The 6 Best Free Bulletin Boards to Set Up Your Own Forum

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Want to have your own forum? Well, it doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated to create. There are paid forum software available, but you can pick a free alternative that is of equal or better quality.

A forum, sometimes called a bulletin board, is a great way to create a community of like-minded people. Online bulletin boards are packed with features and their interface is designed to encourage chatter.

Let’s take a look at the best free bulletin boards you can find today.

What Is a Self-Hosted Forum?

We are going to talk about bulletin board forums that are self-hosted. This means you are installing the forum software on your own website. You are responsible for the cost of server storage and the domain. Bear in mind that if your community grows large, the cost of storage will increase.

Running a self-hosted forum, as opposed to one managed by a third party, has many benefits: You are in total control of your data, aren’t forced to display adverts or pay for some features, and can often customize them much more too.

Some self-hosted forums can be a bit tricky to install, but all the services listed below have great documentation and support pages to help you out. You should also look to see if your hosting provider offers one-click installation of a forum software—many of the well-known hosts do.

1. phpBB

phpBB forum

For more than two decades, phpBB has been considered the premier free bulletin board for users across the globe. It’s a shining example of the quality open-source development can lead to and is still in active development.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of phpBB is its popularity. It’s likely that someone has already tried to do whatever you’re thinking of doing with your forum, whether that’s in functionality or design. It’s very easy to install something from the extensive user-created extension database.

Its administration panel is wonderfully simple and comprehensive. You don’t require any programming knowledge to start creating categories and boards, editing user group permissions, install themes, and more. You’ll be up and running in no time.

2. MyBB

MyBB forum

MyBB has been around for many years, but it continues to evolve. It’s packed with awesome features, but it manages to maintain excellent speed. Not only that, but it works behind the scenes to keep the database in good shape.

MyBB has a built-in user reputation support, excellent calendar features, multi-quote, and quick reply. You can also embed media, send private messages, and so much more.

You can edit color schemes using a simple editor. Alternatively, you can dive right into the CSS for some advanced customization. It only takes minutes to install plugins, which can be handily updated via the admin panel.

3. Simple Machines Forum

Simple Machines Forum

Simple Machine Forum (SMF) first released in 2003, created as a spin-off from the now defunct YaBB SE software. Despite its age, SMF continues to receive regular updates. While it’s laid out like a classic bulletin board, it still has a fresh feel.

If you’re looking for a free bulletin board with an excellent interface, SMF is likely your best choice. SMF has an excellent default style and easy to navigate admin panel that provides a lot of information in minimal space.

SMF also has a modification database that includes a wide variety of add-ons that can be used to change the bulletin board. This includes everything from added emojis to search engine optimization to social networking features.

4. Vanilla

Vanilla forum

Vanilla primarily targets business customers with its cloud-based solution. Nevertheless, the open source version still remains a great choice, especially if you want to embed a forum within your existing website because you can use it as a forum and a commenting system.

It supports social media log in, single sign-on, and you can also import from other forums. It’s less feature-rich compared to some other providers but makes for a great, simple forum platform.

The only downside is that features for paid users are often not given to those running the free, open source version. That said, many of these eventually become available through plugins from community members.

5. Discourse

Discourse forum

Discourse is the most modern forum software on this list. It doesn’t look like a traditional bulletin board, but it’s designed for modern web browsing habits. As such, conversations aren’t broken into pages—there’s an endless scroll, with a handy bar showing where you are in the discussion.

Other features include dynamic notifications (similar to Facebook tagging), automatically expanded embedded media, single sign-on, social login, community moderation, mobile optimization… and that’s just scratching the surface.

Discourse can take a bit of getting used to and isn’t easily modifiable, especially if you’re more familiar with the traditional forum software. Nevertheless, Discourse can be customized with themes and there are a few plugins available, like Patreon and advertising integration.

6. FluxBB

FluxBB forum

FluxBB is a bit different from the other software listed here. It prides itself on being a lighter, faster alternative. It’s simple to use and has a nice, clean interface, making it a breeze to navigate around and get right into the discussions.

While it does have fewer features than other software, it still has everything you’d expect from a forum in terms of posting and splitting by category and board. There are also moderation tools and a permission system to control user groups.

You can customize the theme, but only on a basic level. And there aren’t many styles available on the community market. That said, there are ample plugins, meaning you can extend the functionality to include image upload, SEO support, and more.

Use a Remotely Hosted Forum Instead

Which of these forum software packages you choose depends on your needs. For example, some prefer SMF because it looks professional out of the box, while others like phpBB because of its huge community. No matter which you choose, you can’t go too wrong. You can always take ideas from many free message boards that are popular.

If you’ve decided that hosting your own forum independently isn’t right for you, consider using a remotely hosted forum provider 5 Great Sites to Create Your Own Forum 5 Great Sites to Create Your Own Forum Want to create a free forum around your favorite topic? Here are the best forum creator tools that are all remotely hosted. Read More .

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  1. Anonymous
    October 8, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    phpbb 3 all the way and with the premium theme: http://themeforest.net/item/flatboots-phpbb-31-and-30-/8536771?ref=ThemeSplat yay yay yay. I dont understand why my comments are not showing . blah.

  2. hyip
    March 31, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    I choose MyBB. I need to make some customization by y own. I found MyBB is more accepting thispurpose.

  3. kathy76
    January 19, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    I just joined a SMF Forum not, as a Creator but, just as a Member and, it has Flaws. Slow Page changes, Pages you try to access comeing up as blank Windows with no error Msg or, a can't connect Msg.
    Now, I don't know if this is a Platform Problem or, a Forum Creator Issue but just as a User I'm not real happy with it.

    • Diego Andrés
      June 2, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      Maybe you're just very stupid to use it

      • Anonymous
        June 25, 2015 at 3:22 pm

        How rude and presumptuous!

        • Anonymous
          July 20, 2015 at 11:40 pm

          Would you expect anything less from a bored little troll that needs attention?

  4. Clarkie
    April 27, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    I've used SMF before and it was really tacky and as others have said, by no means professional. I started with phpBB on my main forum and found it didn't cut it with plugins etc and I switched to MyBB. I've never looked back since.

    In fact I don't know what you're talking about when you say the Admin CP is harder to find your way around. Yes it takes some getting used to but no more than phpBB.

    MyBB and phpBB are both miles better than SMF and I think MyBB is better then phpBB.

    • Diego Andrés
      June 2, 2015 at 8:52 pm

      Maybe you're very stupid

  5. Blipton
    March 21, 2011 at 2:13 am

    That's interesting, I wonder if that applies to closed forums as well. For example, some forums require logging in not just to write a post, but to even VIEW posts! Unless google has a way to authenticate to gain access to private forums, it's indexing might be limited to open forums only, no?

  6. Blipton
    March 20, 2011 at 5:55 am

    Does Google or Bing normally index through forum posts? It would seem that would be an awful lot of pages since every site seems to have a forum sections with thousands of posts each!!

    • M.S. Smith
      March 20, 2011 at 6:41 am

      Yes, they do. I regularly come across forums in search results. And google index one of my forums without me doing anything except putting it up.

      • Blipton
        March 21, 2011 at 1:13 am

        That's interesting, I wonder if that applies to closed forums as well. For example, some forums require logging in not just to write a post, but to even VIEW posts! Unless google has a way to authenticate to gain access to private forums, it's indexing might be limited to open forums only, no?

  7. Blipton
    March 20, 2011 at 6:55 am

    Does Google or Bing normally index through forum posts? It would seem that would be an awful lot of pages since every site seems to have a forum sections with thousands of posts each!!

  8. TM
    March 4, 2011 at 11:12 am

    As a web hosting company owner, I can say without a doubt to stay far away from pbpBB. It's persistently plagued with one vulnerability after another, and the average user cannot keep it maintained, nor do they bother to check for security updates. I've banned it on all of my servers. SMF is your best bet.

    • Aibek
      March 4, 2011 at 12:05 pm

      thanks for the input. Never heard about SMF though :?

      • Jack Cola
        March 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm

        SMF = Simple Machine Forums

  9. Matt Rider
    March 4, 2011 at 2:05 am

    I defiantly like vanilla forums MUCH better http://vanillaforums.org/ so much easyer to use and administer

  10. Matt Rider
    March 4, 2011 at 3:05 am

    I defiantly like vanilla forums MUCH better http://vanillaforums.org/ so much easyer to use and administer

  11. Jared
    March 3, 2011 at 3:11 am

    The SMF version that's posted is old. That's from the 1.1.x series. The most current version is 2.0 RC5. Yes, it's still in RC and not recommended for production sites but it's the version series that's demonstrated on the community site.

    And I don't believe that the support is that bad. There are a ton of Support Specialists that help out (in addition to all of the other team members that help out) to make replies quick in the proper support boards. Not to mention that the Online Manual is clearly linked in the top nav bar.

    SMF is definitely the top on my list.

  12. Jared
    March 3, 2011 at 4:11 am

    The SMF version that's posted is old. That's from the 1.1.x series. The most current version is 2.0 RC5. Yes, it's still in RC and not recommended for production sites but it's the version series that's demonstrated on the community site.

    And I don't believe that the support is that bad. There are a ton of Support Specialists that help out (in addition to all of the other team members that help out) to make replies quick in the proper support boards. Not to mention that the Online Manual is clearly linked in the top nav bar.

    SMF is definitely the top on my list.

  13. Greg
    March 2, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Missing Vanilla forums: http://vanillaforums.org/

  14. Greg
    March 2, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Missing Vanilla forums: http://vanillaforums.org/

  15. M.S. Smith
    March 2, 2011 at 6:24 am

    I don't think we're necessarily moving away from forums. The various styles of comments make it very easy to have a conversation but exceedingly hard present anything more than brief thoughts. They're different things, and there is room for both.

  16. Jack Cola
    March 2, 2011 at 5:54 am

    And if you don't want to host it yourself, check out one of my earlier posts on Make Use Of 5 Great Sites To Create Your Own Forum //www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-great-sites-create-forum/

  17. Bogdan
    March 1, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    You forgot about PunBB, which is great and lightweight.
    More here http://php.opensourcecms.com/scripts/show.php?catid=5&category=Forums

    • Aibek
      March 2, 2011 at 7:41 am

      thanks for the input

  18. Bogdan
    March 2, 2011 at 12:30 am

    You forgot about PunBB, which is great and lightweight.
    More here http://php.opensourcecms.com/s...

  19. Frost
    March 1, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Good comparison (if brief) of these alternatives. Though "per say" is somewhat cringe-worthy, the phrase you're looking for is "per se" which is latin for "in itself". :)

  20. Azefze
    March 1, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    "but the administrators panel isn’t as slick or as well laid out as the one that comes with phpBB"

    In my experience, the admin panel of phpBB is a gigantic mess of all the stuff pushed closely together. MyBB is very obvious, well explained and offers a lot of breathing space.

    • M.S. Smith
      March 2, 2011 at 6:22 am

      Different strokes for different folks. I like phpBB's admin panel, but I can see where you're coming from - it looks nice but is a bit crammed.

  21. Amitash
    March 1, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    I have tried all the scripts featured here and personally loved MyBB too. phpbb is too hard to maintain. SMF is in no way professional. My vote goes to MyBB.

    • Aibek
      March 1, 2011 at 4:37 pm

      thanks for the feedback

  22. Azefze
    March 1, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    "but the administrators panel isn’t as slick or as well laid out as the one that comes with phpBB"

    In my experience, the admin panel of phpBB is a gigantic mess of all the stuff pushed closely together. MyBB is very obvious, well explained and offers a lot of breathing space.