Now that the .FORUM domain name has more affordable pricing (buy one from Blacknight here for €35.99); we thought it would be useful to put together a list of mostly free forum software that you can use to create your own discussion forum or community. There are many options out there, many free. Usually, the ‘free’ ones have the option to buy a licence to get more features or support.

The biggest problem you will encounter when running your own forum is spam. So, whatever platform you end up using, you will need to make sure you’re able to install anti-spam and flood control. You also need to monitor the forum and control who signs up for it. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring forums for a few months, as it can easily get overrun with spam accounts and content (and it can be a lot of work to clean it up).

So here are ten forum solutions that you might find useful and then our own recommendations (TL:DR: Vanilla and bbPress):

1. Discourse – A modern and easy-to-use forum software with a focus on user engagement and community building. This is one of the most popular and well-developed platforms. While it costs money to use the ‘official’ software, they have a free, open-source version that you are welcome to run on your own servers. It just takes a little more extra work to install.

2. Flarum – This is lightweight and customisable forum software that is free and 100% open source. So, if you can wrap your head around the installation instructions, you can use a pretty good forum platform completely for free. There are also out-of-the-box hosting companies that will spin you up an instance for yourself (it’s also available on Softaculous).

3. NodeBB – a powerful and flexible forum software that is designed to scale with your community. While their focus as a company is their own hosted version that they charge for, it’s a free, open-source project you can install on your own server.

4. Vanilla – While it’s an enterprise product, they have a free, open-source component that is well-maintained. I installed it using Softaculous on my own Blacknight dedicated server. It’s pretty straightforward to use, has good spam controls (as long as you pay attention to it!), and is easy to maintain. I’m happy enough with it, though I wish some extensions got more updates and new features. The original developer was recently acquired and is focusing on enterprise applications, but the free, open-source version is still maintained.

5. MyBB – Another free and open-source forum software that is highly customisable and easy to use and has the ability to use extensions (with a robust ecosystem). There is no paid version of this one; it’s completely free to do with what you want; you just have to host it yourself.

6. phpBB – This one is probably the most popular forum software out there. It has a long history as an open-source project. It’s completely free to use and maintain and has a robust developer ecosystem and the ability to customise it as much as you want. The only downside is that since it’s the most popular forum system out there, it’s easy to target for SPAM/security attacks. So, be sure to keep the software updated.

7. SMF (Simple Machines Forum) – Simple Machines Forum — SMF in short — is open-source, free community forum software delivering professional-grade features in a package that allows you to set up your own online community within minutes. It can be themed easily and runs on PHP and MySQL.

8. XenForo – This is an enterprise-grade, modern and feature-rich forum software that is highly customisable and designed to scale with your community. However, there’s no open-source component, and you have to license it to use it (but you can self-host it). So, while it’s pay-for-play, the good thing is that there’s support and a stable company keeping the software up to date.

9. bbPress – This is forum software designed to work with an existing WordPress website. It’s free and open-source, maintained by Automattic itself, and is designed to integrate seamlessly with WordPress, and generally does as long as your theme supports it. I’ve used it a few times over the years, and while it hasn’t worked for what I was trying to do, I would give it another try if I was building a new forum that needed to work with an existing WordPress website.

10. Phorum – This one is a lightweight and fast forum software that is highly customisable and easy to use. In development since 1998, it’s a little dated in the way it does things, but it’s proven and free open-source software that will let you get a forum online easily.

What’s your favourite discussion forum software? Let us know in the comments. Interested in self-hosting your own forum? Blacknight can help with shared hosting, virtual cloud servers, and dedicated hosting.

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