phpBB 3.2 Rhea, first look

I’ve been waiting for the dust to settle to study phpBB 3.2 (Rhea). It is scheduled for release on January 7, 2017. So I finally installed a prerelease version with presumably almost all the bugs fixed. Here’s my first look:

New features

There’s not much new or sexy about phpBB 3.2 compared with phpBB 3.1, but it depends on what you are looking for. New features include:

  • Support for emoji in posts. You can cut and paste or simply type your own emoji shortcuts into posts and the emoji will render. You can find a comprehensive list of emoji shortcuts here. For example, in a post you can enter :grinning: and a scalable grinning emoji should be rendered.
  • Supports PHP 7.1. PHP 7 is a quantum leap in speed for the PHP script processor. Most sites can expect a 100% improvement in how quickly PHP will parse and render code written in PHP.
  • Global announcements are no longer an administrator only privilege.
  • FontAwesome support. FontAwesome allows scalable vector fonts and icons, controlled by cascading stylesheets. For example, if you have a FontAwesome icon of an airplane, the icon will scale to size as you increase magnification on the page without losing detail. In addition, FontAwesome allows the size, color and shadow of the font to be changed on the fly using CSS … no jQuery magic required anymore.
  • New installer. This is backend stuff. Installing phpBB looks a bit different, and looks spiffier. Before I could it install, however, I first had to run PHP from the command line to kick off a run of PHP’s composer software. Composer is used to fetch the third party libraries that phpBB uses, presumably to get a current version of these libraries. Previously they were bundled into the phpBB archive you downloaded. It’s unclear to me if this is something you will have to do when phpBB 3.2 is released before it is installed. If so it will prove an obstacle to many casual forum administrators, since they may not be familiar with working from a command prompt and it may not be an option on shared hosting. The installer’s command line interface has also been reworked. I have not yet investigated what’s new here.

Other changes of note

  • The default prosilver style looks a little bit darker, and the icons have been reworked and look a bit different, and are seamlessly scalable because they will use FontAwesome.
  • No subsilver2 support. Someone developed a subsilver2 style for phpBB 3.1 but it was not responsive (scalable for mobile devices). With 3.2 only responsive styles are supported. subsilver2 uses HTML tables to layout content, which is not responsive, hence it is not supported.
  • The reCAPTCHA spambot countermeasure has been updated to use Google’s latest (presumably the checkbox where you assert you are a human). The old one had been hacked, so this is encouraging. Perhaps it will be useful as a spambot countermeasure again.
  • New events. This is only of interest to extension authors. They have more places in the code and in templates to hook in additional functionality.
  • BBCode overhaul. TextFormatter has been integrated into phpBB to render BBCode, making a lot of longstanding BBCode related bugs go away.

Some cautions

  • You should first upgrade phpBB from 3.1 to 3.2 before you change your web host control panel to use PHP 7. (Note: if you have other PHP applications installed, make sure they can handle PHP 7!)
  • You must run at least PHP 5.4 if you want to run phpBB 3.2, so this may require a web host control panel change. Make this change before upgrading phpBB.
  • While most 3.1 extensions will probably work fine in the 3.2 architecture, some will require changes if only to assert that they will work under 3.2. I have not tested my Digests and Smartfeed extensions with 3.2 yet, but I expect no issues. I will have to issue new versions since ext.php will have to allow phpBB 3.2 to be used.

phpBB 3.1 end of life support

  • The support forums on phpbb.com will provide support for phpBB 3.1 through the end of 2017.
  • New releases of phpBB 3.1 are expected as needed through July 2017. A phpBB 3.1.11 release is in the works.

Should you upgrade now?

In general it’s a bit dangerous to be first out of the gate when phpbb.com releases a new minor version of phpBB. Unless there is a compelling reason otherwise, I’d wait a few months before upgrading to 3.2 but if you use the prosilver style with no extensions it might be worth installing when available. Check your styles and extensions and make sure each supports 3.2 before upgrading, or be prepared to use a standard style and have incompatible extensions disabled.

If you would like me to upgrade you to 3.2 contact me. Most upgrades cost $30USD.


If you administer a phpBB board, you should find my book Mastering phpBB Administration invaluable. Learn lots of tips, tricks and secrets I learned from serving over 400 clients. Paper and Kindle versions available.

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