Vanilla Forums Review

(April 24, 2009 22:42)
Last Version 2.0.18.10 (December 2013). Released under GPL License.
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Vanilla is a really simplistic forum software based on queues of messages. New discussions appear on top, and stay there if they are popular, or can be manually sunk in the stack if its author wants to. This kind of forum software is usually always simple to use and understand: no sub-categories, no big bordered layout... only the content counts.

Vanilla Forums is used by more than 414,000 communities today, including the VanillaForums.com hosting.

Vanilla can be installed in two clicks (a bit more, but we are really optimistic), and, most of the time, the only important settings you have to define are the database login/password, and your own administrator account. If this still looks too complicated or you are too lazy, you can leave your forum in the cloud by asking to the dot com version of Vanilla Forums to get a free hosted forum.

Plugins are also very surprising: most of the important ones are bundled with the default Vanilla archive, and can be enabled in one click. Furthermore, this is not just simple useless plugins but must-have ones, like OpenId, smileys, Facebook Integration,...

Let's details everything in this review.

Review Updates:

  • January 7, 2011: Big update of the review with Vanilla 2.0.16.
  • April 24, 2009: First Review of Vanilla 1.

Vanilla Forums is recommended for Medium Community.

(and supports smaller communities perfectly as well.)

Server & Client Requirements

Server Requirements
Programming Language
Required Architecture and Versions.
  • PHP 5
Web Servers
How the forum is delivered to users.
  • Apache 1.3
  • Apache 2.0/2.2
  • Microsoft IIS
  • Lighttpd
  • Nginx
Databases
How Forum Data are Stored.
  • MySQL
Operating Systems
Systems Supporting this Software.
  • GNU/LinuxGNU/Linux
  • BSD UnixBSD Unix
  • Microsoft WindowsMicrosoft Windows
  • Apple Mac OSApple Mac OS
Browser & Client Requirements
Compatible Browsers
List of Compatible Browsers.
Mozilla FirefoxMozilla FirefoxInternet ExplorerInternet Explorer
Google ChromeGoogle ChromeOperaOpera
Apple SafariApple SafariKonquerorKonqueror
Mozilla SeaMonkeyMozilla SeaMonkey
Required Plugins/Technologies
Additional or Basic Requirements from Client Side.
HTML, Javascript, AJAX, CSS.
Localization
Languages supported by Vanilla Forums.
Yes.
Supported Languages:
Portuguese (Brazilian) German
Spanish French
Italian Dutch
Portuguese Russian
Thai Chinese (Traditional)

Additional locales could be downloaded at Vanilla Forums Repository.

Vanilla Installation - Database Settings

Vanilla is a standard LAMP application, nothing special here, except maybe that installing it was a real pleasure, that we rarely encounter. Just to point this out, notice that the Vanilla Installation Gallery only contains... 2 pictures!

Compatibility with Smartphones
Compatible SmartPhones
Compatible Cellphone Brands and Manufacturers.
  • AndroidAndroid
  • iPhoneiPhone
  • BlackBerryBlackBerry
  • Windows Phone 7Windows Phone 7
  • Symbian Phones <em>(Nokia)</em>Symbian Phones (Nokia)
  • HP WebOS <em>(ex-Palm)</em>HP WebOS (ex-Palm)
Application Distribution / Type
How it is distributed / App Store Availability
  • Native Support

Vanilla forum scales automatically its size depending on the hardware you are using, either it is a smartphone, a tablet or a traditional desktop computer. No need for (non-free) third-party application, it is available out of the box, thanks to a good support of Web standards regarding device screen sizes.

Forum Threads & Posts

Forum Threads / Topics
Forum Style Flat Forum Organization
  • Forum Categories
  • URL Redirection Forum
  • Sub Sections
Thread Icons No Topic Tags Plugin
Hot Topics Yes Unread Topics Yes
Hidden Topics No Sticky Threads Yes
Related Threads No Detect Duplicate Threads No
Announcements Yes
Posting Messages / Answers
Message Editing Form
How to Post Messages.
  • Plain Text
  • WYSIWYG Editor
  • Preview Button
Post Editing Format
Supported Markup Language (HTML, Wiki, BBCode,...).
  • Plain
  • HTML
  • BBCode
  • Markdown
Spell Checker
Checks typos on posts and topics.
No
Image Attachment
How Images can be Attached and Displayed in Message Posts.
  • Upload via Advanced Attachments. Images can be placed in the flow of message text.
Embedded Videos
Videos and Media Websites Supported in Message Posts.
No.
Posting Features
Quick Reply Box Yes Smileys Plugin
Attachments Yes Syntax Highlighting Plugin
Message Rating
Plugin Message Quoting Plugin

Vanilla - Open a discussion

By default, you will notice that message form are empty and that smileys are not converted to images, but it is so simple to enable these features in the Plugins section of the Vanilla Dashboard that it would hurt to forget them. This is however a pity that the default textarea does not even have a toolbar with buttons for inserting and formatting the message you are writing. This might be solved in a near future, according to one Vanilla core developer.

Tagging topics is really convenient, even if it also requires to activate the related plugins. Even if Vanilla's interface looks simplistic, you will find everywhere nice features or well organized menus, that do not bother the reading of a thread with flashy buttons. Tags can even totally manage your forum, as Forum Categories could be disabled in the administration panel. This way, new discussions always go to the main page, and members will organize them and bookmark them if needed.

Additional modules:

Additional & Technical Features

Additional Forum Features
Poll Creation No
Private Messages
Users Can Communicate using an Internal Messaging System.
Yes
Instant Messaging
Discuss with Visitors and Members in a Chat Window.
No
Calendar
Topic, Member Birthdays, Events are available from the perspective of a calendar.
No
Online Users List
Connected User List (Often Found in the Forum Footer).
Plugin
Members List
Search and Consult the List of Members.
No
Technical Features
Bundled Software
Additional Software Available with the Forum.
  • CMS
  • Blog
RSS/Atom Syndication
Posts and Threads Exported to Feeds Aggregators Syndicate.
  • R
  • A
Friendly URLs
URLs are clear and contain information about the topic (title, message,...). Highly recommended for SEO purposes.
Yes
Post by Email
Post Directly From your Email Box.
No
Remote Control
Remote Control from External Software/Websites.
No.
Cache System
Cache pages to optimize bandwidth and load times.
Yes
Template Engine
It is easier to theme a forum using a known template engine (more docs & examples,...).
  • Smarty

Vanilla - User Inbox

Private Messages use the same format as discussion, which is perfect. This way, you can easily discuss with persons in private, with the same layout that Vanilla uses for managing discussions. The My Discussions tab is really useful to see current discussion you are following, more particularly in a very active forum, where new discussion pop out every 10 seconds. URLs uses the same principle as Drupal, with a common parameter, which makes URL readable even if we are always requesting the same index.php script. By the way, activating friendly URLs is just a matter of enabling them in Vanilla, and configure your web server accordingly. If you are looking for who is online, there is a plugin for this.

User Profiles & Options

Some details about Vanilla Forums features regarding members.
Member Options & Features
Bookmark Threads
User Profiles Keep a List of Followed Posts and Topics.
Yes
Email Notifications
Receive Emails When New Messages are Posted in Followed Threads.
Yes
Export private messages
Private Messages can be Downloaded by Users.
Yes
Payment Subscriptions
Paying Membership Subscription.
No
User Profiles
User Profile
User Information and Settings.
Yes
Avatars
Pictures of Members, Useful to Easily Identify their Posts.
Yes
Signature
Signatures Added at the Bottom of Each Message.
Yes
Ranks
Tags and Labels Identifying the Members, based on specific criteria (Total Posts Count, Credits, Moderation Level...)
Yes

Vanilla - User Profile

User Profiles are sufficiently complete, with an avatar, general information about yourself and a notification list, which is really similar to Twitter for example. You can indeed post their every information you want to share with people who browser your public profile.

Moderation & Users Management

Vanilla Administration - User List

Moderation is quite complete as well, with specific user groups if you need to tweak a bit the organization of your forum.

Moderation & Threads Management
Moderation
Pre-Moderation In pre-moderation, every post needs to be validated by a moderator before being published.
Post-Moderation The moderation is done afterwards, if an administrator notices a problem or if a member reports something wrong. Each message is therefore directly published.
Reactive Moderation By reporting any problems, members are reactive against moderation problems. Moderators' main objective is to regularly check user reports, without having to follow each threads.
Distributed Moderation By organizing the forum around moderators, who are usually power and experienced users, moderation is self-powered and only depends on the community.
Moderator per section Yes
Global Moderator Yes
Move Threads
Move Threads from Topics
Yes
Shadow Topics
When a thread is moved, the previous position is kept in order to inform users of this modification.
No
Close/Lock Threads
Close/Lock Problematic Threads
Yes
Users Management
User Groups
Organize and define groups of users, and apply different actions and settings on them.
Common Groups: Guests, Members, Moderators, Administrators,...
Yes
User Registration
  • Free Registration
  • Registration needs Approval
  • Invitation Only
  • User Account created by Administrator
  • Confirmation sent by email for validation
Limit Features For New Users
Features are limited if a user has created a small number of posts.
No
Guest Posting Yes
Multiple Administrators Yes
Send Warnings to Users
Inform users by email or PM that they infringe the board rules, and could be excluded for such behavior.
No
Forum/Section Restricted Access
ACL could be use to determine if a user or a group of users can access (in read only, post message) to some sections and topics.
Yes
User Banishment Yes

Administration & Support

Vanilla Administration - Dashboard

Administration is really intuitive and convenient. The Dashboard is just perfect, and the interface is absolutely clear. Hard to do better that what Vanilla developers achieved.

Database Management
Backup Database
Backup forum datas that you could store somewhere else.
Yes
Prune Database
Remove old and unused datas from your forum.
No
Restore Database
Restore a backup of your database if the previous install crashed.
Yes
Administration Tools
Statistics
Statistics about posts count, users, traffic...
Yes Error/Notice Log Viewer
Forum Logs could be consulted.
No
Tasks Scheduler
Maintenance tasks are regularly launched and could be scheduled.
No Mass Mailing
Send an email (newsletters, advertisements, information,...) to all users.
No
Installation & Upgrading
Installation Method
How this forum software could be installed.
Installation Wizard
Upgrading Method
How this forum software could be upgraded.
Upgrade Wizard
Updates Notifications
The Admin Panel informs you when a new version is released.
Yes
Forum Migration
Convert an existing forum to Vanilla Forums.
Yes.

Vanilla Administration - Import Tool

The Import Tool is really useful if you need to export and move your forum back to a fresh installation of Vanilla. It even supports previous versions, which is always worth when you want (or have to) reinstall your webserver.

Thanks to a dedicated application, the Vanilla Porter, you are able to export/import an existing forum software to Vanilla 2. This software supports:

  • Vanilla 1.*
  • vBulletin 3.* and 4.*
  • phpBB 2.* and phpBB 3.*
  • bbPress 1.*
  • SimplePress 1.*

Security & Spam Protection

Security & Spam Protection
CAPTCHA
Captcha protects your forum against spam bots.
e.g., Syndicate
Yes
Complexity: [++[ Hard
Abnormal Behavior Detection
Detect users or request strange behaviors, and try to process proactive actions.
Yes
Words Filtering
Offensing Words are automatically replaced.
No
User Blacklist
Prevent specific user accounts to register (based on email address, name,...) and disable potentially harmful members.
Yes
IP Blocking
Prevent access to spam robots and other scripts that could attempt DDOS or Brute Force attacks on your forum.
Yes

Vanilla Administration - Forum Spam

Vanilla is able to limit the number of posts in time for users, which is really convenient to avoid your forum being filled with trash in one night. You can even define a spam block fixed time in which a fake user would not be able to post new messages. By the way, you can also setup CAPTCHA by linking your forum with a reCAPTCHA account (see User Registration Settings in the Dashboard).

Vulnerabilities Advisories Criticality

Secunia Criticality

Secunia Advisories severity affecting Vanilla Forums.

Vulnerabilities Impact

Secunia Impact

Secunia Advisories impact affecting Vanilla Forums.

Customization & Social Networks

Customization
Plugins
Add new features to your forum installation.
Yes.
~120 Available Plugins.
Installation: [++[ Very Easy
Themes
Modify the style of your forum easily.
Yes.
~73 Available Themes.
Custom BBCodes No Smiley Packs No
Custom
Thread Icons
No Additional User Profile Fields
Ask more about your members with custom fields.
Plugin
Integration with Applications, Social Networks, Intranet...
Social Networks
Users can share information from their social network account...
CMS / Blog Bridges
Integration with existing Web publishing tools.
  • Drupal
  • WordPress
User Accounts Integration
Do users be able to log in with their corporate, Google, Facebook,... accounts?
Content Aggregation
Forum allows to integrate news and content from other website, using an aggregation protocol (RSS, RDF, Atom,...).
No.

Vanilla Administration - Plugins

Plugins are the perfect part of Vanilla. We would like to see the same in other forum softwares, because, really, this impressed us a lot. No useless configuration, no search in the Vanilla website directory, no comparison between duplicated modules. Everything is there, and even if the number of available plugins is not huge, it is already perfect to make Vanilla Forums competes other tools. Of course, you will always find someone to complain about duplicates, broken plugins and so on, but this is still acceptable as enabling/disabling them will never take long.

Facebook, Twitter and Google Accounts are natively available as plugins to connect your forum to social networks.

Vanilla Administration - Applications

Vanilla Developers have also thought about an higher level after plugins, that they called Applications. This level could actually be considered as a super plugin, that could totally change the way Vanilla is working. Good examples are the Blog application or the Pages one.

Finally, as Nabble is doing with its embeddable iframe, Vanilla, once the <Embed> plugin is enabled, is able to be integrated in existing forum softwares or websites, which includes Drupal, Wordpress, and even the hosted Blogger application!

Custom Profile Fields are provided using the About Me plugin.

W3C Norms & Accessibility

Norms & Accessibility
HTML / XHTML Markup
XHTML 1.0 Strict.
XHTML 1.0 Strict
Click to see if it respects HTML norms.
CSS Stylesheets
CSS 2.
CSS 2
Click to see if it respects CSS norms.
Accessibility (WAI)
Web Accessibility ensures that the forum is usable by people of all abilities and disabilities.
Conformance to AA level.
AA
UTF-8 Support
Default encoding used to support all locales and countries.
Yes
Conformance to W3C Norms
Does Vanilla Forums correctly follow (X)HTML and CSS norms?
Yes.

Final Words


Outstanding!

Vanilla is a way more innovative forum software in many domains when you compare it to traditional forums. When we reviewed it for the first time (it was still Vanilla 1) we directly felt in love with the manner Vanilla was able to rethink what other classical forum software would copy without improving anything. Vanilla 2 is definitely following the same road, by, again, continuing to impress us in the way they introduce their new features.

Ease of plugins installation, the <embed> mode, Vanilla Connect with big social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google,...), hosted version of Vanilla, beautiful theme and simplicity are just small words that could convince you to test and use Vanilla for your community.

To celebrate this great passage and ideas, the global Vanilla score has been increased to 9 out of 10!

We only hope that pressed people won't ignore Vanilla just because it look too simplistic, because this is totally wrong when you extend it with tons of default modules.

Congratulations again to the Vanilla team.

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Comments (15)

though it is userfriendly and

though it is userfriendly and quick to set up, if you're a developer your eyes will begin to water looking at the horrible code and unneeded complexity.

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I am not a developer but on

I am not a developer but on the recent version, i found out customizing template and making other changes via code extremly easy and for any problem, their support was really good.

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We recently installed Vanilla

We recently installed Vanilla 2 into our website. This was a gradual move from Simple Machines (with the old TinyPortal mod), to WordPress with Simple:Press forums. Handling forums with WordPress is a tricky subject, and there is no easy answer. Simple:Press was one of them, however the S:P forums are simply unattractive.

We found that Vanilla was the answer for us. The installation was a breeze and the import of the S:P forum data was simple. We actually had it up and running in 30 minutes.

Support for Vanilla is excellent, with developers responding to requests 7 days a week.

One of the beautiful things about this forum software is the ability to customize it. The developers themselves say that they keep the design simple in order to make it easy to customize. Documentation is good, and the CSS is easy to play with.

We were able to customize our forum to match (pretty much exactly) the theme and style of our WordPress setup. Many websites that include a forum look fractured on the design because the forum layout is full of ugly tables, lines and features. Vanilla lets you blend it in so that your website looks like a complete website and not a cobbled together setup.

You can see our embedded installation here: http://leafboxtea.com/discuss

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We love Vanilla! We are using

We love Vanilla! We are using it for our internal forum as well as our Minecraft community. Building plugins and themes is a piece of cake and can be done rather rapidly (which is a definite plus).

It has only taken us a few days to gain full interoperability with our desktop applications as well as other 3rd party web products that we use.

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I really really wanted to

I really really wanted to like Vanilla, but ultimately had to choose MyBB instead.

Vanilla does look better, and is easier to administrate (thanks to its simplicity), but is often broken. For example, one of Vanilla's big advantages is its social integration. However, Open ID doesn't really work, Google connect doesn't work either or is sketchy, and Twitter support was buggy.

Plugins in general suffer from a significant amount of neglect (e.g. at the moment, there are two Poll plugins, but both are broken). Worse, the approval process for plugins is a great idea (the core devs are supposed to code review plugins and stamp good ones as "approved"), but in practice it often failed (e.g. this plugin (coded by one of the core devs) was approved, even though it didn't configure itself to run!).

Vanilla has user-friendly URLs, and that's great, but only if you want to point to an entire thread. Individual comments lose the friendly URL of the thread and have an opaque URL with a numeric ID.

Another issue that: if using HTML, Markdown, or BBcode with the default post editor, there are no formatting icons in a toolbar above the post editing area (!). I've never seen the lack of this basic feature in any ohter forum software, and one of the core devs just said it might be implemented in the future.

All in all Vanilla is great, but my feeling was that the dev team (4 guys) was too thinly spread, and many issues I raised were left unaddressed.

MyBB is designed with antiquated concepts, but a 2.0 rewrite is in the works, and it will use a web framework. This tipped the balance in favor of MyBB.

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I like Vanilla but I think

I like Vanilla but I think this review is a bit excessive in its praise. Vanilla as a concept is great but in practice it still needs a lot of work. Many of the available plugins are created by third parties, are not verified by the Vanilla team, and are lacking functionality. Some of these third party plugins should obviously be core plugins supported by the vanilla team and distributed as default functionality. What surprises me the most is that until just now, no release of this software ever had basic email confirmation of new user accounts (functionality that just about every other forum software has had forever).

I'd give it a 6 out of 10 and call it a project with a lot of neat features and future promise.

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Wow such a shame Vanilla is

Wow such a shame Vanilla is so underdevelopped in terms of functionality. Because it is clearly leaps and bounds ahead cosmetically (suits modern day websites), more than any other forum / BB I've ever seen.

Check out this theme example for vanilla: vanilla theme: "fruit"

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Vanilla is easy enough to set

Vanilla is easy enough to set up, but really hard to customize once you've exhausted the Admin Panel (I had in half an hour). Changing links on the menu? Forget about it. Way too complex (I needed to edit a .tpl file related to the theme - what is this). Also, the amount of themes and add-ons available for download is quite limited.

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Vanilla looks nice and

Vanilla looks nice and comfortable. However, it has many unneeded complexity especially for the admin panel. Such as, manage the user, rolls & permissions. I think it needs further improvement.

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Hey thanks for the great

Hey thanks for the great post. Very helpful I like the short question form. Very cool and a great way to interact with your reader.

Kyle

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ive been using vanilla for

ive been using vanilla for three weeks on my site .... it's crashed twice in that time for no reason ... one day it works fine tomorrow it just doesnt exist with no explanation or reason just an error page that says "BONK something didnt work" to fix it i had delete the 4 plugins im using and open the administration login then magically my whole forum is back up and running reinstall the same plugins and everything is fine ... for how long who knows im confident that it will crash again very soon ...... Vanilla is buggy , i absolutely would not suggest it to anyone who runs a large public site or to anyone who is not well versed in scripting languages as you are going to have to hack the crap out of this thing to keep it working ... i would gladly pay for this script if it actually was working and reliable but it is far from that

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We have been using Vanilla

We have been using Vanilla for now 7 months. We like it for it simplicity. Not everyone needs all the bells and whistles. In fact, after 20 odd years of experience in IT I tend to judge software for what's not included, not for long feature lists.
Nothing will ever be bug fee, and the most annoying bug in Vanilla is that notification emails about new threads or new contributions are sent out twice. However deep you dig to narrow down this problem, nobody knows the answer and the developers never answer to this point in their support forums. Apparently a long standing bug.

I don't share the view from above about too complicated roles and permissions. You can't make it much more simple than that, unless you have a community where everybody is allowed everything.

Other than that, Vanilla is clean and easy to use.

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Hi..can somebody tell me that

Hi..can somebody tell me that what is the system requirement like OS,RAM capacity,Hard disk etc to install vanilla forum software in production?

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We signed up to the hosted

We signed up to the hosted solution for a monthly fee.

Beware that Vanilla offers virtually no support despited claims that support is always available.

The software looks great but support is really bad which makes one wondering whether it is worth paying over a hundred dollars merely for having a hosted forum solution.

This would be a truly great product if the company started caring more about the clients.

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I have used the self-hosted

I have used the self-hosted version since Vanilla 1 and I could not be more pleased by the current version 2.0.18.8. Vanilla has come a long way. I have found it to be simple and easy to use and my community loves it. I have also got my company into using the hosted version. We have used it for several months, and except for a small outage (an hour at best), the hosted solution has been great. I cannot say they do not care about their clients, I have had the complete opposite experience.

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