Simple Machines Forum
The history of Simple Machines Forum or SMF is actually much more interesting than what is presented on the official about us page as at the time of its initial release I was a user and big fan of the forum package, Wikipedia also does cover what went down and the formation of SMF which so far as I know was initially intended to be a rewrite of Yabb SE but ended up being a completely new codebase.
I opted to go with SMF 2.1 RC4 given it's a release candidate which means it's nearing the end of its development cycle, so far as I know the 2.0.18 install method is very similar if not the same. SMF uses a few simple steps to get you up and running with a nice progression bar to keep you aware of how far along you are.
Unlike a few, if not most I have covered SMF does give you some small configuration options right away such as registration activation - which can be important when wanting to keep eager beavers out until you're ready.
The install was seamless, easy and in places with options that may confuse a newer user they are well detailed/explained so most people should have no issues powering through a quick < 5-minute install.
SMF much like phpBB and MyBB are forum first setups that are out of the box feature-complete, meaning they could be set up and run exactly as stock without modifications and still have enough features for almost every user.
The admin dashboard which is where you configure SMF does look like a bit of a throwback with its almost cPanel layout of icons - not that cPanel had a monopoly on this look it's just that's what I relate it to, so if you love that old rows of icons cPanel had, you will love this.
The main configuration is a top tab categorized navigation system which has a wide array of options and each option is documented on the screen (the little blue ?s click to show info).
SMF in my opinion because of its array of options again in a similar nature to MyBB and phpBB is the sort of forum where you will want an admin account and a test user account to see what changes result in a user seeing or having access to.
To be fair to SMF you can turn off a massive amount of the core features or outright restrict them, other platforms do allow restriction via permissions but not outright disabling so while you cannot pull them out, you can just disable them and be done with it.
Extensions / Themes
2,039 modifications and 1,325 themes exist on the SMF customization site at least half based on a quick search are compatible with the upcoming 2.1 branch of SMF so lots of extensions that you can build out your community with, although again it's very complete out of the box.
I like SMF it's one I installed and enjoyed a fair amount way back when however despite the upcoming release and shiny new paint job it still looks and works a lot like the early versions. Releases look to have slowed down, perhaps because SMF has reached a level of stability that the developers are happy with or because interest and hype much like what the MyBB devs were discussing has dwindled.
That said SMF is secure, it's fun to use and it has a massive heap of options to play with not only for the admins but moderator options, user profile options ... it has a serious amount of depth and is a great platform for a user to build their community upon.
- Very clean despite a classic forums approach
- Lots of features, tons of options for those features and they can be turned off
- healthy modding community
- Very quick in some specific areas, quick edit is near-instant.
- Development has slowed in recent times
- Feature-rich can translate to feature heavy
- Some 'click to show' items have some weird loading delays (top right profile)
- Configuration approach could do with modernising.
This post is part of our "best forums 2022" series, you can see the hub post here and you can also use that post for suggestions on other forums we should look into.
Otherwise, let us know what you think of our review of this forum in a response below, did we make a mistake? has it evolved in some massive way so needs a re-review?