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Comments August 25, 2008

Smackdown Round IV – phpBB3 versus phpBB-Dave

Filed under: phpBB, phpBB3 — Dave Rathbun @ 2:21 pm CommentsComments (2) 

In the first three posts of this series I went through the feature list comparing phpBB2 with phpBB3 from the list posted at phpbb.com. I then included notes discussing which new features for phpBB3 I had covered already by adding MODs. At this point the score is 2-1 in my favor, based primarily on my needs and use of the code. This is the fourth post in that series and I will cover the Profiles/Memberlist, Search, and Forums categories.

As a disclaimer: this post is not intended to be a criticism of phpBB3 in any way. It is simply a way for me to formally review the features provided by the latest version as compared to what I am currently using, and help evaluate whether I should prioritize an upgrade or remain happy with what I have.


Profiles / Memberlist

Profiles / Memberlist
Feature phpBB2 phpBB3 phpBB-Dave
Custom Profile Fields: No Yes Yes, custom
User Posting Stats: Yes Yes Yes, custom
User Instant Messengers: Yes Yes No change
User Profile details: Yes Yes No change
Memberlist Searching: No Yes Yes, custom
Disallow Non-Registered User Memberlist Viewing: No Yes Yes, via Page Permissions MOD

The handling of how to protect user profiles and the memberlist is something that I’ve been playing with for years. One of my first MODs was a way to avoid showing inactive accounts on the member list. It’s really simple, and I think there are a half-dozen different MODs to do this released at phpbb.com. phpBB2 was really bad at protecting these files so it’s probably not a surprise that there were so many. But where do I stand today?

My Page Permissions MOD was developed in part to protect the viewing of profiles and the memberlist without actually touching the code for those files. It was, of course, extended well beyond that simple requirement, but it started out small. I believe with this MOD installed (and I do install it on every phpBB2 board I run) I have even more flexibility than what is offered by a standard phpBB3 installation. For example, I can limit the memberlist to users that belong to a specific group. Or to people with a certain post count. It (Page Permissions) is a very powerful and flexible MOD and one that has spawned the most “fan mail” via PM at phpbb.com. 8-)

I also have a MOD that offers users the ability to search the memberlist by a variety of different fields. It is simple, but it gets the job done.

I have added a number of custom profile fields over the years as well. In my case the fields are functional and not just cosmetic… what I mean by this is with the custom profile option in phpBB3 you can add the fields to the profile, but they don’t do anything. My custom profile fields include the ability for a user to view or hide signatures, view or hide avatars, even determine which format to use to display smilies. I’ll probably talk more about this when I get to the User Control Panel later on.

So after reviewing the options, I am going to award myself a point in this category. phpBB3 does a lot to help control access to various pages now, but I’ve already got something that’s even better in place. I don’t see any reason to upgrade, and in fact I would not want to upgrade without first converting my Page Permissions MOD over to phpBB3. Thus, a point to Gryffindor, erm, me. :lol:

Search

Ah, searching. :) I have a few posts on this subject, so I imagine most readers are going to assume that I am automatically going to award myself a point in this category. Here’s the table of comparison features, as always, notes to follow.

Search System
Feature phpBB2 phpBB3 phpBB-Dave
Fulltext Native: Yes Yes Fulltext Native Using fulltext native Search Plug-in I like the phpBB2 search feature and have spent a lot of time tweaking and tuning it
Customised Topic Search: No Yes Yes, custom
Customised Forum Search: Yes Yes Yes, custom
MySQL fulltext: No Yes MySQL fulltext Using included MySQL fulltext Search Plug-in Not needed
Author Search: Yes Yes No changes
Advanced Search: Yes Yes Yes, custom
View unanswered posts: Yes Yes Yes, custom
Active/New Topics: No Yes Users have the option to show “recent topics” on the top or bottom of the index page (location is a profile options). Recent topics are also shown on a page external to the board.
Posts Since Last Visit: Yes Yes Yes, custom
Topics I started No No Yes, custom
Topics Since Last Visit No No Yes, custom Searchbox MOD
My Watched Topics No No Yes, custom Searchbox MOD
My Point Topics No No Yes, custom Searchbox MOD
My Favorite Topics No No Yes, custom Searchbox MOD
Search Flood Control: Yes Yes Yes, custom

My big board will likely have over 450,000 posts by year-end. That’s a lot of words, and a lot of text. Without going back over the details of the phpBB2 search system since I have covered it in great detail all ready, let me just summarize by saying that I like the standard phpBB2 system. (I have not yet had time to really read and understand the Sphinx search project, but I do have good expectations based on conversations with some of the phpBB3 developers.) But I digress, so back to the comparison table.

I don’t think fulltext support is important. In fact I have seen reports that on large boards such as mine it is less efficient than the keyword to post mapping system. So having fulltext support is not a big seller for me.

I have already written a “Search this Topic” MOD so no points awarded there. I also have a “Search this Forum” feature. Basically all of the search improvements offered in phpBB3 as compared to a vanilla phpBB2 are already available to me, thus there is no incentive to upgrade to gain new search features. In fact, I would lose some search features. :)

A vanilla phpBB2 board offers several pre-built searches such as “Unanswered Posts” and “Posts since last visit” and so on. phpBB3 offers a new option called “Active topics” that is nice, but I already have it. I also have the following:

  • New Topics Since Last Visit: This search will find topics that have started since I last logged in. It’s a subset of “posts since last visit” since it will only show brand new topics. It’s a quick way to see what is truly new on the board, rather than reviewing just new activity on older topics.
  • Topics I started: This search will show only topics where I was the initial poster. This is a great way for me to follow-up on all of my topics without the bother of watching the topics and getting an email. This is a very popular search on my board.
  • My Watched Topics: This search will provide a list showing every topic that I have marked to watch, along with a checkbox that I can mark to bulk “unwatch” the topics. This feature is provided in the UCP in phpBB3.
  • My Favorite Topics: This equates to the Bookmarked topics in phpBB3, and has the same interface as the Watched topics option listed above.
  • My Point Topics: A favorite topic is one that I want to save for future reference. A watched topic is one where I want to get notified of a reply. A point topic (this list item) is one that I have marked as being particularly helpful. It is very similar to the favorites option, but it also adds a point to the topic which is a visible indicator to other users that I felt it was worthy of their attention. The search results can be weighted (sorted) using this feature so that topics with more points show up before topics with fewer (or zero) points.

I present all of these canned searches in a MOD I call my Search Box. Instead of presenting text links for each canned search, there is a drop-down box just like the forum jumpbox, thus the name Search Box. :)

I have also tweaked the search output so you can restart your search from the results page. The results page shows which keywords were used, which were ignored, and other options.

I’ve added sub-forums (my own implementation which, frankly, nearly sucks :-P ) and with searching you can multi-select forums, select parent forums and automatically include sub-forums, or select just sub-forums.

I have …. okay, enough of the notes here. Suffice it to say that I feel I have spent a lot of time researching, tweaking, tuning, and adding features to the phpBB2 search system. Based on the new features and special options I have created, I am definitely going to award myself a point in this area. And nobody saw that coming, right? ;-)

Forums

Forums
Feature phpBB2 phpBB3 phpBB-Dave
Categories: Yes Yes Yes
Password Protected Forums: No Yes Not needed
Forum Specific Styles: No Yes Not needed
URL Link Redirect Forums: No Yes URL Link Redirect Forums Toggle on/off Redirect Count Not needed
Forum Rules: No Yes Not needed
Subforums: No Yes Subforums Unlimited Nested Levels Yes, custom
Last Post: Yes Yes No changes
Forum Pruning: Yes Yes No changes
Display Active Topics: Yes Yes Yes, custom
Subscribe to Forums: No Yes Subscribe to Forums E-mail, Jabber/XMPP Notifications Yes, custom
Subscribe to Topics: Yes Yes Subscribe to Topics E-mail, Jabber/XMPP Notifications Yes, custom
Bookmark Topics: No Yes Yes, custom
Topic Sorting: No Yes Topic Sorting Sort by Author, Selectable Post Time, Replies, Subject and Views in descending or ascending order Not yet, but I have plans to do so
Post Sorting: No Yes Post Sorting Sort by Author, Selectable Post Time, and Subject in descending or ascending order Yes, custom
Topic Participation Tracking: No Yes Yes, custom
Print Topics: No Yes Yes, custom
E-mail Topics: No Yes E-mail Topics E-mail Topic to friend with Language choice Yes, custom

The big advance from phpBB2 to phpBB3 in this area was probably the implementation of sub-forums of infinite depth. I’ve created a sub-forums MOD that is potentially infinite but is only used for one level. It’s sufficient for my needs and doesn’t have the complexity of the left / right tree structure used in phpBB3. I have never needed to password protect a forum or create a forum as a link. With my daily digest I do offer a way to subscribe to a forum; in fact I deliver a single email for all subscribed forums at one time. I don’t offer a way to get forum notifications via any method other than email at this time, but it’s never been requested either. I have bookmarks (discussed in the prior section on searching) and post sorting set in a user profile. I have a “tell-a-friend” MOD that allows users to send a topic link via email.

Basically I have everything I need for this area, but can’t really say I’ve gone beyond what is offered in phpBB3. Remember that this review is not an unbiased process. :) I am weighting factors based on my needs. So even though phpBB3 does offer substantially more power and flexibility with their forum hierarchy structure, I don’t need it, and thus the value (and the incentive to upgrade) is lower. So I will call this one a tie.

Conclusion

So far I have covered twelve of the categories from the feature comparison list at phpbb.com. The score was 2-1 coming into this post, implying three feature categories had a clear winner and the six others had inconsequential differences. Where do I think I stand now?

I added a point for profiles and memberlist handling based on the power and flexibility of the Page Permissions MOD. That’s +1 for me, making 3-1 the running tally. I added a point for the search system because of the fact that I provide everything found in phpBB3 but go well beyond those new features. +1 for me, 4-1 as a running tally.

Forum handling was a tie. So that makes the score 4-1 at this point in my favor as I score it, with 7 categories with no clear winner. As I type this, it has occurred to me that even the categories without a clear winner are somewhat of a win for phpBB-Dave since that means it is reasonably equivalent to phpBB3 in those areas. Yay me. :)

Next time I will the cover User Control Panel, Usergroups, and the Moderator Control Panel. I am skipping the Private Messaging category because I don’t use it at all, so any comparision would be rather pointless.

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2 Comments

  1. You know, the series has been quite interesting, but reading through things, I’m not sure I entirely agree with your assessments or even understand where you got some of the scoring from. :P

    The reason is that I think that even though you have made some really good MODs for your install, there are still places phpBB3 excels in speed, how things are handled, and so on. Such as the caching that DavidMJ explained to you. I’m not trying to push phpBB3 on you, but I somewhat think you are a little biased in your reviews, that’s all. :)

    Comment by Micheal — August 26, 2008 @ 8:14 am

  2. A little biased? Whatever do you mean? :-P

    I expect that more than one person shares your opinion, so I do thank you for taking the time to post it and allowing me to respond and try to clarify what’s going on. In a nutshell, the reason I set out to perform this comparision was to determine if there were user-facing features that were missing from my MODded board that would provide a compelling and immediate reason to upgrade. I had been saying (both in public and in private conversations) that I didn’t see a need to upgrade, but that decision was not based on any sort of thorough analysis. What was I truly going to be missing by delaying the upgrade?

    The important words are “compelling” and “immediate”. I feel like the read-tracking feature of phpBB3 is compelling enough to be worth upgrading for right away, thus it was awarded a point in the first post in this series. But for searching, spam prevention, page security management, and other items… I am much happier where I am.

    I am clearly aware that phpBB3 is technically superior in many ways. I have tried to include the disclaimer at the top of each of these posts to call that out. Still my board has been able to support four-digit numbers of concurrent users without impacting my server. The speed and efficiency improvements for phpBB3 are therefore not “compelling and immediate” needs. Bottom line: “scoring” is supposed to be a way for me to determine which is more important… the features in phpBB3 that I don’t have, or the features in phpBB2 that I’ve created.

    Ultimately it’s an exercise in feature reviews and needs analysis, more than code quality and efficiency. Do I “need” to upgrade, or not? That is the question that I am trying to answer for myself, and only for myself. Anyone else could run though the exact same feature list and come to a completely different opinion as to their needs.

    The reason I am doing this in public (via blog posts) rather than in private is I thought it would be interesting to see how important some of the features I dismiss might be to other folks, or vice versa. I don’t expect everyone to have my needs, thus I don’t expect everyone to agree with my assessment. In fact, I expect many folks to disagree… which sparks good discussions.

    And blog comments. :)

    Thanks for your thoughts. Hopefully I’ve made my thoughts behind the process a bit more clear. :) For now this is the last in the series that I have completed, and the next two weeks are more than swamped as far as my schedule, so the continuation and final analysis probably won’t be done until the end of September.

    Comment by Dave Rathbun — August 27, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

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