phpBB is a popular Internet forum package written in the PHP scripting language. The name “phpBB” is an abbreviation of PHP Bulletin Board. Available under the GNU General Public License, phpBB is free software.
phpBB was started by James Atkinson as a simple UBB-like forum for his own website on June 17, 2000. Nathan Codding and John Abela joined the development team after phpBB’s CVS repository was moved to SourceForge.net, and work on 1.0.0 began. A fully functional, pre-release version of phpBB was made available in July.
phpBB 1.0.0 was released on December 9, 2000, with subsequent improvements to the 1.x codebase coming in two more major installments. The final release in the 1.x line was phpBB 1.4.4, released on November 6, 2001. During the lifetime of the 1.x series, Bart van Bragt, Paul S. Owen (former co-manager of the project), Jonathan Haase and Frank Feingold joined the team. phpBB 1.x is no longer supported and virtually no websites continue to use it.
In February 2001, phpBB 2.0.x began development entirely from scratch; the developer’s ambitions for phpBB had outgrown the original codebase. Doug Kelly joined the team shortly afterwards. After a year of development and extensive testing, phpBB 2.0.0, dubbed the “Super Furry” version, was released on April 4, 2002, three days later than intended.
Work on phpBB 3.0.x began in late 2002. It was originally intended to be released as phpBB 2.2, and the first planned feature list was announced on May 25, 2003. However, as development progressed, the developers realised that phpBB 2.1.x (the development release cycle for 2.2) had eliminated virtually all compatibility with the 2.0.x line, so the version number for release was changed to 3.0.0, in keeping with the Linux kernel versioning scheme. In September 2005, Paul Owen resigned as the Development Team Leader and Meik Sievertsen was promoted to the role.
In March 2007, the phpBB teams had planned to undergo a short round of server maintenance, however the server crashed during the outage, suffering a double-disk failure and causing phpBB.com to be down for the full week. (The phpBB teams indicated that phpBB, the software, was not the cause of the outage.) However, due to the unexpected outage, the teams decided to change their original plans and launch their brand new website, powered by phpBB3 and the new prosilver theme. This was a big surprise to most, as the theme had been a heavily guarded secret, never before seen by the public, and was originally not intended to be revealed until the final release of phpBB 3.0.0. Initial feedback was split, with many applauding the new theme and others criticising a number of new design decisions, particularly the decision to display the user info on the right side of the viewtopic page (phpBB2′s subSilver theme had displayed it on the left).
On April 30, 2007, phpBB founder and co-Project Manager James Atkinson officially resigned from his duties towards phpBB, citing personal circumstances. With the announcement also came the announcement that phpBB was now newly independent, and that the team leaders would be collectively taking charge of the decisions in the future of the project. At the end of May, an announcement was made that Jonathan “SHS`” Stanley, the other co-Project Manager, was stepping down as well for personal reasons.
On July 7, 2007, the teams announced that phpBB had been nominated as a finalist for the SourceForge.net Community Choice Awards in the category of “Best Project for Communications”. At the end of the month, SourceForge.net announced that phpBB had won the award for “Best Project for Communications”, and in honour of the award, SourceForge.net donated $1000 in phpBB’s name to Marie Curie Cancer Care. phpBB also won a “Thingamagoop” from Bleep Labs, and “bragging rights for a full year.”
On September 6, 2007, the teams launched an official phpBB podcast. It was recorded by a rotating group of phpBB team members with occasional guests, and discussed a number of phpBB-related topics, as well as answering questions e-mailed in from listeners.
The first beta of phpBB3 was released in June 2006, and the first release candidate was released in May 2007. The phpBB3 codebase received an external security audit in September, which was done by SektionEins. Finally, phpBB 3.0.0 “Olympus” (also dubbed the Gold release) was published on December 13, 2007.
The teams launched a new phpBB weblog in July 2008. The blog is written by phpBB team members on various topics related to phpBB and provide users with a unique inside look at the activities of the phpBB teams.
The phpBB teams held their first-ever phpBB users conference in London on July 20, 2008, which was titled “Londonvasion 2008.” Londonvasion featured presentations by phpBB team members on various topics important to the phpBB community, MOD authors, and developers. Londonvasion provided a unique opportunity to socialise with members of the phpBB teams. The event also represented the first time that most members of the teams had a chance to meet each other in person.
phpBB3 is the current stable version of phpBB. Following over three years of development and an eighteen-month beta/release candidate stage, it went gold on December 13, 2007.
Some of phpBB3′s major features include:
Modular design for the Admin Control Panel, Moderator Control Panel, and User Control PanelSupport for multiple database management systems, including MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, PostgreSQL, SQLite, Firebird, OpenLink Virtuoso, and other ODBC-accessible DBMSSupport for unlimited levels of subforumsAbility to create custom-defined BBCodeAbility to create custom profile fieldsPermissions system
phpBB3 also provides administrators with much more control over every aspect of the forum software, such as how it is displayed to management of user and group permissions. Consequently, this increased functionality makes the administrative interface much more complex, and new users have found it somewhat more intimidating than phpBB2.
phpBB3′s default theme is called prosilver. During phpBB3′s long development process, prosilver was kept a heavily guarded secret from the public in order to prevent premature copying of the theme and so that it would not spoil the “wow” factor upon the final release of phpBB 3.0.0; however, the unexpected website downtime of March 2007 prompted the teams to change plans and unveil the new theme early. prosilver includes a number of new design concepts over its predecessor subSilver, including a new admin panel without HTML frames and reduced use of HTML tables. One of the more contentious decisions has been to move the user info panel on the viewtopic page to the right in order to provide more focus on the post content. phpBB3 does not allow the use of HTML tags in comments. An alternate default theme called subsilver2 comes bundled with phpBB, which is based on the default theme from phpBB2 called subSilver. However, an administrator must install it on the board manually before it is accessible to users.
The phpBB Development Team quietly pushes out release candidates of minor updates of phpBB3 for “quality assurance testing” prior to general release. These candidates are intended to prevent the possibility of significant bugs being produced by minor updates, thus causing a subsequent critical update to be released within days of the original. (This scenario happened twice during the 2.0.x line and once during phpBB’s release candidate stage in 2007.) A mailing list is open to anyone interested in testing these “quality assurance” releases when they are available.
The latest in the 3.0.x line (code named “Olympus”) is phpBB 3.0.5, the “quite furry” edition, released on May 31, 2009.. phpBB3 requires PHP 4.3.3 or later and is fully compatible with PHP 5.
phpBB2 was the predecessor of the present-day phpBB3. Developed during 2001-2002, the source code was written primarily to run on PHP 3.0 and 4.0 (version 2.0.13 upped the minimum requirement to PHP 4.0.3 due to a necessary security fix), and by the time that phpBB3 was released in late 2007, the developers and other team members felt that it no longer met their quality coding standards, and announced plans for the retirement/end of support of 2.0.x within a few months of 3.0.0′s release. phpBB2 was never officially supported under PHP 5. Although many users had no problems running it after making a few changes to PHP 5′s default configuration settings, the teams chose not to offer support for this configuration.
Official support for phpBB2 ended on January 1, 2009, and the 2.0.x support forums have been locked. Furthermore all development for phpBB2, including security patches, has ceased as of February 1, 2009. Other information pertaining to phpBB2 on the phpBB.com website will be removed over the coming months and phpBB2 will likely be fully phased out by the second half of 2009. However, a number of unofficial support sites for phpBB2 have formed to fill the void and will likely continue supporting phpBB2 indefinitely.
Many administrators still prefer to run phpBB2 because it provides a much simpler administration interface and has a thriving ecosystem of MODs (modifications) and styles that allow admins many options for customising the software to their liking. Others still run phpBB2 because they have installed many MODs, none of which can function in phpBB3.
The default theme in phpBB2 is named subSilver, and was designed by Tom “subBlue” Beddard. At the time that it premiered in 2001, it was a revolutionary new design for bulletin boards, and many bulletin board themes since have borrowed many cues and design elements from subSilver.
Some of phpBB2′s major features included the following:
A templated style system intended to allow easy customisation that keeps the PHP code separate from the HTML.Support for internationalisation through a language pack system; 48 translations are available for phpBB2 as of 2007.Compatibility with multiple database management systems including MySQL, PostgreSQL, Microsoft SQL Server, and Microsoft Access,Easy customisations, including MODs and styles.
The last official release of the 2.0.x line is 2.0.23, released on February 17, 2008. However, the code for phpBB 2.0.24 still remains, unreleased, in the SVN repository.
On June 10, 2009, phpBB’s Development Team revealed that the next phpBB3 release, 3.0.6, will include a significant number of new features. This is unusual for a minor release which is typically limited to bug and security fixes. New features will include support for new CAPTCHA plugins, RSS and ATOM feeds, support for new cache plugins (XCache, Alternative PHP Cache, eAccelerator, and Memcache), and quick reply (an often-requested feature by a subset of phpBB users) among other minor feature additions. phpBB 3.0.6 is anticipated to be released in August/September 2009.
The Development Team has begun working on phpBB 3.1, formerly phpBB 3.2. (Before July 29, 2009, phpBB followed the original Linux kernel versioning scheme, in which the middle number represents a development version if it is odd and a stable version if it is even.) The developers previewed their planned feature list at Londonvasion, and new features include a complete overhaul of the Moderator Control Panel (MCP) and moderation capabilities, implementation of AJAX where it is applicable and helpful, a trigger-based event system, a completely rewritten BBCode system, RSS feed support, enhancements to custom profile fields, enhancements to private messaging, a new authentication system with OpenID support, and numerous other small changes and features. The phpBB teams maintain a website for phpBB development named Area51. In keeping with the tradition to codename every new phpBB3 release after Martian mountains, phpBB 3.1 will be code-named “Ascraeus,” named after Ascraeus Mons, the second-tallest mountain on Mars. (Olympus Mons, which 3.0 was named after, is the tallest.)
In addition to development of phpBB 3.1, other phpBB teams also are in the process of developing numerous other tools for use by the community. Development for these tools can be followed on the phpBB Code Forge, which also contains the Subversion repositories for these tools and the main phpBB development trunk.
MODs are code modifications created by the phpBB community, often used to extend the functionality of or change the display of phpBB. The term is capitalised to distinguish modifications from forum moderators. Modifications referred to in this manner are not authored by the phpBB developers, and do not enjoy the same level of support as unmodified official code. The phpBB MOD Team, headed by Igor Wiedler (known as evil<3 in the community), accepts modifications from community sources for validation, and modifications which meet the MOD Team’s standards are made available for download from the phpBB MOD Database. Other sites also provide phpBB2 and phpBB3 modifications for download. Some of the sites have their own standards which they validate to, and other sites do not do any validation, however the phpBB teams do not offer support for boards using MODs downloaded from sites other than phpBB.com. Documentation for phpBB3 MODding is provided by the MOD Team.
MODX is an XML-based document format developed by the phpBB MOD Team that is used to describe the steps required to modify the source code of a web application in order to install a modification. Although it can theoretically be utilised for any web application, it was developed for and is primarily used by MODs for phpBB. The phpBB MOD Team requires that all phpBB3 MODs submitted to its MOD Database utilise the specifications and packing standards of the latest version of MODX, though most other phpBB MOD database sites do not make this an absolute requirement. The primary purpose of using an XML-based format is to better allow automatic installation tools (see below) to read and complete the installation instructions. However, MODX files can also be viewed in a web browser using an included XSL. The latest revision of the MODX spec is 1.2.3, released on September 27, 2009. is Resources and documentation on MODX can be found in phpBB’s MODX Resource Centre.
AutoMOD, currently in the second release candidate stage, is a tool developed by the phpBB MOD Team that parses and automatically installs phpBB3 MODs distributed in the MODX format. Users simply have to upload the contents of a MOD download to their phpBB source directory and run AutoMOD, which will parse the MOD instructions and make the necessary file changes. Depending on the server configurations, it will either automatically merge the changes into place using FTP, or will create a compressed archive of the changed files for the user to copy into place. AutoMOD is also used by the MOD Team members during validation to ensure that the MODX files are valid and the MOD can be successfully installed on a vanilla phpBB installation.
The latest version of AutoMOD is 1.0.0-RC2, released on June 24, 2009. AutoMOD can be downloaded from the AutoMOD information page and support can be obtained in the AutoMOD support forum.
AutoMOD is the successor to EasyMOD, a tool for phpBB2 which was also developed by the phpBB MOD Team and performed essentially the same task. The latest version of EasyMOD is 0.4.0, released on June 30, 2008. Support and downloads for EasyMOD can be obtained in the EasyMOD support forum.
Unified MOD Installation Library (UMIL)
The Unified MOD Installation library is a library designed to simplify the installation and uninstallation of the database side of MODs., It is designed to be useful for configuring the forum for the new MOD, performing database actions such as adding and removing tables and columns, and purging the forum’s cache. UMIL is GPL licensed and currently the latest version is a release candidate. It can be downloaded from the UMIL page. To create a UMI-file automatically, a MOD author can use the Unified MOD Installation File creation tool.
In December 2004, a large number of Web sites were defaced by the Santy worm, which used vulnerabilities in outdated versions of phpBB2 to overwrite PHP and HTML pages. Although these were the result of outdated versions of PHP and phpBB, incidents like these have caused the security of phpBB to be disputed. There have also been a few times where new releases of phpBB have come out a few days apart, although the last occurrence of this was in early 2005. However, the phpBB Team usually responds to security reports as soon as possible, and releases a new version quickly. The phpBB Group, attempting to learn from previous failures, performed a codebase security audit before the release of 2.0.18. The phpBB3 codebase received an external security audit in September 2007, which was done by SektionEins. The sixth release candidate of phpBB3 was published following the results of the security audit.
Additionally, many things have been changed in phpBB2 to avoid problems in the future, including many features backported from the phpBB3 codebase. Among those is a re-authentication system for the administration panel (introduced after a cookie verification issue allowed attackers to gain administrator access).
In November 2005, the phpBB Group announced a new Incident Investigation Team (IIT), a sub-team of their Support Team, which is responsible for assisting users in the cleanup and repair of an attacked phpBB installation and investigating reports of new exploits. The team announced a tracker the following January where administrators of attacked bulletin boards could report an attack and receive support from the IIT.
The CAPTCHA system in phpBB2 has proven vulnerable to automated registrations, with numerous phpBB-based forums being swamped by spam registrations. Due to the feature freeze, the antispam solutions have to be installed separately. The phpBB team has published recommendations on protecting the boards from spam. At the moment, the best method is to use a question-answer challenge, implemented by Textual Confirmation or Registration Auth Code MODs. phpBB3 has a much stronger CAPTCHA system, however during the phpBB3 development/beta phase it was frequently criticised for being difficult to read. The development team has been working on improving its readability prior to phpBB3′s final release.
Additionally, the teams have announced that each minor release of phpBB3 (3.0.1, 3.0.2, etc.) will be preceded by individual release candidates in an effort to prevent instances where subsequent releases would be only days apart (as happened a couple of times during the 2.0.x line).
phpBB is also home to large community of individuals who contribute greatly to the overall project. Full of members dedicated to the open source moment, the community’s user driven content such as mods and styles available offers any phpBB user the ability the customize their board any way they see fit to do so.
In light of the success of their London meetup and in an effort to help with bridging the gap between team members and community members, on October 12, 2008, NeoThermic announced the creation of a new board on phpBB.com, “phpBB Events and Meetings.” The phpBB community has been long plagued with member that have a lack of willingness to meet up like other projects such as WordPress. Encouraging casual meet ups, the success of the board is quite debatable due to its nature and difficulty for people to get involved to make meetups work. The majority of meetups posted there never get past asking if there is any interest in meeting up, however there are some such as an OSCON meetup in San Jose California, Germany, Indonesia, and Scotland, among many others.