Community Forum Software – How to install Vanilla message board 4 years ago, in my previous self-hosting tutorial, I wrote how to install MyBB forum and why I choose this one while comparing others forum softwares.

Here I am again with a shorter, but updated article.


As you blog or website grow, you may want to add a forum on top of it to help integrating the community. But it exists a large panel of forum softwares and it might be quite complicated to choose the one that will suit all your needs.

But there is a nice website dedicated on Forum Software Reviews, called Forum-Software. It allow you to compare side by side up to 4 forum softwares and for each of them will let you access the demo if available, will share their review and user reviews on the tool. Definitely a must to check.

In my case, my favorties one are FluxBB, MyBB, PhpBB and Vanilla (I used to like SMF, but feel it less good than the 4 others mentioned and as a more restricting licence).

Here is the detail:

(Click on the picture to be redirected to Forum-Software’s comparison)


MyBB has become a really popular forum now with an important community.

Obviously phpBB remains the most popular forum with great features but could be a bit complicated to manage for inexperienced people.

Although MyBB was once my favorite forum software, and phpBB being too big for my current needs, I actually decided to try Vanilla. Super easy to install and administrate, with a very different skin and way to present post (Per discussion).

Anyway, this post will not help you to decide which one to use most probably (you got Forum-Software for that) but I’ll tell you how to install and configure your Vanilla forum on your Linux server (Debian in my case)


Obviously, Vanilla being based on PHP, you will need to have a working LAMP server. If you don’t have that, here you go. You can obviously install it using FTP, but let’s see how to do it with SSH connection directly.

First, you may want to differentiate your forum with your others services by creating a dedicated folder in your /var/www. In root (su) type:

mkdir /var/www/forum

and download the latest Vanilla version inside the newly created forum:

cd /var/www/forum

and unzip the folder:


However, it will create a subfolder called vanilla and as unzip or even 7zip don’t support to skip the first directory (as tar does with the option --strip-components=1), so you will need to copy everythng from the subfolder to your current folder and remove this subfolder


mv vanilla/* .
mv vanilla/.htaccess .
rm -R vanilla

and you should be good with something similar:

root@serverhome:/var/www/forum# ls
applications  bootstrap.php  cache  conf  index.php  js  library  LICENSE.txt  locales    plugins  readme.html  themes  uploads

Now, as we did with the Web photo gallery Piwigo tutorial, you need to change the owner of the folder to ensure apache default user has write access and provide sufficient privileges. Still in root, type:

chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www/forum
chmod -R 775 /var/www/forum

and then navigate with your web-browser to http://myip/forum to continue the installation using their web interface. Here again, you will need a dedicated MySQL database and user to run Vanilla message board.


Virtualhost configuration

Most probably, you will prefer to provide access to your forum through a subdomain like In that case, you will need to create a virtualhost:

The fastest way might be to reuse some of your existing Vhost file by duplicating it and modifying accordingly to your needs.

Or you can reuse mine and adapt it.

In root, type:

nano /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/forum

and here is how mine looks like:

<VirtualHost *:80>

        DocumentRoot /var/www/forum    
        <Directory />
                Options FollowSymLinks
                AllowOverride None

        <Directory /var/www/forum>
                Options Indexes FollowSymLinks MultiViews
                AllowOverride None
                Order allow,deny
                allow from all

Once modified, save it (CTRL+X, then Yes) and reload your apache configuration:

/etc/init.d/apache2 reload

and don’t forget to make an A redirection in your DNS provider.

You should now have a working Vanilla forum.

SMTP configuration:

If you have your own mail server (if not, you can follow this how to), in the administration panel of Vanilla, you can configure it to use your SMTP server. In Settings –> Outgoing Email, you will be able to set the Name + Sender email. The second part will be the SMTP configuration. Most probably your forum is installed on the same server than your mail server. In that case, you simply need to do as following:

No user and no password needed then as it is on the same machine.

And voila !

Well, you can now use the new Freedif Forum too!

Wisdom of the Ancients



Loves to discover web-based apps to install on his own server@home and write articles about it


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