phpBB Review

phpBB Review

phpBB (current version 3.3) – is a CMS that can be used to build new forums from the ground as well as set them up on an already existing website. The entire concept differs from traditional website builders and CMS platforms. Launched in 2000, phpBB was rolled out as a community of users featuring constant feedback, system updates, discussions, etc. As a result, the software appeared to be not just a forum builder but also a hub of web enthusiast including web experts and beginners.

The main mission of the tool is to help people create engaging and interactive forums. The software is free. You may create interactive communities at zero cost although you are still supposed to have it installed on the existing hosting or buy a new one. The platform delivers a bunch of forum management and administration tools. On the other hand, it certainly lacks features in terms of design and customization. Let’s find out what it actually has under the hood.

  • A free forum engine.
  • Open-source CMS.
  • Millions of users globally.

1. Ease of Use

The system was designed to serve both newbies and experienced pros. Beginners will appreciate the ease of use with no coding skills required.

However, the lack of web design and customization tools might be an obvious downside in the long run.

Some basic programming and web designing skills may help, as phpBB is an open-source system letting you access the source code as well as manage, edit or modify it.

Getting Started

Some users may be confused when getting started with the tool. There are no registration or subscription forms. The software is free to download right from the forum. However, those who want to make the most of the community would appreciate extended access provided to registered users. What’s more, you will be able to try the phpBB demo version. It is also free with no need to download the software.

phpBB registration

The sign-in procedure looks typical. The system asks you to indicate your email and password. Then you need to choose a language and timezone, enter a confirmation code and move on to the admin panel. As we have noted earlier, the system requires hosting. So, you need to take care of it in advance.

The same thing is with the domain name. You are free to connect it during the registration process. The last step is to download all files and have them installed on your hosting in the form of the MySQL database. In other words, you need to take the same actions as when installing a WordPress theme.

Forum Customization

phpBB does not offer plenty of customization capabilities. In fact, users can do nothing without accessing the source code. On the other hand, the software delivers expanded functionality to manage and organize the forum.

phpBB manage forum

Advanced built-in functionality makes it easy to:

  • Manage forum member as well as their accounts;
  • Track new, recent, and most popular posts;
  • Add team members and moderators;
  • Monitor members stats and more.

The system follows the golden rule: a successful forum is not a matter of design. It is a matter of content value and people. On the other hand, it is always good to have several customization tools to create some unique features or stand out. This is where coding skills will come in handy.

  • Free demo version.
  • Simple registration process.
  • Good for newbies and pros.

2. Features & Flexibility

As it was mentioned earlier, phpBB does not have plenty of built-in customization options. At the same time, we should not forget that it represents a community of web enthusiasts. Experienced programmers and web designers share their own add-ons and widgets that everyone may use within the community.

The bad news here is that you actually use any of them at your own risk, as no one will ever guarantee add-ons safety and stable running under real-life conditions. As for the core features, they are as follows:

Free Demo

phpBB demo version

A demo version makes it possible to check how the system works without downloading zip files. Moreover, you do not need to register a domain name or pay for hosting when using the demo pack. It actually brings the same functionality as the downloadable version with some slight differences. Users should note that they have 1 hour to use the demo until their password and username are reset.


Effective security features are vital for any forum. Such website types call for enhanced security especially when it comes to spam bots. We cannot say phpBB has something special to offer in terms of digital security. At least, it has anti-spam tools in addition to CAPTCHA already integrated with the system. Users may create protected passwords as well.

That might be not enough if you expected thousands of users on your forum daily. Safe and secure hosting might be a good solution. If you do not know how to choose a proper hosting to meet your site needs, have a look at our handy guide with all the core issues explained.

Enhanced Forum Management Tools

This is where phpBB makes a difference. It helps to create ultimate forums with a full pack of management and administration instruments. The CMS functionality makes it easy to:

  • Create new conversations, add animated attachments to make posts more interactive and engaging;
  • Engage with other members using a huge collection of custom smileys. Feel free to design and add smileys of your own thanks to open source CMS nature;
  • Use a quick reply feature to save time and switch faster between the post boxes;
  • Censor or cite different phrases;
  • Create an unlimited number of subforums;
  • Let members subscribe to different threads;
  • Monitor members’ birthdays and stats.

Private Messaging

Both moderators and forum users will have a chance to send private messages and communicate directly with other members. The system makes it easy to archive all messages, add attachments, and more.

Although phpBB functionality might look pretty basic at first sight, it offers all necessary features a solid forum should have with no need to code.

  • Enhanced forum management tools.
  • Anti-spam protection.
  • Unlimited subforums.

3. Design & Templates

If you know how to code, implementing a unique web design with exclusive features will hardly be a challenge. As an open-source CMS, phpBB provides full access to the forum source code. For beginners, there is not much they can do about the design.

The system once had a template editor in its previous versions (3.1 in particular). It made it possible to work with theme styles. However, new CMS versions (3.2 and 3.3) come without the editor. The idea was to let users download and install their own custom themes further integrated with phpBB.

phpBB Customize

You may still manage some of the pre-installed styles. They are available in the “Customize” section long with the latest modifications, language packs, and extensions. What you need to remember is that the platform does not have a custom free or paid themes. You can use the styles on default or download platform files together with your own template to the hosting.

  • Over 300 extensions.
  • Preinstalled styles.
  • Compatible with third-party templates.

4. Customer Support

phpBB has an enormous knowledge base and a growing community with millions of users regularly providing their feedback. Newbies will quickly find the answer to any question either it is related to the first steps and installation or setting up the forum.

phpBB support

The support section consists of:

  • The forum itself comes as a huge global community where newbies and pros communicate through their topics or direct messages. Feel free to ask questions.
  • The enhanced knowledge base contains tutorials and guides on any issue from connecting a domain to adding a favicon to your forum.
  • Localized resources deliver international support to users from different countries.
  • Documentation and support request templates.

The platform has a huge blog with literally hundreds of articles sorted out by tags, months, and categories. The only downside is that phpBB does not offer Live Chat or phone for instant support.

  • A huge forum community.
  • Enormous knowledgebase.
  • Global support and detailed documentation.

5. Plans & Pricing

The platform comes as a free engine with support for 55 languages and over 300 extensions. However, you are still supposed to take care of the domain name and hosting. While forums demand more capacity if compared to small business sites or blogs, opting for the cheapest hosting plan is hardly a good idea.

The best bet is to opt for a flexible server solution delivered by Bluehost. Our choices results in several reasons. First of all, this hosting provider is recommended by the phpBB platform developers. In other words, it works great for forum engines. Secondly, it offers a selection of security features, third-party service integrations, etc.


Thirdly, it offers several plans at affordable prices. Shared hosting packages start at $2.95 per month. The entry plan will work out for new forums with a chance to switch to a more powerful package seamless in the future. The good news here is that you get a 1-year free domain with its further pad renewal.

  • Forum CMS at zero cost.
  • Support for 55 languages.
  • Manageable server solutions.

6. Pros and Cons

phpBB is one of the longest-running CMS platforms designed to create solid forums. Despite its limited customization toolkit, it still has some good features to offer.

Free software.
Open-source CMS.
Easy to install and manage.
Multilingual support.
Enhanced forum administration tools.
A few web design tools.
No template editor in new system versions.
Limited customization features.
  • A comprehensive forum builder.
  • Perfect for creating and managing web communities.
  • Full access to the source code.


phpBB is a good software for users who want to launch their forums. It delivers a full pack of tools to manage and administrate the website. Developers constantly update the CMS version bringing up-to-date solutions, multiple extensions, and tools to benefit from.

Although it is not an all-in-one solution with domain and hosting already included in the plan, it will work great together with the Bluehost shared server solution that already includes a 1-year domain.


About the Author

I'm Howard Steele, the founder and editor-in-chief of this website. With over 10 years of web building I know how complicated and tiresome this task can be for a non-IT person. Can’t decide which service to choose? Feel free to ask me for advice. Just describe your website needs, and I’ll gladly help you.

» Reviews » phpBB Review