Creating A Discussion Site? Discover The 15 Best Free Forum Platforms

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One of the oldest forms of internet communication, message boards and forums are just as popular today as they have ever been.

As of 2016, there were an estimated 110,000 separate forum and message board providers across the world, ranging from social media style sites like Reddit to free bulletin software built on phpBB.

Market Share Of Various Popular Forum Platforms

Studies show that premium (paid-for) forum software still takes the lead when it comes to setting up a discussion website. In fact, leading premium provider vBulletin takes an estimated 50% of the total market. This service is essentially a template site with fully customizable bulletin board platforms, available for developers to manipulate and innovate as desired.


[Credit: via Quora]

However, there has been a marked growth in the amount of open source software which enables discussion board creation, and many developers are creating their own message boards for commercial, social and personal use. We take a look at the top free platforms on the market today, tried and tested by industry experts.

Five Of The Best Free Forum Platforms


Experts agree that you will struggle to beat phpBB for functionality and ease of use. This simple PHP bulletin board application is perfect for fan discussions, photo threads, advice pages and general messaging between users.

It has millions of global users and is fully compatible with PostgreSQL, SQLite, MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, as well as being open to editing through the General Public Licence There are lots of opportunities to play with it and customize it, with no need for seeking permission first. 
Threads can be split and messages can be archived for posterity, and the site maintains a template database with modifications and styles that are open for users to play around with.

bbPress Forums

WordPress has been the leading platform for blogging for many years. There are millions of sites across the Web which use the publishing software for their business sites, blogs and even e-commerce – and now the team is adding forum sites to its range of products. bbPress Forums is a WordPress-style bulletin board creation tool, which has the smooth and seamless transitions and roomy capacity that keeps the site fast and user-friendly. 

Just like with the blogs, bbPress begins as a free service and has the option of a Premium or Business upgrade, with additional custom features and templates for subscribers. It is also one of the most secure free programs, with additional safety features to prevent hacking.


Don’t let the name fool you – YetAnotherForum is anything but, with its quirky and innovative approach to forum development. The managed open source platform is designed specifically with ASP.NET in mind and is compatible with the fourth C# generation and above. 

It is licensed free to developers and open for reworkings of the system’s code, and it builds bright, bold message boards that are simple and easy for users and admins alike. One of the big selling points is YetAnotherForum’s reliability: the service has operated for nine years without problems and still undergoes regular testing. 
Over those nine years, progress has been slow but the last twelve months have seen promising developments and the program is seeing a surge in downloads and orders.


Sometimes the old ones really are the best. Phorum has been around since the 1990s and it played a big role in the rise of forum sites. The free-to-use platform is based around PHP and MySQL development, and it is still one of the best pieces of software for forum creation that you can use free today. 

One of the key selling points is how flexible it is – you can host one huge message thread with thousands of users, or adopt it across hundreds of different forums for a help site, social network or discussion group. Phorum has also upped its game lately with the introduction of a new template – the XHTML 1.0 Transitional Emerald design. 
This is available instead of the basic template and has far more features and options, but it still offers a blank slate for the developer in terms of design and function.


If you need a platform that scales up as your service grows and is easy to develop and change as you do, Discourse is a great choice. There are three tiers of membership available – free, paid and premium – and all options are pretty budget-friendly. 

Discourse is designed for creating discussion boards, and it is fully compatible with mobiles and tablets as well as PCs and laptops. It can handle busy conversations and it makes them easy to read back, with options to split threads and move conversations as needed. 
The open source code is readily available for programmers to play with, and the system is easy to hand over to your designer or tech team if you have something specific in mind. User-created templates and styles are available, and there is a built-in filter system with can save on moderator costs and keep your forum a safe space for visitors to chat.

Ten More Top Free Forum And Bulletin Board Programs

Haven’t found what you need among our top picks above? Not all programs suit everyone – but there are hundreds of options on the market, so keep searching for your perfect platform. Find the right match for your forum vision, and get creating thanks to these amazing open source programs. Here are some more of the best forum development programs for 2017:

The Best Of Premium Forum Software – At A Discount!

If the free tools do not meet your needs or you want the added support and security of a premium service, there are plenty of platforms to choose from – including vBulletin, Burning Board, XenForo and IP.Board. Paid-for tools often require a subscription, so take advantage of the deals available online at Voucher codes can give big savings on the cost of software subscriptions through leading providers.

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