Open Source Forum Shootout - bbPress

  • May 28, 2008
  • Avatar for peter

In this multi-part post, I'll be going through and looking at several different open source forum solutions. When it comes to forum software, one of the most popular choices is phpBB. However, it's by no means the only option for setting up a forum using FOSS, so here I'll be looking at some alternatives you can use.

In each of these quick-fire shootout posts, I'll cover four issues for each forum software - Ease of Installation, Features, Extensibility and Themes. Of course, There's a lot of things I could cover further and in more detail, but for now we'll focus purely on these four elements.

First up, and the subject of this post - bbPress.

bbPress logo

As the name suggests, bbPress is built by the same team that give you blogging software WordPress, and attempts to bring WP's focus and ethos into a forum system. Right now, the package is only at version and isn't quite as stable as some of the other packages I'll be covering in future parts.

Ease of Installation

Installing web applications can make or break them - a difficult installation routine could mean that it becomes easier to plump for a simpler option, even if that has less features.

After downloading the bbPress files, the installation process roughly goes as follows:

  • Extract the package.
  • Set up a database for bbPress use.
  • Create database for bbPress
  • Copy the bb-config-sample.php to bb-config.php, fill in database details and secret key.
  • Browse to the new installation in your web browser, and run the brief setup wizard.
  • bbPress Installer screenshot

As installation processes for web applications go, it's not that bad. The somewhat unavoidable database steps could cause confusion for new users, but the similarity with how WordPress is installed should make it easier for anyone with some experience installing WordPress.

Ease of Installation Score - 6/10


Bearing in mind that bbPress is still pre-release, we'll now take a look at the features that bbPress offers compared to competing forum systems.

All of the basic features you need are there and in addition to those, bbPress does sport the following (and more):

  • Unlimited subforums
  • Anti-spam provided by Akismet service
  • WYSIWYG post composition, largely eliminating the need for BBCode
  • SEO-friendly rewritten URLs, i.e. /forums/1 instead of /forum.php?id=1

One of bbPress' major issues right now, however, is a lack of many of the more advanced features of other forum packages. This is intentional - the idea is that the core of bbPress is kept as lean and clean as possible, and a WordPress-style plugin architecture is used to provide support for these extra features.

Right now, however, there are not that many plugins, meaning feature-wise it may not be as rich as competing solutions. That should change as the popularity increases, however, which is why extensibility is so important here.

Features Score - 4/10


As I've just mentioned, bbPress features an excellent plugin system, based on the WordPress plugin architecture. Plugins aren't that plentiful yet, but their ease of installation and use runs circles around the extensibility of phpBB, for example (where mod files have to be applied manually to patch the core files).

The separation of the core system and the plugins in this way ensures that the problems faced by other extensibility systems are reduced. For example, when a security update for bbPress becomes available, it can be applied quickly and easily, usually without affecting plugins.

bbPress Plugins page screenshot

To compare with phpBB's mod system again, in that case an update to phpBB would require you to manually reapply all the mods, which is a long and laborious process. The knock on effect here can often mean forum administrators cannot get motivated to do security updates, leaving sites vulnerable to attack.

Extensibility - 9/10


Once again, its WordPress roots mean that bbPress borrows the templating system from the popular blogging software. Because of bbPress' youth, not as many themes are available for it as competitors, but there still are whole sites dedicated to offering themes for bbPress.

From a technical point of view, the templating system is solid, just like the one in WordPress. Piggybacking off WordPress' popularity should also lower the bar for theme developers who already work with WP to port styles over to the forum system, and create new themes specifically for bbPress.

Themes - 8/10


bbPress isn't perfect yet, and if you're serious about setting up a community where you want loads of features and familiarity for your users, you might want to steer clear in favour of more traditional forum solutions.

However, bbPress still offers a lot, and has huge potential to use the success of WordPress, and the things that are good about the shared platform, to become a serious player in the open source forum arena. When the project matures further, bbPress could easily give phpBB a good run for its money.

I'm going to stick with a 6.5 out of 10 overall score for now, as I think in most cases you'll want to use something more traditional, at least until bbPress becomes more developed and more popular. Watch this space, however.

Avatar for peter Peter Upfold

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