Simple Machines Forum (SMF) vs phpBB – Which Is The Best Free Forum Software?

If you’re in the market for an online forum, this article may save you time and trouble. I recently had a client with a dog forum. She had to abandon her phpBB forum because of a bug so severe, it literally corrupted the entire forum database…three times! We were able to transfer the entire forum to SMF…with no loss of data. Simple Machines Forum to the rescue!

My website hosting company, DreamHost, has an easy way to install phpBb forum onto a website, so this was the forum application we selected when a client wanted a forum installed on her website. While the installation was easy, it was very, very, very hard to install any modifications, those little add-ons that enhance the functionality of a forum. But she lived with it, and the forum grew and grew.

Then one day, she posted a new topic, and suddenly, every single topic in the entire forum had been overwritten to this new topic. She had to manually go and change every topic by hand. We thought it was a fluke until…

It happened twice more. The third time, we started looking for another forum application that was based on PHP and MySQL. I had gotten help before from PHP Freaks Forum, and had noticed that it was run by SMF (Simple Machines Forum). Certainly a forum run by PHP experts would pick a good forum application, wouldn’t they?

I contacted two people who were administrators/experts and asked their opinion of SMF vs phpBB. Both responded enthusiastically in favor of SMF for a host of reasons including bugs, security, and ease of use. One person said he would not install phpBB onto a client’s website, even if they requested it. The other person just happened to be a Simple Machines Forum (SMF) conversion expert…who quickly provided us with links to the SMF site where you can convert your existing forum into an SMF forum.

So we took the plunge. We installed SMF and ran the conversion program. And guess what…it not only perfectly converted ALL, and we mean ALL of the data that was in the phpBB forum database…but it somehow fixed over 95% of the corrupted titles! We were simply stunned. Click here to see her dog forum using SMF.

Take Home Message: Don’t Install phpBB, even if it seems so easy because there’s a one-click install from your web hosting company’s control panel. Go to the Simple Machines Forum download page and install their software instead. You’ll be very glad you did.

UPDATE – Please note, this is the Aldebaran Web Design Blog – this is NOT a help forum for Simple Machines Forum (SMF) – I am not able to provide support for SMF – if you need help – use the SMF Forum.

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

19 thoughts on “Simple Machines Forum (SMF) vs phpBB – Which Is The Best Free Forum Software?”

  1. Hi,

    I love SMF, I have tried loads of forum software after IPB went ‘pay for’ and I always go back to SMF lol

    I love it for the way you can swap the forums around, have child boards etc. I love it for the ease of upgrading to the new versions..
    …actually I just love SMF…lmaooooooooo

    I have WordPress for nature but for a forum its got to be SMF!

  2. I also installed the phpBB forum from the dreamhost control panel because it was so easy to get up and running. However after trying to install a couple different plug-ins I realized something was wrong. Simple machines looks awesome and I’m happy I didn’t wait too long to make the switch. There appears to be plenty of cool plug-ins that I am excited about installing too. The forum is for the San Juan Islands; I will be using it for news and headlines on our live camera website. Check it out here

  3. I have been making forums for over 8 years, I was a pro with IPB I knew it inside and out, but then they decided to make you pay.

    I recently came back into making sites, and after going through MANY forum systems, SMF came out on top easily. It is SO simple yet SO advanced at the same time.

    I really hope it stays free!

  4. I love Simple Machines. The package manager is so simple! I, too, started off with phpBB because of a 1-Click install at DreamHost. FTP’ing the files myself took about 45 minutes, which I really hate doing.

    Then I learned just a touch of bash scripting…. now I’m actually faster than the DH 1-Click installer. (This does require you to use SSH or Telnet…. just upload the zip file, then unzip it through the shell, bottabing-bottaboom)

  5. Our company,, provides low cost domain name registration, hosting, and marketing tools.

    We are in the process of developing a few forums but were not sure on whether to use Simple Machines Forum or phpBB.

    Fortunately, we stumbled across your blog after doing a Google search. SMF clearly seems to be the painless way to go.

    Thanks for sharing your very informative experience!

    Edward Soorany
    a Division of Intercan Marketing Group Inc.

  6. Hi Edward,
    I’m glad you found this article helpful and I’m sure you’ll enjoy SMF – best of luck to your new forum and thanks for the comment.

  7. I am about to set up a Forum which I’d like to be able to integrate with a new WordPress blog ( Sounds like SMF is the best solution – very grateful for the advice, thanks.

  8. I really need some help. I use earthlink and they have the phpbb easy to install but I want the smf forum! I’ve downloaded and installed it (smf) but am doing something wrong evidently, because it is not starting installation when I put the address in the address bar.

    the following is the beginning of what does load.

    Error!Sorry, this installer requires PHP!

    // Database info.

    desperately seeking an smf geek squad :)


  9. Hi Zoe,
    I suggest posting your issue in the SMF Forum:

    But from the error message, it appears as if PHP might not be installed on your server. I know that a way to check is to upload a file, call it whatever you want: “test.php” and inside it have this:

    < ? phpinfo() ?>
    (you might need a semicolon after (), but I can’t enter it here)

    and it will show you all kinds of info about the PHP installation.

  10. I’ve always known SMF to be the best out of the lot. Infact, it’s up there with Vbulletin i reckon. phpBB is like using a truck to learn how to drive.


  11. Hi people,

    I recently registered to this forum and hope that somebody can
    give me an advice on the forex – I am looking for an introduction
    for noobs. I have already some knowledge about shares. (Hope this is the right category.)

    Any help is so much appreciated. Most important question: can a noob make money on the forex market?


  12. Hi Jim,
    First off, this isn’t a forum – it’s a blog post – and therefore, this isn’t the right place for your question. I have no idea what “forex” is, suggest you look elsewhere for your answer.

  13. Jill,

    Great advice. I had been using phpBB for setting up and playing with forums. I have already installed SMF at one site and was researching what to change my other two sites to.

    Based on your advice, I am going with SMF. I would rather focus my energy into managing one set of forum software than two.

    Thanks. Wait a few weeks and then visit it at to see if I have done well with it!

  14. Hi, just registered today, can someone give me some suggestions on which ebooks or guides are good for newbies like me?

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