Changing phpBB’s default language for all users

This post was updated 13 Feb 2018 to bring it up to date.

When you install phpBB, it installs the default British English language pack. It’s possible to install additional language packs for your users. They can be downloaded here. Instructions for installing a language pack are here.

Users can switch to the language pack they prefer in the User Control Panel. The last link demonstrates how users can do this. The language pack changes phpBB’s default text. It does not change the language of posts and private messages.

Particularly after an upgrade or conversion, you may be left with hundreds of users who used to use a different language pack but now must use the British English language pack. Suppose you want to change it so that all users are using a different language pack. Is this possible?

Yes, there are two ways of doing this:

Delete British English Language Pack so a new default language pack can be used

This approach assumes you have already loaded the new language pack and enabled it. It also assumes aside from British English you only have one other language pack installed. Warnings:

  • Make sure the language pack is up to date for your version of phpBB. You can download current language packs here.
  • Make sure the language pack contains language settings for the Administration Control Panel. You can examine the archive or check it on your file system after it is installed. Look for a /language/<lang_code>/acp folder
  • The British English language pack is not physically removed if you use this approach, it is just disabled.

Here are the steps:

  1. ACP > General > Board configuration > Board settings
  2. Change the default language from British English and press Submit
  3. ACP > Customise > Language Management > Language Packs
  4. Delete the British English language pack.

This makes the other language pack the default for all users. If you need to reenable the British English language pack do it on the Language Packs page by clicking on the Installer link.

Keep the British English Language Pack as the default and change users’ languages on the back end

You can manipulate the database using a tool like phpMyAdmin you can change it with a database SQL command.

  1. Look for a database manipulation tool like phpMyAdmin in your web host control panel and open it. Sometimes you will get a pop up window asking for a username and password. If this happens use the database username and database password in the config.php in your forum’s root directory.
  2. Select your forum’s database. You can also see the database name and the machine the database is on (the machine is usually localhost, or the server you are using) in the forum’s config.php file.
  3. Your table prefix may not be phpbb_. The forum’s config.php file will indicate if another table prefix is used.
  4. Verify the language code you need. Use a tool like phpMyAdmin to browse the phpbb_lang table. Make note of the value in the lang_iso column for the row containing the preferred language. In this example, I will assume French, which uses the fr language code.
  5. Now enter the the database command (SQL). In phpMyAdmin this is done by clicking on the SQL tab for a table in your forum’s database. Change the table name to use your correct table prefix if necessary. Also make sure the language code you use is correct based on what you saw in step 4 and change as necessary:
UPDATE phpbb_users SET user_lang = 'fr'
  1. Execute the query.
  2. Now go into phpBB and purge the cache.

That’s it!


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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