Once you've built your website, you might like to offer your visitors an opportunity to interact with it, and to talk to you and each other without having to use email. Forums are absolutely ideal for this purpose.

Choosing a Forum.

Before you can install a forum, you need to decide which forum software you want to use. In most cases, this decision will depend on what your server can run and whether or not you want to pay. Here are some of the options:

vBulletin (www.vbulletin.com). vBulletin is the most popular of the commercial forums. It costs either $85 per year or $160 plus $30 per year of updates. Despite its high cost, vBulletin has a large community who produce add-on functions for it that you can download for free. Many of the web's largest forums run on vBulletin, including the Something Awful forums. It uses PHP and MySQL.

Invision (www.invisionpower.com). Another commercial forum with a devoted community releasing add-ons, but not as large as vBulletin. Again, PHP and MySQL. Its pricing structure is also broadly similar to vBulletin's, but slightly more expensive. Really, you might as well use vBulletin instead of this.

Ikonboard (www.ikonboard.com). Ikonboard is a free forum (but not an open source one), written in Perl. It is now being developed by the community after its original developer abandoned it to work on Invision. Although many forums still use Ikonboard, most are moving away from it it wouldn't be a good idea to start a new forum with it.

phpBB (www.phpbb.com). phpBB is a free and open source PHP forum that supports more or less every database system out there. It has a large community and an easy templating system, and is currently the most popular open source forum out there it comes pre-installed on many hosts.

YaBB (www.yabbforum.com). YaBB is a free, open source forum written in Perl. What makes it unique, though, is that it doesn't need a database to run: it can create its own flat files to store threads and comments. This is a rare and useful feature if you don't want to deal with the hassle of database administration.

Installing Your Forum.

The installation process will, of course, vary depending on which forum you use you should read the forum's ‘readme' file that will come as part of the download. However, in general, the process will go like this:

1. Open the config file (called something like config.php or config.pl) and add your database details that is, your database's name, and your username and password.

2. Upload all the forum's files to your server, preferably in a folder called ‘forum'.

3. Go to the install.php/pl file using your web browser (ie. actually go to it at your website).

4. Follow the install script's instructions. This should create all the tables in your database automatically and let you create an administrator password for the forum.

5. Delete the install script (this is for security reasons).

Once you've done that, you've got your forum installed. You should now be able to log in as an administrator and change the forum's settings, including installing any templates you might want to.

Potential Problems.

There are quite a few problems you could run into while you're installing your forum.

Can't find install script. If you have trouble finding the install script to run it, check exactly where you uploaded the forum's files. You need to include the forum name in the URL, and the file may also be in an install sub-folder.

Install script fails. You need to make sure that you entered your database's details correctly into the config file, otherwise the forum won't be able to connect to your database. You should also remember that you often need to create the database itself even though you don't need to create the tables, as the forum won't usually do that for you.

Forum installs but then doesn't work. Make sure that you uploaded all the forum's files, keeping the subfolder structure intact. Don't upload the files from each subfolder separately: upload everything together, keeping the files in the correct subfolders.

If you run into any other problems, it may be a known issue with your software check their help and support forums for more information.

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