Best Open Source Forum Software: vBulletin vs phpBB vs bbPress vs Vanilla

First, I’d like to say as far as the blog/website/CMS software war is concerned, that is:

WordPress vs Joomla vs Drupal

I’ve already chosen WordPress as the best and that will have an impact on my choice of the best free and open source forum software. Also, SEO-friendliness will take priority as this is what forum software has commonly suffered from the most.


I’m only mentioning vBulletin because of its popularity (it being one of the big dogs) and some, in their search, may not know yet that vBulletin is not free (nothing wrong with that), but I’ll assume you’re looking for something free and may have considered vBulletin from word-of-mouth.

vBulletin is not open source, so I’m eliminating it immediately from this comparison break-down. It is good software, for a hefty price tag of $200. However, open source is extremely important for community support. Without it, you’ll often see a lack in plugins and add-ons, hacks, and tutorials.

Again, it’s not free (which the software I’m comparing is) and I’m making note for extra clarity (because of a user comment below), that I’m not bashing non-open-source or premium software. That just simply isn’t what I’m comparing in this article and am only covering vBulletin to cover all bases because I know a lot of people would have wondered about it had I not included it and explained further about it.


  • SEO-friendliness: 3/10
  • Installation Ease: 5/10
  • Front-end Usability Ease: 7/10
  • Admin Usability Ease: 5/10
  • Power of Features Out-of-the-Box: 9/10
  • Installing Plugins / Add-ons / Mods / Themes Ease: 2/10
  • Community Support: 7/10
  • Developer Support: 7/10
  • Security: 5/10
  • Integration with WordPress: 0/10



Please keep in mind that at the time of this article, it was pre-2.0. The following is referring to the stand-alone bbPress software.

  • SEO-friendliness: 7/10
  • Installation Ease: 7/10
  • Front-end Usability Ease: 7/10
  • Admin Usability Ease: 8/10
  • Power of Features Out-of-the-Box: 7/10
  • Installing Plugins / Add-ons / Mods / Themes Ease: 9/10
  • Community Support: 10/10
  • Developer Support: 4/10
  • Security: 5/10
  • Integration with WordPress: 6/10



  • SEO-friendliness: 8/10
  • Installation Ease: 8/10
  • Front-end Usability Ease: 9/10
  • Admin Usability Ease: 8/10
  • Power of Features Out-of-the-Box: 7/10
  • Installing Plugins / Add-ons / Mods / Themes Ease: 8/10
  • Community Support: 8/10
  • Developer Support: 8/10
  • Security: 5/10
  • Integration with WordPress: 10/10


Note: All forums received a security score of 5 because they all have the features available for security. Ultimately, it’s up to you to be smart and secure your site.

Vanilla the Victor!!!

Clearly, I am quite impressed with Vanilla.

I used to be on board with bbPress, but that project is borderline abandoned. Because it’s from the same creators of WordPress, nearly all their time is taken with WordPress. Its been ages since bbPress has been updated and it’s well in need. The only reason it’s still an option is because of the support of volunteer plugin authors, even creating patches for it! — This has changed since bbPress 2.0 was released clearly.

phpBB is still a great option because it packs solid features. But, if you’re concerned with SEO, you’ll have to bend over backward to modify it to be friendly. phpBB is programmer-friendly, but friendly to almost no one else.

Vanilla is special. Vanilla is built by what seems to be the next generation of programmers and designers. Vanilla is modern. It comes with social integration and SEO-friendliness right out-of-the-box. No serious tinkering needed here.

Give Vanilla a Try Now

But, I’m just one guy here, so let’s get the voting going on what you think is the best and be sure to comment further below:

Best Open Source Forum Software?

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UPDATEbbPress 2 has long-since been released directly as a WordPress plugin making it incredibly easy to integrate a forum directly into your WP install and theme design.

There are still plenty of kinks to be worked out, but it is definitely a worthwhile effort to see if it meets your needs.

2013 REFRESH — 2 years now since I first wrote this forum software roundup article. What are my picks today?

  • Stand-alone forum software: Vanilla
  • WP forum plugin: bbPress