Set up Simple Machine Forum in a Few Simple Steps

set up simple machine forum

Simple Machine is an open-source community that develops software for online use. Simple Machine Forum (SMF) is a popular forum platform that allows anyone to quickly set up their own online forum. Let’s take a good look at this solution, and see how we can set up Simple Machine Forum.

Forums, originally called bulletin boards, were one of the earliest ways of communicating on the Web. A forum is not a “chat room” where people exchange typed messages in real time, but a discussion board on a particular topic of interest where people can follow the discussion and type in their own feedback. That often takes the form of personal experiences, advice, or even questions, giving users the opportunity to both express their own views and learn more on the topic. Now social media is the trend, but many kinds of forums are still widely used.

As open-source software, Simple Machines is FREE, yet, supported by a community of developers, it creates professional results that anyone can use to make their own forum website. It includes a versatile template engine that allows for complete control of how your forum looks. SMF’s server-side-includes (SSI) provides a means for the forum to interact with other pages on the site.

SMF is written in the popular PHP language. This is server-side script designed for web development with all the capability of a full programming language. It also uses a MySQL database to store information, another open-source software product and the most popular database used by Internet sites.

SMF is designed to provide a variety of features you may need in a bulletin board while having minimal impact on server resources. SMF represents a new generation in forum platforms – and will remain free of cost.

Forums are easy to administer with Simple Machine, which is flexible and offers many features. It’s easy to use without any programming knowledge. There are other popular forum solutions out there, such as phpBB or vBulletin, but SMF has them beat by providing many of the same professional features, but in an open-source platform that costs users nothing. SMF is also very extensible. There’s no need to add or change code – your simply download and install plugins. The same goes for themes to change the look of your page. In this respect, it’s similar to WordPress, the most popular site management open-source solution. SMF is even easier to use, and also has drawn a wide community of fellow users to offer support and advice.

Getting Started

First, of course, you’ll need your own domain name and web hosting account where you can install SMF. We’re going to assume your host uses cPanel as the interface for administering your site. It’s the most popular hosting panel out there, used by the most websites, so the chances are you have it installed. There are a lot of options there, but you may not use most of them, so it’s easy once you know where to find things. If you don’t have cPanel, you should be able to find the same functions, albeit perhaps in a different spot or under a different name.


  1. Your host should have sent you an email with your a link to your cPanel and the username and password you need to access it. Open the email and login to your cPanel.
  2. Locate the “Software Services” section, or just “Software” on newer installations. Under that heading you’ll see icons for installation utilities. You can use any, but we’ll pick QuickInstall today. If you have a newer version of cPanel, you should see “Installation Applications Installer”. Any one of these will do.
  3. Click the QuickInstall icon, and then find the “Forum Software” section on the left. You’ll see Simple Machines Forum in that group. If you’re using Installatron, you’ll see a collection of icons lower on the page. SMF uses a triangle-shaped logo with a wavy line going through the apex. Select it.
  4. On the next screen you enter the domain you’re installing to. You’ll see it in the drop-down list. The blank field beside it lets you install SMF to a subdirectory, if you choose. We’ll take a guess you’re installing it to the root directory of your domain, so visitors will find it right away when they visit your site. If you want to install to a subdomain of an existing site, you’ll have to go back to cPanel home and create one under “Subdomains”. If you’re using Installatron, you can just click the “install this application” button to go to the same domain-entry screen.
  5. Make sure the option for automatic upgrades is checked, and fill out the other information, including username, password, and a valid email. When you’ve supplied the info, click “Install Now” or just “Install”.
  6. When the install has completed, you’ll be shown the URL you can use to log in and administer your SMF. There’s also the confirmation of the username and password you chose. You should copy and save these to a text file to keep notes about your site handy for reference. You’ll also receive an email at the mail address you gave with the same information. Now you’ve set up Simple Machine Forum.
  7. If you click the URL and get the “Page Not Found” error, it may be because your site just isn’t ready yet. If you just paid for your hosting and domain name, it may take up to two days for your domain name to propagate across all DNS (domain name service) servers.
  8. Once it’s available, when you visit the URL you’ll see a login screen to enter your admin name and password. Once you login, you’ll see the screen where you can choose the theme and options you want to start building your own SMF.

Now, you’ve probably picked a topic related to your site and domain name, so all you need to do is attract some visitors and get the conversation started.

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