Seeking recommendations for web-based forums

I’m considering replacing my newsgroups with web-based forums, but every forum package I’ve tried suffers from annoying limitations.

The most common problem I’m finding is that they scatter font tags all over the place instead of relying on a global style sheet – and those that do use a style sheet still hard-code colors and background images in table cells and other elements. This makes it a real pain to customize, not to mention upgrade in the future.

One limitation of my own is that I code in ASP rather than PHP, and since I must be able to understand the code it has to be written using ASP (or ASP.NET). It also has to use MS SQL Server on the backend.

So…can anyone recommend a web-based forum package that meets my needs?

31 thoughts on “Seeking recommendations for web-based forums

  1. Thanks for the recommendation, Jacques, but it really has to be ASP.
    I’m also happy enough with the newsgroups, but many business users are behind firewalls which won’t give them access to NNTP. Plus, archiving/searching is much simpler if the data is stored in a database instead of an NNTP server.

  2. Have you considered using Outlook Web Access? At UoPHX, I connect through class with newsgroups. However, these newsgroups can be accessed via a web site. So it would give the user both options.

  3. Well, I was going to mention phpBB until I saw the part about you wanting ASP or only. But what the heck, I’ll mention it anyway. I work primarily in ColdFusion so PHP is not my first choice. In spite of that I am able to get around quite nicely in the phpBB skin to chip away at FONT tags and such. I’ve even added some mods quite easily, one mod I’m particulary happy with is topics_anywhere that allows the forum users to generate custom RSS feeds so they can follow their interests with their favorite aggregator FeedDemon (of course!). Again, I would much rather have a cfBB because that is my webrogramming environment of choice. But phpBB gives me what I want without being too much of a black box. phpBB also has very granular permissions etcetera… that’s just my two cents.

  4. Please don’t shut down the news server. I abhor web based forums as they do not have the ease of use of a news client. Very difficult to store local copies of messages, and can’t be used on an offline manner.
    Please reconsider.
    — Ned —

  5. I would also recommend the ASP.NET forums. Plus, you get the source code, so you should be able to customize it to meet your need.

  6. Nick,
    before you get deeply involved into customization of ASP.NET Forums, please note that there is a new version currently in beta that you can find at
    ASP.NET Forums has several advantages:
    – it’s open source, so that you can customize the code the way you like it
    – it’s built with a great technology, and
    – most of all, it’s free…
    I am using the code as a base for my own version of a forum to implement a number of features that normally are not available on web boards, based on my 10+ years of experience as a forum manager on CompuServe. I have learnt an amazing amount of things from working on that code.

  7. Well, I’ve just spent some time with ASP.NET Forums, and although it’s very nice, it doesn’t strike me as a completed product (chiefly because it isn’t!). There are a lot of missing pieces. On the plus side, the code appears to be well written, which does set it apart from most of the other packages I’ve tried.
    I’ll give InstantForum.NET a try.

  8. You are correct, ASP.NET Forums has missing pieces, it’s an evolving project. It can work as it is for those who are happy with its current features. Or, it can be a great starting point for those who need to understand the inner working of a forum, as it was my case. I have been working on my web forum project using ASP.NET Forums as a base for a while, and I have been rewriting most of the code to adapt it to my own needs (beside a full conversion from C# to VB.NET, as I am not confident enough with C# yet).

  9. Ack – can’t use newsgroups at the moment (well, I can at home but I spend so little of my time there) and don’t need newsgroups for anything else, so its a lot of hassle for me to post feedback. A web-based forum would be far more useable for me!

  10. I really am not keen on web-based forums. Because my news client refreshes I get new posts rather quickly and I can respond easily. You might want to check on ways to have the two work in tandem. At Alt-N (where I work) we have HTTP, Email and Web-based forums that all work in tandem – this pleases most of the people most of the time. That of course means more programs running on a server, but its not too bad. Feel free to contact me if you’d like more info.

  11. Personally I much prefer web-based forums, and for a long while now I’ve seen them as the ultimate customer support solution for companies offering products and/or services to the public, due to the exposure to other users’ prior experience in any given problem.
    However, I can also understand the desire of a number of people to remain with newsgroups. But just like newsletters are moving away from email and towards RSS (*ahem*), so also are community conversation centers moving away from newsgroup servers and towards online forums.
    Also, the advantages of forums over newsgroups are virtually identical to the advantages of web-based mail over POP3 – primarily, access from anywhere. Personally, I use POP3 email, but who’s counting? :p

  12. Personally I’d suggest that if you do go for a web-based forum system, make sure that it still has an NNTP interface. My company has a product which has a built-in forum system that does not have any NNTP abilities, and it is by far the #1 complaint amongst our user base. I’ve had a constant influx of E-mail regarding this issue for quite some time now.. Unfortunately for us it’s quite difficult to implement, since we have all sorts of weird access restrictions that need to be controlled via the web, and unfortunately most NNTP servers make that more difficult than you might guess.
    So my suggestion: Either stick to NNTP or find something that is still allows it.
    As for my personal opinion – newsgroups all the way. I find your newsgroups much easier to review than my own companies site any day of the week.

  13. I was going to recommend a .net forum, ChatterBox Forums, at, which I’ve been using in my site. (Taking me quite a bit of work to get it to play nice with CSS) However, after looking into the InstantForum.Net mentioned above.. I wish I’d seen it some time ago! Thumbs up for InstantForum.Net….‘s forums just aren’t ready for prime-time.

  14. This isn’t quite a recommendation for a pre-built forum package, and even if it was – this one uses ColdFusion and MySQL. But, are the best forums I’ve ever come across on the web. They’re the quickest, cleanest and best featured forums I’ve used.
    However, the code isn’t licensed (well, the author has said that he might if someone paid him a bunch of money), but it’s an example of how forums can be done really well.
    On the question of which is better, newsgroups or web-based forums: I like forums as I can see them from anywhere and log in from anywhere. I can’t view newsgroups behind the firewall at work and it’s more difficult to log in to them from your average net cafe or the like when travelling or on a different PC.

  15. I ran across your site by searching for saigonova forum on Google. I’m the developer of ChatterBox Forums found at What are your requirements? What database will you be using? If you’re interested let me know. Although it’s not bug-free and sometimes i go offline for a while, I think you’ll find what you’re looking for in ChatterBox. By the end of the week, I should have the latest version for everyone to download. Currently, it’s v.3.
    Take care and good luck with your site.

  16. what is the difference between POP and web-based email? what are their advantages and disadvantages? could you please email them to me at thanks a lot. Ü

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