11 Best Open source Forum Software for Free Online Discussion

Apart from your website if you want a free self-hosted online forum software then you stumble upon the right place. There are lots of open source forum software platforms available where you can start your online discussion board in no time. But things get stuck when you want to start your forum and a little bit confused which platform is best for you. There are many forum platforms which are available free of cost and easy to handle just like WordPress for creating online discussion portal. Building an online community is not only beneficial to you but also to your readers those have lots of questions and doubts about your product.

For How2shout, first, we have started our forum on free and open source platform phpBB then we shifted to Vanilla forum software and then finally stopped at Question2Answer platform. Because we want something like Quora for our website where people just ask a question and get an answer from admin or community members. There are both best paid and free online Forum Platforms/Software available in the market but in this article, we are majorly going to discuss the free and open source

Here is a list of best Open source Forum Software/Platforms


phpBB is the most popular best free and Open Source forum software that comes with an extensive database of user-created plugins and styles or theme. It is a free flat-forum bulletin board software that can customize easily according to user choice. There are also phpBB themes available online both paid and free.

phpbb best opensource discussion foum for online community

The default interface does not seem too much interactive like Discourse forum software but you can customize it by some developer to get better looks to suit your brand. The theming system is mediocre not like WordPress in terms of easy accessibility. Overall, if you talk about phpBB forums features and security then it is far better than free forums available. It has pretty much the same features as the paid Vbulletin which is around  $250.

Website Link to Download:

phpBB Key Features

  • Extensive database of extensions.
  • Can easily optimize for SEO.
  • Comes with anti-spam functionality.
  • Light and snappy
  • Theme support
  • Supports social login including Google and Facebook using an extension.

MyBB Forum platform

MyBB is another open source forum software or platform that comes with extensive themes and plugins database. The default theme of MyBB is also like phpBB not much intuitive but you can use third party themes to give it a more sleek and modern look.

MyBB opensource forum platform
With everything from forums to threads, posts to private messages, search for profiles, and reputation to warnings, MyBB features everything you need to run an efficient and captivating community. Through plugins and themes, you can extend MyBB’s functionality to build your community exactly as you’d like it.

Website Link

MyBB Key Features

  • Extend the capabilities using the plugin system to add new features to your forum.
  • It has Template, Theme and easy CSS editor for style customization.
  • Private Messaging for registered users.
  • Threads, Posts, and Polls
  • Calendars and Events
  • Give ratings and leave comments on other registered users and their posts.
  •  Automatically promote users based on post count, reputation, or registration date.
  • Warning System that warns and punish users when they act inappropriately.
  • Mass Mail and Newsletters to registered users
  • MySQL, PostgreSQL and SQLite database support

Vanilla-Free Forum software

We have tried this software after phpBB and it really easy to install. Vanilla provides both hosted and open source community forum software that can self-hosted too. Most of the hosting providers have this forum software in their application database where you can install it with one click.

Vanilla Free Forum software for your community

In our research, this is also one of the free & best forum software solution available that support themes and plugins. Also, you can find a variety of themes and plugins to enable different features such as SEO, anti-spam, social login, emojis, FilterDiscussion, calendar and a lot more. The database of themes and extensions is enough vast to fulfil your forum needs.

Download: Vanilla Forum 

Vanilla Forum key features

  • Widget support
  • Roles and Permissions
  • Themes and plugins support
  • Social login support
  • Easy to Install
  • Community supported
  • SEO supported


Simple Machines Forum

Simple Machines Forum (SMF) is a free professional forum software platform that can create a forum for enterprise online community within minutes. Like phpBB, MyBB and Vanilla this is also offered to install in the application package of hosting providers, just select it from there and install it.

Free and opensource simple machine forum online discussion community software platfrom

The Simple Machine forum gives you full control of the layout of your message board and lets your forum interact with each other. It is written in PHP and uses a MySQL database but support PostgreSQL and SQLite too. The default interface is not much attractive and you need to modify it using themes to give it sleek and modern. Overall, all the essential feature it provides those you need on a bulletin board.

Download Link: Simplemachines 

Supports themes and plugins

  • Light and PHP based
  • Easy to install and maintain
  • Uses PHP and MySQL, PostgreSQL, or SQLite.
  • Multi-media output. (XHTML, XML, RSS, WAP)
  • Multi-language support from a large community.
  • Administrative actions require the user’s password (and do not rely solely on cookies.)
  • Major actions are time and IP locked, preventing ‘hammering’.
  • CAPTCHA system and more.

Discourse Forum Platform

Discourse is an open source cross-platform and one of the best forum software platforms. This forum platform helps to set up an online community in a very interactive way. The interface of this platform is one of the best available at free of cost. The UI is simply clear and straightforward. For checking out the conversation you don’t need to click again and again on the Next button instead of that just keep scrolling.  The links to different websites such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Amazon, GitHub, Twitter etc. placed in the discussion are going to expand automatically to provide additional context and information.

Discourse opensource forum Platform helps to set up an online community in a very interactive way

This open source free forum is responsive that means it looks awesome on both desktop and mobile browser. The only drawback of this open source software is that you should be a little bit technical as it only going to install using Docker. Also, it resources heavy as compared to the best phpbb forum software.

Download: Discourse

Discourse Key Features:

  • Responsive and clean interface for touch devices and desktop.
  • Dynamic notifications
  • Community moderation
  • Reply via email
  • Emoji
  • Social login using Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo accounts.
  •  Like function for posts.
  •  Support plugin system.

bbPress- A WordPress Forum platform

The bbPress is basically a forum plugin that can be installed on a WordPress to provide forum capabilities. The above screenshot is taken from a dedicated Q&A WordPress forum theme that uses bbpress. If already a WordPress user and wants the same type of flexibility with your forum then bbPress is here.

bbPress an opensource forum platform for wordpress

bbPres is also a free forum software that can be used along BuddyPress too. If you know a little bit about hosting and WordPress setup then you can easily set up the bbPress too. It is developed by the Autom-attic the mind behind the popular Jetpack plugin. It is focused on ease of integration, ease of use, web standards, and speed. Well documented along with a good database of plugins and themes both paid and free.

Website Link to download: bbpress.org

bbPress Key Features

  • Revisions
  • Favourites
  • Subscriptions
  • Topic Tags
  • Search
  • Post Formatting
  • Auto-embed Links
  • Reply Threading
  • Integrated Plugins: Akismet and BuddyPress
  • Supports Widgets, Shortcodes and useful tools to repair your forum

FluxBB Forum software

FluxBB is another free and open source forum software platform that is lighter and faster and can be an alternative to heavy forum software applications. It is easy to use and has a track record of stability and security making it a good choice of forum for your website.

free and open source forum software platform

FluxBB Forum software key features

  • Supports MySQL, PostgreSQL and SQLite database.
  • User selectable style
  • Admin panel plugins
  • Read topic tracking
  • Topic subscription
  • Forum subscription
  • Announcement
  • Post preview and many more.

CODOFORUM – Free PHP Forum Software Script

Codoforum is not much popular but it is very straight forward free forum software. It is free PHP based forum platform that has a clean divided section of question & answer and right sidebar. At the left side, you get all the topics and other information on the right side. It uses a MySQL database. There is no extensive plugin or theme database but Codoforum keeps pushing its community and developers to create plugins and themes.

Codologic free best forum software script

Website Link: Codoforum.com

Codoforum Key Features:

  • Simple, clean and impressive UI.
  • Easy to use and speed.
  • Live notifications
  • Markdown Support
  • syntax highlighting
  • Support for embedding images, videos, tweets, and other rich content.

Flarum Opensource Forum software

Flarum is the combined successor of esoTalk and FluxBB forums. It is a newbie in the forums worlds but still one of the best forum interfaces along with a sleek and modern look.  The user interface is simple, fast and free from clutter and bloats. Flarum is built with PHP so it’s quick and easy to deploy.

Flarium best forum software

The interface is powered by Mithril, a performant JavaScript framework with a tiny footprint. Right now to installation this forum you need SSH access to the hosting server and install the composer. This forum still in beta stage so before using it for production you need to give it some time. But still, for own experience, you can install and use it. After stable release, it can be proved the best alternative to Discourse forum.

Website Link: Flarum

Flarum Opensource Features:

  • Beautiful and responsive design
  • Themeable
  • Dynamic notifications
  • SEO optimized
  • Touch devices optimized
  • Tags, replies, and mentions
  • Real-time discussion

BuddyPress Wordpress forum Plugin software

The above screenshot interface is third-party BuddyPress compatible theme for WordPress called thrive.

Just like bbPress the BuddyPress also a plugin that creates a community discussion platform for WordPress. It includes all of the features you’ve come to expect from an online community, like user profiles, groups, activity streams, notifications, and more.


Download link: buddypress.org

BuddyPress key features:

  • Users can create and update profiles, including the use of profile photos.
  • Private messages can send similar to that found on Facebook.
  •  Users can form and join groups.
  • Administrators can choose to let their users create and join groups of common interest.
  • Follow activity streams.
  • Users can create blogs.
  • Full functionality of WordPress
  • Full-featured online publishing platform.
  • Users can participate in forum discussions.
  • Integrated with bbPress to enhance community forums.

ZetaBoards: A Free hosted Forum Platform

If you don’t want to dirty your hands with coding and all those technical stuff then ZetaBoards is the best option. ZetaBoards offers its pre-hosted forum software platform that comes with both free and premium services. But most of the services you need for your forum are free. You can also set your custom domain to show professionalism too.


Website Link: http://www.zetaboards.com

ZetaBoards key features:

  • Full Customization via CSS
  • Custom Profile FieldsFree Support for Custom Domains
  • Integrated Automatic Spam Prevention
  • Pinned (Sticky) TopicsWebsite Maker
  • ZetaBoards Integrated Shoutbox
  • Advanced Private Messaging System
  • Anonymous Login Option
  • Theme Selector
  • Collapsible Forums and Forum Statistics
  • Topic and Post search
  • Extensive BBCode Options and More…

Also, we want to include some best-paid discussion forum platform too and here they are:

Best Paid Online Forum Platforms

vBulletin Connect Forum

vBulletin (vB) is the most popular premium forum software for creating an online community. It has lots of built in an application such as discussion and forum, photo albums, groups, calendar, events management, polls, blog and more. There are three versions of this paid forum software that can be select according to need.

vBulletin Connect

  • Publishing Suite
  • Forum classic
  • Mobile suite

vBulletin Key features:

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