Top 5 Best Forum Software for Your Online Community

For those looking for the top forum software tools to launch their personal online community, I have come up with an overwhelming number of options.

The list is made on the basis of reliability and feature package which could be useful to you in your personal forum. Since forum software is a tool-for-all (any individual, student, company, institution, and more), going through the below list will make your search easier and less time-consuming. 

Let’s dive in.

Online Forum

Top 5 Forum Software for Online Communities (Free & Paid)

Choosing the one that is right for your forum building requirement is important. You surely can’t afford to spend money or time picking the software that doesn’t meet your purpose. So, I have compiled a list of free, freemium, and paid forum tools, which you can try out before deciding which one to buy. 

Let’s dive in.

1. phpBB (Free)

phpBB platform is a flexible forum software to build online communities where the registered members can publish posts for debates and send messages. Once you create a personal forum, you can build as many internal boards for messaging as you need. In fact, this platform can handle a wider number of users, particularly while you are using a cutting-edge hosting service.

phpbb forum

Apart from the basic functionality, you can include additional conveniences to your forum by using phpBB extensions. The best part of this forum software is you can use any or many hundreds of free extensions available for phpBB, absolutely free of cost. 

Furthermore, phpBB has a theme system, to help you change the look of your forum whenever you wish. Your forum members will get several options to personalize their posts and profiles like the way they want. In a nutshell, this open-source forum platform is backed by its active community.

Features and Capabilities:

  • Multiple options can be added through the use of one or more extensions (as desired)
  • Enables the forum members to personalize their accounts (as desired) on that community 
  • Provides a number of options to enable moderation 
  • Allows themes and extensions set up to give a new look to your forum.
  • A very responsive and top-notch choice

2. Simple Machines Forum (Free)

If you are searching for a substitute for phpBB, then Simple Machines Forum is the one. The sheer flexibility concerning themes and module systems of this forum platform makes the software stand out from the rest. 

The package manager used by Simple Machines Forum makes module upgrades and installations a cakewalk. Added to that, this platform offers an extensive list of themes and plugins (add ons)  you may seldom find in any open-source forum platform. Simple Machine Forum is the best choice for those who are looking to access multiple themes and modules, as desired. Such a wide valley of options allow you to add almost any features you want on that forum. 

Simple Machines Forum

Features and Capabilities:

  • Lets you access the collection of themes and modules when it is about adding extras to the forum software
  • You can switch among multiple languages in just a click

3. Codoforum (Freemium)

Codoforum is the platform that is available in both free and paid subscriptions. This forum software is built with MySQL and PHP. The developers say that UX of this platform is one of its keystones. So, with it, you can expect to build a simple, yet beautiful personal forum laden with features to keep it an active online community


The major perk of this forum script is it can be installed on any server that is compatible with MySQL and PHP. The clean cum user-efficient documentation of this platform can make you go zero to hero. The premium subscription of Codoforum is quite costly, which is about $999. On the other hand, the free version comes with a “powered by” watermark. The forum platform has shortly received a number of updates and is a smart pick to build an online community successfully. 

Features and Capabilities:

  • The free license is available
  • In-depth, yet cleaner cut user-centered documentation
  • Easy installation

4. vBulletin (Paid)

The vBulletin website is one of the best-paid forum platforms. This premium tool is quick and easy to set up, making it the topmost paid option. The sophisticated capabilities followed by several options available that lets you manage the software yourself. You can also do the same through their reliable cum budget-friendly cloud hosting service.

It does not take more than 15 minutes to set up the vBulletin program. The forum software is built with certain security cum SEO features. Thereby, you are free from the worry of sorting it out on your own.


The AI-driven user engagement helps your online community grow successfully and organically. Moreover, this out-of-the-box, mobile-ready platform is optimized automatically. So, if you build a forum using this tool, your community can be accessed through both desktop or mobile interface.   

The premium plan for self-hosting the vBulletin forum costs about $249 (one-time payment). Else, you may pick the cloud hosting service for this forum with cost starting at $15 per month. It’s a software that’s best suited for anyone that requires an easy-to-use forum program.

Features and Capabilities:

  • The straightforward administration options keep you away from the hassle of the forum management by yourself
  • Accessible through both desktop and mobile devices 
  • vBulletin forum hosting includes both forum upgrades and its maintenance, which are taken care of
  • The forum program is easy to use and so is suitable for anyone

5. Discourse (Freemium)

Discourse is yet another top freemium forum platform on the market. This open-source software is popular and includes several features and useful integration options. 

There is a distinguishing system on this forum platform that allows you to spot both the new and experienced members separately. Plus, it gives major moderation capabilities automatically to users (registered members)  who worth it for their previous contributions. That way, the community will manage itself in a way that no newly joined user could send private messages to anyone or post anything that is inappropriate. To handle the forum through a pre-managed hosting solution, you can avail of its premium subscription option that starts at $100 each month.

Features and Capabilities:

  • Best for anyone looking for workflow streamlining integration options
  • Can be collaborated with WordPress to convert your website into an online forum, turning your blog posts into forum posts
  • The platform is compatible with the Akismet WordPress add-on, used to suppress spam
  • Offers valuable integrations, like Google Adsense, Slack, Zendesk, IFTTT, Patreon, Zapier, Amazon, and others
  • Representation of social media integrations, like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., available

Wrapping Up

Launching an online forum is quite similar to creating a website. You require trusted forum tools and hosting services that offer other valuable functionalities to your forum. However, if you ask me, I will suggest phpBB or vBulletin based on their features and capabilities. Hope that helps!

Pursuing MCA from the University of Delhi, Saurabh Saha is an experienced blogger and internet marketer. Through his popular technology blogs: TechGYD.COM &, he is helping several brands to gain exposure in front of high-quality web visitors.