This page describes the most important criteria that you should look for finding the forum software you need. Each features are explained in details, and some provided examples will help you defining what a forum software should provide to fit your needs.
The language, frameworks and systems required to support and run this software.
Operating System is the core piece where your forum can be installed. Generally, a dependency to a specific OS came from the web server the forum software support. For example, Microsoft IIS can only be installed on a Windows OS, while Apache can be installed on nearly all operating systems.
J2EE Server can be installed on each OS where Java is supported, .NET technology is supported by default by Microsoft IIS server, but can be easily installed on a Linux box using Mono Project and Apache (see mod_mono for more information).
You should choose an very secured operating system because the machine hosting your web site will be fully accessible from the entire world, so a Linux server is generally a good and cheap choice.
The web server totally depends from the technologies used by your forum software. For example, ASP runs under Microsoft IIS, PHP and Python script languages can be installed on every web server (but are generally used with an Apache server).
The J2EE technology needs a Java Application Server, containing a Web container (Tomcat for example) and a Persistence API (EJB, Hibernate,...) These servers are generally harder to install but these solutions matches enterprise level requirements.
The development language correspond to the technology that the forum software use. We can separate the existing technologies in two side. The first one is composed of compiled languages, like Java, CGI Bin ( which includes C and every language you want), and .NET.
The compiled languages have some advantages like speed improvement because the server does not need to parse and analyze the content of a file to execute its logical. The compiled application can be directly executed, without any test. These technologies have however a weakness because it introduces a new step in website development : the compilation process. This process can be really easy, like this : compiler-command file-to-compile, but it's generally harder for webmasters who only want to modify one little part of a file.
These languages are generally really more used than the previous one, even if the using of this kind of technologies can slow down a little bit the software. The most known examples of script languages are Perl, Python, Ruby, and of course, PHP.
If you want to create a theme of a plugin for the software you will install, the scripting languages will make smoother their developments. To conclude, just a little percent that will show you that scripting is generally more used : nearly 80% of existing forum software solutions use the PHP languages.
The database program will store the data of your forum. These datas need to be fully accessible as fast as possible if you want your web site be displayed very quickly.
Generally, forum software are, in the point of view of a Database systems, very small applications which do not require important disk space and a highly optimized schemas.
You should also choose a database that is really fast reading because your website will be easily 100 times more consulted compared to posting. MySQL is one of the most used database in the Web sphere, because it is small, reliable and of course free.
Some forum software do not mandatory need an underlying database, by storing their information in XML files (they will then generally use the XPath querying) or any other file based storage. Another specific case is the SQLite API, which is not a real database program although its uses the SQL query langage but do not need any separated service to access its datas. In fact, it allows any program to incorporate its own database, simply stored in one file and accessing via an API. This system can be applied to the Web and is generally very useful for people who do not have access to a database in their hosting solution.
List browsers that are known to be compatible with this forum software.
User agent needs to support the following technologies.
Smartphones operating systems known to support correctly this forum software, either using the default browser, or using a specific application available in the proprietary Application Store.
If enabled, the software is translated in several languages, and can be used by users with different languages at the same time.
Forum contains a browseable list of registered users.
At any moment, you are able to consult who and how many persons are connected on a given topic, section orat the homepage of the forum.
Here are examples of possible posts formats.
Here are examples of existing posts forms.
Text smileys are automatically converted into images.
Attach Files (Screenshots, Archive, Media...) to a Post.
This feature is generally useful for technical forums that generally need files attachments with posted messages. It avoids users to first upload to their own FTP server and then link these files to their message.
Quoting is a way to identify, when reading a given message, which are the original messages the current post is related to. This is a perfect way to follow several discussions on the same thread.
Posted Source Code is parsed and formatted using colors, line numbers. Particularly useful we you host a forum related to language or Web programming.
At the bottom of each topic, you will find an autogenerated list of topics that might interest the current visitor, linked with the current opened thread. This feature is particularly useful to increase the number of pages viewed in a forum.
Prevent Creation of Duplicate Content and Topic.
Administrators can post announcements available everywhere in the forum.
Instead of classifying a thread into a single section, tags help members to sort and tag a given topic into several places, helping other members to find subjects that might interest them.
Topics with a lot of activity are marked (logo, color,...).
Once connected, members can see which topics are not read yet.
Limit Access of Some Topics to a Specific Range of Users.
Sticky threads stay at top of a section or a forum.
Whether the forum software embeds a spell checker, preventing too many typos and badly written messages.
Terms and Conditions for using this software.
Friendly URL is a technical feature that makes URLs of forum, topics,... human readable, which is perfect when links of your forum are shared. They are also easily read by search engine crawlers, which is often considered as an important SEO trick.
Private messages are a interested features if you want that users of your forum discuss privately without sharing their email addresses (to avoid Spam bots). The private messages management generally looks like a webmail, and new private messages notifications (this time to the user email) can be activated, to be sure the user will receive and read its messages.
Whether this forum software contains a Calendar feature or not, mostly useful to classify topics on a calendar, display birthdays, plan events...
How threads and topics are represented on the forum pages. It could be Threaded, displaying a hierarchy of answers, comments and subjects, or flat, all messages and topics following the other one. Note that a Flat forum mostly needs a quoting system in order to be easily readable.
Organize the Forum with Categories, Sections,...
Icon Identifying the Type of Topic.
Here is a list of existing remote access.
This feature allows any forum user to create a poll, enclosed with the new thread he wants to create. Other users can vote on this poll, and then argue about results.
Users can rate the other users' posts.
Users can upload a picture or a photo of themselves, customizing their answers and helping people recognize them quickly.
Ranks or labels users can reach or get depending on the number of posts they send, or any custom rules. It helps distinguishing whether you receive an answer from a newbie user or a really advanced person.
Instant Messaging feature is not really widespread but can be interested if you want to let forum users to directly chat without posting to the forum.
Some moderators generally disagree conversations that users can have on a specific thread, mainly if the talks has no direct link with the original subject. The instant messaging feature can be a good solution to this problem, because users will prefer use it rather than the asynchronous talks in specific threads.
The syndication feature is really interested for people who would like to stay informed about any modifications or new posts of a forum, without be connected on it. The syndication uses an XML language to simplify and resume activity and news information on a website.
By adding a syndication file to its agregator software, a user can easily follows hundred of websites from one place. There are a lot of available agregator on the Net, like Feedreader, RSS Bandit, Akregator (Linux only),...
For more information about Syndication, do not hesitate to consult its related Wikipedia Article.
Here are examples of RDF languages.
The user profile allows the user to modify its personal information and even sometimes customize the forum for his account. For example, administrators can activate several themes that users can select to change the look of the forum.
Email notifications option helps forum users to stay informed about new posts or new threads. When a modification occurs, the forum automatically send mails to people who request for.
Captcha protections aims to avoid spam bots by asking to the user a Turing test to be sure he is a real user, and not a bot.
These kind of filters can protect young user against coarseness from some users by replacing these words by stars (i.e.: *****) or by simply removing them.
Some forum software do not have many users management options, and this can really change your decision, because you will need for example multiple administrators access, or dedicated moderators on some parts of the forum.
By limiting possible actions of new members with a minimum number of interesting posts, it ensures that a user will not spam with private messages other members, create stupid polls or access to some important forum categories (announcements, community news,...) The signature or the WWW address fields (where many members love to put their own website) could even follow the same rules, and be displayed only after, for example, 10 valid posts.
This option is useful for webmaster who wants to allow non logged users to post messages to their forum. This can be however dangerous if the forum is being attacked by spam bots.
User banishment is an option that allows administrators remove posting rights to users that do not respect the rules of the community. This is also really useful if you are not sure that a user has only subscribed to promote its own website or spam the users of your community.
Possible HTML and XHTML norms.
This forum software is able to share content with a given list of social networks. With more advanced integrations, it's even possible to use the social network user account directly, by-passing the annoying registering process of your forum.
Capacity of this forum software to be extended with additional features (chat, integration with social networks,...)
Could the general appearance, layout and colors of the forum software be totally changed using a specific package, file or module.
Generally provided in all forum software, to make each forum unique or comparable to the main web site on which it depends on.
Some software also allow registered users to use their favorite theme among a list.
What are the software that could integrate their existing accounts into your forum.
This information lists all blog and CMS software that can fully integrate a specified forum.
By integration, we mean that there is only one user base, the log in process must be the same (when a user is connected to the forum, it is automatically logged on the blog or CMS, and respectively)
You will generally find more information about forum integration by looking for a plugin of your CMS or blog solution. Some plugins contains a full installation of a forum software, but some others allow you to bind two existing installation. This solution is recommended, because you can update separately your software if one of them contains security issues.
This information is just for advanced webmasters who would like to know the inner technology used by a forum software. A template engine is in charge of rendering the website and merge the datas with the current theme (in fact the layout of the forum).
The template engines use a logical language to format and display datas, and this language is different in these engines. This information can determine the forum software choice if the webmaster has a preference for a template engine if it is known that a template engine is more powerful or faster than others.
How easy it is for any kind of user or member to use in a comprehensive way this forum software.
Compatibility of the CSS source code with current CSS norms.
Existing Levels of Accessibility.
If the software respects norms, then links on W3C images (i.e. : of the review must not return errors.
What are the key points and major differences that make this forum software unique.