How To Integrate An Existing Forum Into WordPress

Posted on November 3, 2014 by in Tips & Tricks | 18 comments

How To Integrate An Existing Forum Into WordPress

Building community on your website is a must nowadays. Outside of traditional comments, you can accomplish this by building a social network. And one great way to do that is to create a forum.

I’ve written before about how to add a forum to your WordPress site. Those forums were brand new and were installed into WordPress as they were born. What about a forum that was born outside of WordPress? Forums have been around for a long, long, time. They’re one of the oldest platforms on the Internet. In fact, the phpBB platform has been around since 1994. Another popular forum platform is vBulletin, which has been around since 2000. This means that there are a lot of them that have been in use for longer than WordPress has been in existence. What if you want to integrate one of these old forums that has dozens, thousands, or even many millions of users and comments—or any existing forum for that matter—into WordPress?

A Note on Forum Integration

Okay, let’s back up a minute. First, what do I mean by integration? I don’t mean connecting them together with a link that takes the visitor from your WordPress site to the forum site. I mean actually bringing the forum into WordPress so that it’s truly integrated. If the two platforms only contain links from one to the other, the users will have to sign in to both independently. And, they will have to go to each platform independently to see updates.

That’s not integration. Integration merges them together so they act as one. Once the two platforms are completely integrated, users will only have to sign in once. It doesn’t matter which platform they sign into; once they’ve signed in to one they’re signed into the other. And, no matter which platform they’re looking at, they will be able to see updates to the forum because they will act as a single platform.

Now, I know this sounds daunting, but please don’t be afraid. If you can create and admin a forum or run a WordPress site you can do this. In fact, if you’re a forum admin you’re already doing the impressive and scary part. So let’s get started.

Some integrations are as simple as installing a plugin. Others—not so much. One problem is the sheer amount of forum platforms out there; and not all of them have easy solutions.

Let’s look at a few, shall we?

phpBB

The most WordPress friendly forum platform is phpBB. There are many good plugins available to integrate phpBB into WordPress. The platform is widely used and established. The following list are bridges that connect the two platforms for a completely integrated solution.

phpBB to WP connector

phpBB to WP connector

phpBB to WP connector is a plugin that connects your phpBB forum to your WordPress site. It shares users with WordPress. Users that do not exist in WordPress are automatically created as a WordPress subscriber. It allows users to use PHP login credentials to comment, so it doesn’t require new credentials for current users.

WP-United

WP-United

 

 

WP-United is another phpBB WordPress bridge. This one has lots of supporting widgets. It is fully modular, meaning that individual features can be turned on and off. Modules include sign-on, theming, widgets, cross-posting, and behavior. These modules add some awesome features to the integrated package. And speaking of features, there is plenty to like here:

  • User integration. This includes a single sign-on, it synchronizes profiles with avatars, and includes user management. You can use external registration modules such as plugins for social media logins. It automatically creates user accounts between phpBB and WordPress. And you can easily set individual permissions.
  • Template integration. Your phpBB forum appears within your WordPress site, or your WordPress site can appear within your phpBB forum’s header and footer. It analyzes your CSS and makes the necessary modifications to avoid CSS and HTML conflicts. It does not use iFrames.
  • Behavior integration. This gives you word-censor features and allows you to use phpBB smilies.
  • Cross posting. You can have it automatically—or manually if you choose—to crosspost between WordPress and your forum. It will even sync comments.

WP-United also includes 10 widgets that displays information about the forum. They are configurable and even work with the other modules turned off. These widgets include latest posts, latest topics, current users online, statistics, an integrated login/meta/avatar/profile block, birthday list, quick poll, useful links, top bar with breadcrumbs, and a bottom bar that matches top bar.

BridgeDD

BridgeDD

 

BridgeDD is a WordPress bridge that doesn’t bloat or slow down your WordPress site. It automatically handles integrating members between both applications.

This plugin is free to use. For even more features you can subscribe for $40 per year. This gets you access to BridgeDD PRO, which allows you to add your WordPress header, footer, and widgets directly into your phpBB templates. It does this without having to load WordPress and it creates a seamless integration. The subscription also includes supporting CSS, custom plugins, and phpBB modifications.

Bridge WordPress!

Bridge WordPress

 

Bridge WordPress! Is another WordPress plugin that was developed for seamless integration between WordPress and phpBB. When users register in one they are automatically registered in the other. Likewise, when users are logged into one they are automatically logged into the other. This allows users to move from one to the other without having to log into each independently. Users can register on either platform. If they update their password and email address on one platform, the info is updated on the other.

Installing it is easy but it does require some PHP code changes. Well, not really “changes,” just the addition of a single line of code. Once you’ve installed the plugin in WordPress you go to the phpBB side and add a single line of code. You then enter your settings on your dashboard and you’re done. Integrated. It also works with WordPress Multisite.

Speaking of, the coolest thing about this plugin is its multisite feature. It will connect multiple WordPress sites to the same forum. Bridge WordPress! also works alongside the Domain Mapping plugin so forum members can have separate blogs.

This is a premium plugin at $29.95.

vBulletin

Another popular forum platform is vBulletin. This one is a premium platform. There are not as many integration solutions but there are a few that work really well.

vBSSO

vBSSO

 

vBSSO is a free open source plugin for vBulletin that connects your forum to various other platforms including WordPress. It has two components: one for your vBulletin forum and one for your WordPress site. The vBulletin component creates an interface for authenticating, controlling access, and managing user profile data. The WordPress component creates the interface that allows vBulletin to share data with WordPress.

vBSSO has strong safety features. Data is exchanged using a private security key and it communicates only through the API of the connected platform. It also includes Basic Access Authentication support.

You can log in and out of third party applications through vBulletin using a single sign-on.

vBulletin Connector

vBulletin Connector

 

vBulletin Connector is a WordPress plugin from CodeCanyon. It connects to your vBulletin database to display comments in WordPress posts. It can be used with your existing commenting system or it can replace it completely. It creates a matching vBulletin thread when you post in WordPress and creates a trackback link in the vBulletin thread back to the WordPress post. The vBulletin post contains a quote from the WordPress post. The posts are placed in forum categories that you choose.

There are customization options for avatars, configurable language settings, and multisite support. It also has BBCode support so it will display QUOTE and URL BBCode.

One downside to this one is that is doesn’t do login and registration syncing. So a new user in vBulletin isn’t automatically created in WordPress.

This is a premium plugin with two purchase options. The first is the regular license. It is for use in a single product and costs $15. It can be used by a client but the end user is not to be charged for it. The second is the extended license. It is for a single product and costs $75. It is for a single product in which the end user can be charged for it.

Importing

For some forum platforms there are no currently supported WordPress plugins available. One option is to import your forum data into another platform for use with WordPress. There are a few different options to do this.

bbPress

bbPress

 

bbPress, from the makers of WordPress, allows you to import forum posts from other platforms such as Simple Machines Forum. It also works with many others including vBulletin.

It adds several options to your dashboard for creating and managing a forum. It fully integrates into your site and you can manage forum topics and replies easily with several included widgets.

Visitors can subscribe to the forum itself, to specific topics, and to replies. You can set user permissions individually so they can delete posts, make stickies, flag spam, make edits, and more.

Importing your forum data is simple. You will have to configure the importer, but there are step-by-step instructions on how to do it. Detailed instructions are also given so you can create your own custom importer if your platform is not on the list.

CMS2CMS

CMS2CMS

 

CMS2CMS is a service that will migrate from one content management system to another. It is a great way to migrate your forum to bbPress or WordPress. The migration is done through their website so there’s no coding or software installation on your part. It preserves your SEO rankings and visitors, and it keeps your category and content relations.

Supported forum platforms include vBulletin, myBB, Board, phpBB, Joomla Kunena, Simple Machines Forum, Drupal Forum, ImpressCMS, Simple:Press, and Tiki Wiki CMS.

Migration from one platform to another takes 15 minutes. CMS2CMS will migrate content, users, categories, images, tags, comments, etc., from your old forum to your desired forum. You can try a 10-page demo to see if it will work for you before you move everything over to your new system.

For pricing, there is an easy to use price estimating app on their website as well. It allows you to choose the platform you’re moving from, the platform you’re moving to, and the number of threads, users, and posts. I used the default settings for an estimate to move an SMF forum to WordPress. The default settings were 250 threads, 1000 users, and 1000 posts. I then checked the additional options, which gave me three choices (the rest were grayed out): 1, clear current data on new site before migration (free); 2, migrate images / attachments ($1.00); 3, fix broken relationships in the database (free). I chose all three options.

My estimated migration price was $50. I doubled the number of threads, users, and posts and the estimated migration price was $78. I doubled them again and the estimated price was $98. So for under $100 I could migrate an SMF forum with 1000 threads, 4000 users, and 4000 posts to WordPress. vBulletin was $49, $77, and $97, but migrating images / attachments wasn’t an option.

If you don’t want to migrate your forum to WordPress, and you REALLY want to integrate your forum with WordPress like one of the phpBB options, you can always migrate your forum to phpBB and then integrate the two platforms. FYI: the prices to migrate from SMF and vBulletin to phpBB were the same as migrating them to WordPress.

Wrapping Up

Adding an existing forum to your WordPress site shouldn’t be complicated. In fact, it’s downright easy if you use the right tools. And there are plenty of tools out there to get you started. Hopefully, this list gets you set out on the right track.

But before you start your integrating, importing, or migrating, I want to hear from you. Do you use any of these plugins or services? What’s your experience with it been like? Or, do you use a different solution that I missed here? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Article thumbnail image by KreativKolors / shutterstock.com

18 Comments

  1. I used to want to have forums integrated into websites, until I had a self realization. People go to the website and forums for two different things. People go to the website to explore and learn about it, and they go to the forum to engage and get support. I’ve found it much better to separate them, as I can then track the forum traffic with separate analytics. This allows me to have analytics from two different mindsets and so forth.

    Just food for though 🙂

  2. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Vanilla Forums, they have a companion WordPress plugin as well for Single Sign On and replace post/page comments.

    I would like to see ElegantThemes’ write a post about Vanilla Forums.

    • With the added fact vanilla forums embed.js has the option to load pages via ajax request, realtime notifications, messaging and activity pages plus much more.

      • For a while now I’ve had Vanilla embedded on my wordpress page, but it does not work as smooth as another website that runs phpbb embedded.

        Because of the javascript a lot of users are already typing up a post when suddenly being redirected to the embedded forum instead of the separate one.

        Theres not a lot of themes that can be viewed on mobile and the editor is not working very well.

        Its a nice forum, but only if you don’t expect that much from it. I love the badges and notifications in it tho!

  3. We recently discovered vbConnector and have to say it’s a great way to connect vBulletin and WordPress. In addition, it works with vBulletin 5 – and there aren’t many apps that support vb5 right now. As a part content site and part forum site, we wanted to encourage readers of our disaster and crisis articles to discuss them in our forums – and to encourage them to sign up for our forums at the same time. vbConnector will create a thread in your forums each time you create a new WordPress post, and then suck in any responses (along with the user’s forum avatar) as comments on the WordPress side. If you click to add a comment, it will bring you to the forum post. vBulletin isn’t the most flexible application, but this plugin helps bridge the gap. In addition, we found several bugs with vb5 in the software and the author was INCREDIBLY responsive to our messages and had everything fixed within days. We have no relation to the product except as happy users.

    • vBulletin is expensive and not for a community, not-for-profit website. Sticking with phpBB.

    • Can forum members use their usernames to log straight into wordpress?

  4. Hmmm. NO SMF ?

  5. Great guide!

  6. Thanks a lot for this beautiful article. Give me ideas for my site 🙂

  7. What about Buddy Press?

    • Buddypress is not a forum plugin, it just integrates with bbPress.

  8. I had someone set up WP-United together with phpbb to get theme integration working and embed the forum on my blog.

    The person helping me has run in to troubles in real life so can’t help me anymore and now my wordpress site is missing functionality because of a half set up WP-United plugin. This coupled with the fact that it is no longer in active development (as far as I can tell), made me hate that plugin.

    Going to remove it now and try my hand at bridge DD and setting up a brand new phpbb installation, as wp-united messed up quite a lot. 😮

    • “wp-united messed up quite a lot.”
      That is for sure.
      wp-united has nothing but negatives for the last year? Longer?
      wp-united now returns 404 errors in places.

      I wish the developer would simply say, “thank you for your support, but this plugin no longer works and will not be supported.”

      TAKE DOWN YOUR WP-UNITED PAGE!!!
      Just doing that would save people a LOT of headaches from outdated posts.

      Moving on…

  9. We’ve been using WP phpBB Bridge with some success. It does pretty much all we needed of it. Intergrated WP PhpBB accounts. Login from WP or PhpBB so for a standard WP site it was fine. But some words of warning, after a recent WP upgrade from 3.7.x to 4.x the whole system was broken some googling found the answer with a one line code modification and everything was working again.

    I’m not sure it’s being activley supported any more which is a shame, there are just a few tweaks that could make this a great and very easy to install solution. Obviously it needs that quick mod I mentioned to make it compatible with WP 4.x but also there is a little bit of a speed degradation on page loads. It also requires a page refresh after login in to notify buddypress. Just a shame that it appears to be no longer maintained otherwise I think it would be a very good solution.

  10. WP-United is a dated plugin and the developer appears to not be supporting it anymore, shame. It’s a fine plugin for bridging WordPress and phpBB. I am currently running WP United and it running just fine and the user integration is flawless hiding boards from now logged in users. The only caveat is the fact that you need to run an older version of phpBB and sourcing the files you need to get WP United up and running. Files are located here if you are looking to use WP United.
    http://www.wpzoan.com/wp-united-forum-plugin-a-wordpress-phpbb-bridge/

  11. Yes, the information for phpbb is outdated since phpbb changed their modules from 3.0.x to extensions 3.1.x
    So the only known bridge to me is diondesign. This is not a good solution, which is not the fault of diondesign, its the fault of phpbb extension developers, who dont plan the usage of a bridge and so you got registration errors and you need to contact almost every author of used extensions to optimize their code. But as you can guess their first reaction is “this is not our problem”…..
    So bridging is a real mess with phpbb at the moment.

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