phpBB vs. SMF

A blog entry at Ask MetaFilter stirs up an interesting comparison, one which I should have covered a long time ago since it directly affects the way I work.

I’m not trying to stir up a Windows vs. Unix type debate but am interested in your thoughts and experiences, either as an administrator or user.

Personally, I feel that both of these are very powerful forum packages, but let me just mention that vBulletin is and always will be the best and preferred forum software. However, we’re doing the whole free thing, so let’s not even go into the costs of vBulletin. Let’s focus on the two free packages, phpBB and Simple Machines SMF. I have

I have been doing a lot of advanced work on a phpBB forum for over a year now, but I recently stumbled upon SMF. I was setting up a new website in the Joomla CMS for which I needed to have a forum integrated. It was easy enough to integrate the template so that it looks seamless, but I was also looking for a way to integrate the user database of both phpBB and Joomla. At the time their were no components around to do so, but there was a component to integrate SMF with Joomla, therefore I decided to give SMF a try. These are my observations after using both and doing a little bit of research:

  • The library of MODs (modifications) for phpBB far out weighs those of SMF.
  • The templates library for phpBB is also than those of SMF
  • The MODs for phpBB came be intimidating to install for a novice user. They require editing files on the server and sometimes apply SQL queries to the database. There is also no roll back or uninstall feature.
  • SMF on the other hand, has a brilliant set up where you simply upload the MOD from the administrator’s section and install.
  • Out of the box SMF has much more functionality than phpBB. Eg. there is already support for attachments, real name, etc. phpBB requires the installation of MODs for what should be basic tasks.
  • For me (I’ve gotten a lot of heat in the SMF forums about this, but what do you expect), the phpBB templating system is some what simpler to edit. The template files use tags (which are later replaced) for things like Forum Description, Title, etc. The templates are also in very basic HTML that the webmaster can dump in a WYSIWYG editor if he pleases.
  • SMF templates are written in PHP, so an editor would at least need some PHP knowledge to edit the templates. Although it is simply to pick up, an editor with not HTML or PHP knowledge would be lost, whereas in phpBB they would have a chance.
  • There is much more control over the forum and user permissions in SMF than in phpBB.
  • SMF is a bit more complicated to configure simply because of the vast number of different options available to the administrator. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been working with phpBB so long.
  • phpBB is prone to security issues. There is going to be an update or security patch at least every two months. If you consider this normal maintenance, then you’ll be fine. It is secure as long as you keep up with the updates religiously.
  • SMF is a bit more secure. There are considerably less exploits for SMF than phpBB. I am interested in knowing why though.
  • Personally, I feel that the default template for phpBB looks better and cleaner than SMF, but that might be a bias opinion.

Bottom line for me, since I’m doing a lot of sites using Joomla the integration is nice for me and the fact that I can deploy a basic forum with with a lot of functionality without having to fuss with too many MODs I would have to choose SMF. Hope this has helped you. I would also be interested in hearing your views on the subject.


  1. Markowitch says:

    My biggest issue with phpBB is that code needs to be modified when applying hacks and mods. It’s just an uggly solution that makes security patching harder than it should be!

    The templates of phpBB also needs to be changed when applying mods so that content supplied by the mod is shown to the user. So what happens if you want to use a new template? Well, you have to mod that too – to bad that your templates has been modded by numerous hacks – thoose have to be reapplied to the new template – this is just a recipe for a maintainence nightmare… The end result is that the template system isn’t used that often…

    So phpBB violates the open/closed principle of leaving code open to extension but closing it to modification, which is why i just love that vBulletin has a plug-in system.

  2. Yes, that’s the thing with phpBB. And security updates come out soooo very often that this is a regular thing now. You can, however, use EasyMOD to apply the patches for the upgrades, but depending on which MODs and how they’ve been implemented, and on the template, they just don’t work well and then you need to go in and do things manually.

    That’s one of the reasons I’ve moved to SMF. Honestly, I can’t say what it’s like to install an update for SMF because since I’ve done my switch a new version hasn’t come out yet. The MODs are nice and clean.

    Unless phpBB cleans up how they do things, they are going to be phased out, no question.

  3. QUOTE “but let me just mention that vBulletin is and always will be the best and preferred forum software.” UNQUOTE

    …for you maybe, but that is just your personal choice. It does not represent what is the best and preferred forum software for the mass populace. You really should be very careful about how you phrase your statements and keep things in context. It would be all too easy for the non-iniatated to come across this article and assume you are stating accumulated statistics, which you are not. vBulletin is NOT the best and preferred forum software globally.


  1. […] I just made a comment in a previous post about phpBB vs. SMF where a user mentioned the pains that we all go through when upgrading phpBB. I commneted that I cannot actually compare upgrade procedures between the two packages because from the first install of SMF a new version hasn’t come out. […]