and add-ons for an open-source tool. Another helpful feature is that it supports paid subscriptions for your forum. So you can earn money when users join your forum. It is much more stylish and customizable compared to other forum-creating applications on this list.
- Simple Machines Forum gives access to a comprehensive collection of modules and themes.
- It supports multiple languages.
- You can set up a paid subscription for your users with ease.
- It is stylish in terms of design and presentation.
- Some of the free themes look a little outdated.
- You cannot customize the profiles very much.
5. Best Online Forum Software FluxBB (Free)
FluxBB is internet forum software that offers fast, light, and user-friendly forum software for your website. FluxBB is a performance-oriented and lightweight tool that lets you create an online forum to your likings. It can be a lighter and more functioning alternative to some of the premium online forum applications.
FluxBB supports PHP5 &PHP7. The installation process is simple and requires no technical knowledge. It gives you flexible permission systems. The forums are secured, and there is protection against spam messages. It can be the ideal forum tool for your website.
- FluxBB offers top-of-the-class performance out of the box.
- It includes high functioning profile customization features.
- The installation process is simple.
- The number of themes and add-ons is limited.
6. Codoforum (Free/ Paid)
Codoforum is a freemium software that enables you to create the best-performing forums on the internet. They built it with PHP and MySQL. The user’s experience was the key factor behind designing Codoforum. It provides the users most satisfaction and flexibility. You users can customize the boards, profiles, and so on.
The most significant advantage of Codoforum is that you can install it on any server that supports PHP or MySQL. Every component you need to design the forum is on a clean interface. The documentation page is also informative and very helpful.
Additionally, Codoforum offers Single Sign-on (SSO) plugin. With this plugin, users can easily integrate their website on the forum. It is beautifully designed and available for free. Codoforum is also mobile-friendly out of the box.
- Codoforum comes with detailed official documentation.
- It has a tagging system that enables users to separate topics into different categories.
- It is mobile-friendly out of the box.
- The users can customize the notification system.
- Get the paid version to receive automatic security patches and updates.
- The free version has the Codoforum logo.
7. Best Online Forum Software Discourse (Free/ Paid)
Discourse is another top-of-the-class free, open-source application for forums. It gives us a modern yet easy-to-use interface for the users. It doesn’t break threads into pages. Instead, it incorporates a scroll option to increase readability. They optimized the software for any screen size. You can easily use and view it from mobiles, tablets, and notebooks.
Discourse also enables third-party integration. Software such as Slack, GitHub, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be integrated with a discourse with ease. In addition, it offers several features that make it the first choice of thousands of people. For example, it is easy to manage and create boards for forums.
- Discourse has a dynamic notification mechanism.
- Members can choose to follow threads from email.
- You can integrate Third-party apps with Discourse.
- The admins can monitor the community statistics.
- You might need some time to get accustomed to all the features.
8. Flarum (Free)
Flarum is an easy-to-use online forum platform. It is available for free and provides the best solution and optimized performance. Flarum is an extensive and mobile-friendly application. You can customize the forum. It is very stylish and elegant. Flarum is fast and light in performance.
Flarum has secured forum software. And hundreds of users rely on it. Your data are encrypted and protected from theft. It supports multiple languages. So, citizens from every country can enjoy using Flarum. You can install it on your website easily. Though Flarum is still under development, it provides advanced and useful features that you can ask for.
- The users can use interactive live chat functions.
- You can activate many of the features via extensions. So, users can turn them off if they don’t need them.
- Flarum requires Apache or Nginx web server and PHP 7.3+, MySQL 5.6+.
9. WordPress (Free if you use WordPress Premium Plans)
You may know WordPress as a renowned website builder. But you may not know that you can use WordPress to create online forums too. WordPress includes plugins such as wpForo Forum, Asgaros Forum, and bbPress. These plugins provide best-in-class features to help you create the most modern online forums.
WordPress may seem counterproductive as you are using a multi-platform to create an online forum. However, using a CMS like WordPress is the best choice. In addition, you don’t have to pay for these plugins if you are using WordPress Premium.
- It gives you access to the most extensive collection of themes and plugins.
- With WordPress, you can set both a regular and online forum website.
- It offers a wide range of forum plugins.
- As WordPress is not a regular forum building site, it requires some technical knowledge to set up the forum.
10. Best Online Forum Software Joomla! (Paid)
Joomla! is another Content Management System (CMS) site that lets you build any website and set up a forum online. Similar to WordPress, this features powerful plugin options to set up forums. The platforms are fully customizable. Joomla! Gives you more control over its functions out-of-the-box. However, it is targeted towards individuals who have a firm knowledge of web development. In terms of technicality, Joomla! is complex. You must know web development to set up an active online forum.
If you are searching for a robust CMS to power your online forum, then we recommend Joomla! It gives you complete control and offers rich themes and plugins. In addition, you can customize and redesign your forums as you like.
- Joomla! Gives you more control over the content of your website.
- You can choose from a large assortment of themes and plugins for the forum.
- It has robust security and SEO features.
- You need to have basic web development knowledge to set up Joomla!
- The plugin choices are limited compared to WordPress.
11. vBulletin (Paid)
vBulletin is a premium forum application that is top of the class. It is quick to set up and has sophisticated features to give you the best experience. It comes with affordable cloud hosting. You can also host it on your website. The developers designed vBulletin, keeping in mind the SEO and security.
It takes only 15 minutes to set up and ready to use. It also features an AI-powered engagement that helps you to grow the community organically. The software starts at USD 249.00.
- Vbulletin is easy to set up.
- It offers functionality and 100% user engagement.
- vBulletin is ready to be used on mobiles.
- It supports cloud hosting.
- You have to purchase hosting to set up vBulletin.
12. xenForo (Paid)
xenForo is the Best Online Forum Software because of its self-hosted premium online forum platform features. It is suitable for business uses. It offers gamification to increase user engagement. You can integrate social media platforms like Facebook with xenForo. It offers a sleek, attractive, and elegant user interface. It has built-in SEO optimization to ensure the best functionality.
You can customize xenForo to your liking. It has over 2000 add-ons and extensions that you can use. You can try the free demo. But to access all the features, you have to buy xenForo licenses. The price starts from $160 for 12 months. For an extra $55, you get additional 12 months.
- xenForo is a safe and secured forum platform.
- They offer affordable plans for you to choose from.
- It supports social media integration.
13. Invision Power Board (Paid)
Invision Power Board is another premium software for forum creation. It is perfect for large businesses with many employees. Individuals such as celebrities and media persons can also use it for their fans.
Invision Power Board brings rich features and customizability to the table. It is flexible and can be integrated with third-party applications. They also offer affordable prices for their fantastic features. The Invision Power Board pricing plans range from $45 to $130 per month.
- Invision Power Board is the best method of starting a thriving community focused on your business.
- We can install$249.00 on any CMS server.
- It offers flexibility and customizability.
- Invision Power Board is easy to manage.
14. NodeBB (Paid)
NodeBB is a great tool and forum platform for online users. It is equipped with modern features and themes. It is flexible, and you can customize the interface for your users. Similar to Invision Power Board, NodeBB is also suitable for businesses.
NodeBB has an intuitive admin panel that gives full authority of the forums to the admins. It gives the users the best forum experience. It is easily manageable. You don’t need any technical knowledge to install and use NodeBB. It offers a free trial of the product.
- NodeBB comes with instant hosting.
- It is perfect for large enterprises.
- It is mobile responsive.
- NodeBB is SEO optimized.
15. Wix Forum (Free)
Wix Forum is a drag-and-drop forum software that you can use on Wix-built websites. It allows you to build great and beautiful forums quickly. You don’t have to know anything about coding or web development. Instead, you can select the Wix Forum tool and drop it on your website.
Wix Forum offers animated features for the user interface. It helps you to bring the community together. It is self-hosted. So, you don’t have to worry about that. Wix Forum is free to use. But you have to use Wix website builder to use Wix Forum.
- Wix Forum is unique and beautiful.
- It is easy to set up and operate.
- You don’t have to create an additional website to integrate the forum.
There you have it. We have presented you with 15 of the best online forum software. Some of them are free, and some of them are paid. It is up to you to choose which one is most suitable for you. Now, your next step is to create an online forum, choose a domain name, and host. Share with us your forum after you have created it. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter.