11 Best Open source Forum Software for Free Online Discussion

Apart from your website if you want 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 are a little bit confused about which platform is best for you. Many forum platforms are available free of cost and easy to handle just like WordPress for creating an online discussion portal.

Building an online community is not only beneficial to you but also for your readers who have lots of questions and doubts about your product.

There are both the 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.

Top Open-source Forum Software in 2023

1. phpBB

phpbb best opensource discussion foum for online community

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 themes. 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.

The default interface does not seem too 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 unlike WordPress in terms of easy accessibility. Overall, if you talk about phpBB forums’ features and security then it is far better than the free forums available. It has pretty much the same features as the paid Vbulletin which is around  $250.

Do check out the project’s GitHub page.

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.

2. MyBB Forum Platform

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.

MyBB is another open-source forum software or platform that comes with extensive themes and a plugin 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.

The source code of MyBB can be cloned from its GitHub page.

MyBB Key Features

  • Extend the capabilities using the plugin system to add new features to your forum.
  • It has a 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 punishes users when they act inappropriately.
  • Mass Mail and Newsletters to registered users
  • MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQLite database support

3. Vanilla-Free Forum Software

Vanilla Free Forum software for your community

We have tried this software after phpBB and it is easy to install. Vanilla Forum provides both hosted and open-source community forum software that can be self-hosted too.

Most of the hosting providers have this forum software in their application database where you can install it with one click. Its source code is available on the GitHub page.

In our research, this is also one of the free & best forum software solutions 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 fulfill your forum needs.

Vanilla Forum’s key features

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

4. Simple Machines Forum

Free and opensource simple machine forum online discussion community software platfrom

Simple Machines Forum (SMF) is a free professional forum software platform that can create a forum for enterprise online communities 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.

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 supports PostgreSQL and SQLite too. The default interface is not much attractive and you need to modify it using themes to give it a sleek and modern.

Overall, all the essential features it provides are those you need on a bulletin board. For more info visit the GitHub.

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.

5. Discourse Forum Platform

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

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 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 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.

This open-source free forum is responsive which means it looks awesome on both desktop and mobile browsers.

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 is resources heavy as compared to the best PhpBB forum software.

Explore more about Discourse and the available source code at GitHub.

Discourse Key Features:

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

Learn: How To Install Discourse on the Debian 11 Bullseye server

6. Nodebb Community

nodebb community forum software

Nodebb integrates into your existing website and social media networks, allowing you to maximize your outreach and establish close relationships with your users. It has a modern and flexible interface. The project source code is available on GitHub. The open-source forum software is mobile-ready and written in Node.js

NodeBB Key Features:

  • Mobile Responsive
  • support, with over 50 language
  • SEO, semantic HTML with embedded microdata, and more.
  • Real-time Streaming
  • Social Integration
  • NodeBB’s Analytics Dashboard has real-time graphs and tools.

7. Flarum Opensource Forum Software

Flarum is the combined successor of esoTalk and FluxBB forums. It is a newbie in the forums world 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 install this forum you need SSH access to the hosting server and install the composer. This forum is still in the beta stage so before using it for production you need to give it some time. But still, from your own experience, you can install and use it. After stable release, it can be proved the best alternative to the Discourse forum.

Flarum Opensource Features:

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

LearnHow to install Flarum on Ubuntu 20.04 or 22.04 Server

8. bbPress- A WordPress Forum platform

The bbPress is a forum plugin that can be installed on 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 with 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 Automattic 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.

bbPress Key Features

  • Revisions
  • Favorites
  • 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

9. CODOFORUM – Free PHP Forum Software Script

Codoforum is not much popular but it is very straightforward free forum software. It is a free PHP-based forum platform that has a clean divided section of question & answer and a right sidebar. On 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

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.

10. BuddyPress forum Plugin

The above screenshot interface is a third-party BuddyPress-compatible theme for WordPress called “Thrive”.

Just like bbPress, BuddyPress is 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.


BuddyPress key features:

  • Users can create and update profiles, including the use of profile photos.
  • Private messages can send similar to those 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.

11. Forem (Bonus)

There is a popular community platform for developers known as a dev.to, the team behind this platform has open-sourced and publicized their platform code. This is to help others who want to create engaging communities. It is known as Forem. It is the same one as Dev.to. Although it is not exactly a Forum software, a good option if you want to build an audience and engage the community of content contributors like Medium.

Forem Dev to Community builder

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

12. Best Paid Online Forum Platforms

13. 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 forums, photo albums, groups, calendars, events management, polls, blog, and more. There are three versions of this paid forum software that can be selected according to need.

vBulletin Connect
  • Publishing Suite
  • Forum classic
  • Mobile suite

vBulletin Key features:

  • Built-in Applications: Discussion Forum, Groups, Polls, & Blog
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Control Panels for Every Role
  • User/Member Management
  • Create a continuous Style/theme across Articles, Blogs, Forums,s and more.

14. Zendesk Guide -knowledge base forum

Zendesk Guide -knowledge base forum

Build an Online Forum with Zendesk Guide which offers a smart knowledge base forum with a smart interface. It is basically for companies that want to interact with their customers and give them knowledge about their products.

Key Features: 

  • Keep some content for your agents only, require registration, or open it up to the public.
  • Create articles including media like photos and videos with our WYSIWYG editor.
  • Restore deleted content
  • Supports 40+ languages and more…

15. Invision Power Board (IP Board)

Invision Power Board (IP Board)

The IPS Community Suite is a flexible, integrated set of apps for building great communities on the web. It provides Forums, eCommerce, Content Management, File Manager, Calendar, Images, Galleries, and Blogs.

Invision Power Board Features: 

  • Spam preventions
  • E-commerce
  • Apps
  • Moderation
  • Permission
  • Customization
  • Content discovery and more…

16. XenForo –  Community Forum Software

XenForo Community Forum Software

XenForo is a commercial Internet forum software package written in the PHP programming language using the Zend Framework. The software is developed by former vBulletin lead developers. It was written in PHP and supports the MySQL database.

XenForo key features:

  • Social Engagement
  • Recent Activity Stream
  • Easy Styling
  • Add-ons, extensible and flexible community software
  • Alerts
  • SEO Built-in

17. PlushForums


PlushForums integrates a blog, private messaging, a member directory, custom profiles, paid subscriptions, and a polished set of forum features. You don’t need any technical knowledge, themes, plugins, security updates, etc. to configure it as hosted service maintained by PlushFroums. The design of the forum is sleek, modern, and responsive for both desktop and mobile.

  • Real-time discussions
  • Live notifications
  • an intuitive feedback system
  • Mobile-Optimized
  • Easily add tweets, videos, images, polls, smart quotes, hashtags, rich text, and more.
  • Free SSL support
  • built-in protection against bots, spammers, and hackers.
  • Integrated Blog
  • Private conversations
  • Question Mode and more…

 Also Read:

If you know any other best forum software which is free and open-source then please do comment and let us know…

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