Today’s online communities begin and end with communication. The more discussions that arise on a site, the more content that is generated and the more ‘sticky’ the community becomes as the amount of knowledge increases. One of the most popular methods in building two-way communication on a website is web-based forums which are also referred to as bulletin boards. SourceForge.net’s January 2004 project of the month, phpBB, is a powerful Open Source forum package written in PHP that is leading the pack in allowing websites admins to build powerful discussion areas on their site. phpBB has had over 3.3 million downloads from SourceForge.net since it’s inception. The SF.net is very proud to make phpBB project of the month.
Description of project:
phpBB is a non-threaded (flat style) discussion system (a.k.a. bulletin board or forum) developed in PHP.
- Development Status: 5 – Production/Stable
- Environment: Web Environment
- Intended Audience: Developers, End Users/Desktop, System Administrators
- License: GNU General Public License (GPL)
- Natural Language: English
- Operating System: OS Independent
- Programming Language: PHP
- Topic: BBS
What exactly does it do…and what makes it unique?
phpBB is a flat-style (non-threaded) PHP-based discussion forum system with all the bells and whistles that the end user expects these days.
What makes phpBB unique is our development philosophy. We’re one of the few systems that is wholly Open Source. Most of our competitors are closed source and most are for-profit systems (or are moving toward that goal). We’re also the most stable. Of all the systems that started around the same time we did, we’re the only one that has never changed leadership, never changed our name, never changed our license. We’re a very stable project with very clear goals for making the best forum we possibly can.
How did you get started?
I (James) started phpBB simply out of necessity. My wife wanted a discussion forum on her Web site. I was a member of several forums at the time that were running Infopop’s UBB. I like UBB, but I couldn’t afford it, being a poor college student, so I decided I’d write my own. PHP was my favority language at the time so that’s what I used. I started out just tying to clone what I found in UBB, but once the community around phpBB picked up we went in our own direction.
What is the intended audience?
Anyone and everyone that needs a reliable, well-featured PHP-based forum system localised in over 45 languages. phpBB 1 was aimed at the small-time Webmaster who couldn’t afford the commercial products. phpBB 2, however, is a true professional product that scales very well and can be used for a community of any size.
How many people do you believe are using your software?
According to Sourceforge.net more than 220,000 people have downloaded phpBB 2.0.0, with over 240,000 downloading 2.0.1, and close to 300,000 downloading 2.0.4. I think it would be safe to guess that there are about 200,000 Web sites out there running a phpBB-based forum. I find phpBB forums everywhere while I’m browsing around these days and it always makes me smile.
What gave you an indication that your project was becoming successful?
Once phpBB started to become popular our community exploded. For instance, on the day phpBB 2.0.0 was due for release we had more than 320 visitors in a five-minute period. Since that time we have continued to grow in popularity. Right now there are over 80,000 people registered on our support forums (although only about half of them are active in any way). What really clinched it for me though was when the company I was working for hired a new developer. A co-worker asked him ‘Hey, have you ever heard of phpBB?’ He responded with a ‘Yeah, you bet.’ I’m still waiting for someone to come up to me on the street while I’m wearing my phpBB T-Shirt and say, ‘Hey, I use that on my Web site.’
What has been your biggest surprise?
The fact that my little project has become so successful. I never thought it would make it out of the basement I created it in.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Keeping a team of developer, support staff, moderators, etc. organized and working toward a common goal is probably our biggest challenge. Since we’re an Open Source project all our teams are volunteers, and finding people that can devote their free time to keeping our little project going can be hard sometimes. However, our current team is quite excellent. We’ve got a great set of developers and an amazing group of support people to keep our growing user base happy.
Dealing with the community can also be challenging. It can be difficult to explain our position on various aspects of the project. Everyone has their own definition of what open source means, and it’s not always the same as ours. Similarly, ensuring people realise that our selected licence, the GPL, must be adhered to has at times been challenging.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that I was able to create something that so many people find useful. I’ve written a lot of software in my time that didn’t get used by anyone, so it’s nice to seem something I had a hand in out there in use by the masses. Being nominated for a Webby award this year alongside such greats as Google, Apache, and Linux was also a proud moment for all the team members.
Why do you think your project has been so well received?
This is going to sound a little conceited, but it’s because we’re the best. We’re simply the best Open Source discussion board software out there.
Where do you see your project going?
phpBB v2.0 was a full rewrite. We built a very stable base on which to add innovative features to. phpBB v2.2 is currently in the works; we’re on milestone 2 of 4 right now and progressing quite will. Version 2.2 will be our ‘feature-centric’ release where we add the things people have been asking for and suggestion for a some time. Beyond 2.2? Well that’s ultimately up to our users, we serve them in the end.
We have an active modding (previously known as hacks) community which continues to flourish. There are literally hundreds of mods available now. One of most active contributors and team members (Nuttzy99) continues to simplify the lives of those modding their boards through EasyMod, an add-on script for automating the addition of mods.
How can others contribute?
We presently have all the developers we need. In Ludovic Arnaud (Ashe) and Meik Sievertsen (Acyd Burn) we have an excellent team which has added immensely to the project. The best way to contribute is to use our software and join our community. Help your fellow users with their problems, contribute modifications and styles, and help us find bugs and suggest ways to improve the software. We generally draw members into our various teams based on their contributions at www.phpbb.com.
Do you work on the Open Source project full-time, or do you have another job?
James: At one time phpBB was my full time job, but that was long ago. These days I don’t contribute much in the way of code but I do try to help run the community and help manage the teams we have. I also have ultimate say on what goes into the project, but leave most of those types of decisions to Paul. I have a full-time job doing PHP development so I find it hard to do it in my spare time as well.
Paul: It takes up most of my time at present. I work other tasks in around it.
How much time would you say you spend, per week, on the project?
James: I spend most of my day browsing our forums and chatting on our IRC channel, but I’d say I only spend 3 or 4 hours a week actually doing phpBB related things. Some days it’s quite a bit more, some it’s quite a bit less.
How do you coordinate the project? Make assignments? Assign bugs? Perform regression testing?
Each milestone has primary tasks assigned to one of the developers. These are generally entire sections or modules for which each has responsibility. My job is to ensure the wider vision is maintained and that each of us knows what the others are doing.
What is your development environment like?
James: For the most part I develop using all Open Source tools. I use jEdit as my editor, Apache with PHP as my test environment, and MySQL or PostgreSQL for development database work. The majority of my work is done on GNU/Linux servers and workstations (Debian is my distro of choice).
Paul: I work in Windows 2000 on a 600MHz Celeron system. I code and test on this machine using various editors, Apache, MySQL, sqlite, Access, etc. I also have an even more lowly Linux server which I use to ensure compatibility under that OS.
If you could change one thing about the project, what would it be?
Development could be faster, but that’s purely a function of spare time.
What’s on your project wish list?
James: Three more developers like Paul. The man can churn out high-quality code like you wouldn’t believe. Every couple days he’ll check something into CVS that makes me go ‘whoa….now that’s cool’.
Paul: I would like to see PHP transition to a fully integrated, consistent, and reliable Unicode backend. This would make my life easier when it comes to handling as many languages as we support.
We are working on the next major release of phpBB, phpBB 2.2.x. It’s faster, meaner, and is set to look even better than 2.0. We planned four milestones and are presently working on the third, which by now should be complete. Numerous new features have been added and updates made to accommodate issues discovered during our work on 2.0.x.
Features you can look forward to include a radically overhauled administration system with a large number of new options, an improved styling system with online editing capabilities based around templates, images and CSS, many new moderation options, updated user management including banning and warning, an even more advanced permissions system, per post multiple attachments, user control panel, and more. We have a couple of ideas up our sleeve that we hope will offer admins a fairly unique and extensible system for automation.