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Note: I posted this originally to stackoverflow.com, had it closed, and was told to post it on programmers.stackexchange.com. So I posted it on programmers.stackexhange.com, had it cloased, and was told to post it on webmaster.stackexchange.com. Here's my last attempt to get some help and direction on this nerve-racking problem.

I've been pulling my hair out for weeks trying to decide which way to go.

One of my LAMP sites is several years old and my users have requested a forum. My site is custom-built by myself, and the forum would have to integrate fully with my site so that it actually looks, feels, and behaves like my site. For example, I have a site-wide messaging system on my site that alerts users whenever they receive a new message no matter where on my site they are on, so this feature would have to be extended to the Forum. I would also like to be able to limit access to certain sub-forums based on criteria from my site as opposed to criteria from the forum.

I don't need a full-featured forum as it will not be the main focus of my site, just a feature of it.

The question is, do I use an existing forum platform and integrate it with my site or do I just build one from scratch?

The pros/cons are relatively obvious, but I can't decide which way to go and it's crunch time.

The pros of using an existing open-source platform is that they are tried and tested, secure, have a lot of built-in features, community support, and would save me a lot of time.

The cons are that they seem to severely limit how tightly and well I can integrate it with my site and my site's features, not to mention that most are overkill for what I need (bloatware). All the forum packages I have looked at (and I've looked at MANY), are all front-end solutions that will behave like an external add-on to my rather than an integral part of it. I have not found any fully-customizable "backend" forum solutions. This means that I will need to customize the forum to fit in with my site, but if that means altering core files, it will make the forum difficult to upgrade.

Building the forum from scratch means I need to re-invent the wheel with all the potential problems that might raise, but on the other hand, I can program the forum so that it does everything exactly the way I need it to, making it an integral part of my site rather than an external add-on to it.

So, what do you recommend and why?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

You seem to have a good understanding of why you should and shouldn't write your own forum software so I'm going to focus on my opinion instead of hashing out facts you already know.

Forums are favorite places for spammers to spam. They're right up there with blogs. Even existing forum software have a hard time keeping up with them. If you roll your own forum software you may find keeping up with them a full time job and not worth the time and effort.

Existing forums software offer a familiarity for users. There's really just a handful of popular forum software out there and most people who are active in communities have seen most of them. If you use one of them in your site your users with be comfortable using them right away.

Existing forum software offers you a chance to get your community up and running quickly. They also offer you a chance to add a lot of features quickly.

The cons would be a lack of "perfect" integration with the rest of your site. But the question is, "How much is that offset by the positives listed above"?

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Thanks for the first thorough response I have had on this question. Would your answer change if I said the forum would only be for paid users (eliminating the spam problem) and that I need a forum strictly for mobile users (making familiarity less of an issue) ? –  ProgrammerGirl Dec 14 '11 at 14:37
1  
Yes. As your userbase shrinks and gets more affluent your options grow for sure. –  John Conde Dec 14 '11 at 14:43
    
OK, because basically, I'm finding that using any existing forum platform will force me to alter their core files anyway, so I'm leaning towards building one from scratch (there are even tutorials on how to do that which should save me time). So, are there any really bad downsides I'm not considering that should keep me from doing one from scratch? Or should I maybe get an existing platform and simply dissect it for my own needs? Thanks again. –  ProgrammerGirl Dec 14 '11 at 14:57

You could write it down that would be the best idea it would take some time but you will be able to solve the errors than to search for the solution first learn .php and mysql then write it you will defenitily win in this

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I'm in the habit of reinventing the wheel sometimes, 'cause u know what you are doing, It will be light weight, definitely lighter than any forum because they a far too much features that nobody use.

It's worth to spend sometime and design your own. . . .

General forums have bugs which is known and someone can attack u, but if u have your own forum then if somebody needs to attack, then he need to do a lot to know your forum's flaw. Fully compatible with your site.

and at last periodically add some feature that your users need.

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Given your comment on John’s answer, I’d say go ahead and roll your own — if you understand and accept what you’re getting into. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to examine existing solutions for insight though. You could find gems of reusable code or discover an approach you may have overlooked on your own. You may end up with a hybrid, but you’ll understand the code base and it’ll be exactly what you need. I personally enjoy reinventing the wheel sometimes.

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It's crazy to even think of implementing your own forums unless you either want something incredibly simple, or you need something very different from any of the existing forums you would otherwise think of using.

You have to monitor any forum for spam, and If you already have some kind of site registration already, disable the native registration for the forum and tweak the forum to use your exising account names.

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I would run away from rolling your own forums. It will just be a headache in the long run. Please take a serious look at vBulletin for powerful forum solution, or vanilla forums for lighter weight package. Both have a robust plugin API which will allow you to integrate with your current site. Both have a very nice theme system, which can make the forums look a integral part of your site. Don't be afraid of all the features of vBulletin, eventually you may want to start using them.

For an example of vBulletin integrating with a website, checkout Bio Ware's new Star Wars forums. (Running vBulletin)

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