Setting up your forum, part two (installing styles)

Note: post updated August 26, 2019 to bring it up to date.

(Click here for part one.)

Once your forum is setup for basic public access, you generally want to change its look. If you like the default prosilver style, and many admins do, then perhaps the only thing you might want to do is add a logo.

Selecting a new style

If you want to use a different style, there are many sources:

  • Official styles are styles that are submitted to the phpBB group and are made publicly available for download on after a review team asserts that the style meets the group’s design standards. The easiest way to tour styles is to use the styles demo for phpBB 3.2. If you find one you like click on the download link. These styles are free.
  • There are other sites that provide phpBB styles that may cost money. Some of these include,, and Since many of these styles have not been approved by the phpBB group (because paid styles cannot be downloaded from, it’s possible but unlikely that they won’t meet their criteria.
  • If you are trying hard to match colors used by your website, check out The site offers a way to colorize some of the more popular phpBB styles.

One factor to consider is whether the style is “Sassy” or not. All phpBB 3.1 and 3.2 styles should be responsive, i.e. they should intelligently “size down” for mobile devices. A “Sassy” style is one that uses .sccs files. These must be edited and then the style must be “compiled” to change what is displayed. Often you will get a user interface for making changes to Sassy styles, such as changing the colors. Otherwise, changes you make will need to be compiled. For the novice, the process of editing and publishing these files can be intimidating. I discuss this more in this post. If you download a style and it contains .sccs files in the style’s theme folder, it’s a Sassy style.

Installing a new style

The phpBB group has full instructions for installing a style. It’s straightforward. If you are going to be customizing the style, you may want to customize it to reduce the hassle when you apply updates to the style.

Adding a logo

Typically you will want to add your own logo. You will of course need a logo, and it should be in a .jpg, .gif or .png format, and probably fairly small in size too. You will need to know the image’s width and height. Clicking on the properties of the file may tell you this information. If you have a Mac, use the “Get Info” button of the Finder after you select the file. Images should be uploaded to your style’s theme/images folder.

You will generally have to edit at least one file to place the image, usually colours.css and common.css. Search for the “.site_logo” class. For width and height, use the width and height of the image. You can specify a different size if you want the browser to stretch or shrink the image. If you want to make the image proportionately smaller, you will have to figure out the dimensions you want. There are websites that allow you to resize images. A simple search will pull these up for you. Usually you make changes to the background-image property and width and height properties. Save the files back to your style’s /theme/images folder.

Generally refreshing the page will show the style changes. You may have to hold down the SHIFT key when you refresh the page. Sometimes you may have to purge your browser’s cache. If you still don’t see the changed, check your web host control panel.

There may be some software running like Supercacher or CloudFlare that is actually serving these files. You may need to flush this cache so it is refreshed.

This topic may be of interest.

Suppressing the forum name and forum description

The default prosilver style shows both a logo and the forum name and forum description as text. Some styles show just the image. Some don’t show the image at all and only the forum name and forum description. Since many logos have the name of the forum or site already on the logo, showing both can be redundant and look unappealing. Approaches to fixing this vary:

  • “Sassy” styles generally have a switch that turns the display of the logo and/or the forum name and forum description on and off. Look in the style’s theme folder for a file with “config” in the name an a .scss extension. You can probably find a switch in there. The .sccs files though must be “compiled”. There is an extension you can install to make this easy.
  • Some styles require editing the overall_header.html file in the theme’s template folder. You will have to either delete or comment out the HTML that shows this information. To show a logo, you might have to uncomment or add the HTML that will display the logo.

Template changes require purging the cache in the ACP to be seen. You may also have to delete your browser’s cache and reload the page to see the changes.

Tweaking the style

Making further customizations is not for the timid and requires a moderate understanding of both CSS and phpBB’s templating system. If you have both, go ahead. Again, this post may be useful.

Making the new style the default

As an admin, you can permit as many styles as you want on the forum and users can select their style preference in the User Control Panel. As a practical matter, it is easier and less confusing for everyone to use the same style. You can set this in ACP > General > Board configuration > Board settings. You can select a style to be the default style in ACP > Customise > Style management > Styles. Click on the details link for the style you want to make the default and select the appropriate controls.

Setting up your forum, part one

(Note: this post was edited on August 26, 2019 to bring it up to date.)

Installing a phpBB forum is pretty straightforward, particularly if you use the option available from many web hosts and install it in the web host control panel scripting center. I won’t get into how to install phpBB in this post, assuming that you have done that already. If you haven’t installed phpBB, there is an official guide published by the phpBB group for setting up and administering a forum. However, it’s a lot to parse through.

Since I do a lot of these for a living, you might want to follow some of my steps after installation. ACP means select the link for the Administration Control Panel (ACP).

  1. Change the name of your forum. ACP > General > Board configuration > Board settings. “” is obviously not very helpful to a visitor. This does not have to be a domain name, but something textual that briefly describes the purpose of your forum. Also change the default site description or leave it blank if it’s not useful.
  2. Review the board settings. ACP > General > Board configuration > Board settings. Make sure they are what you want, but you can defer installing styles until later if you don’t like the default prosilver style. The guest timezone is also the board’s timezone so make sure that is the way you like it. If your board is regional, you might want to set it to your local timezone. I discuss adding and changing styles here.
  3. Add language packs. If you need to support a language other than British English, follow these instructions. Generally you don’t want to support more than one language on your forum. If you do the expectation is that users are fluent in both languages and can post in either language.
  4. Change the name of the default category. ACP > Forums. A category is a collection of forums that have a similar theme or content. Manage forums is highlighted by default. Click on the green wheel next to ‘Your first category” and change the name of the category. You can have many forums inside a category but you cannot create posts under a category, only under forums inside the category.
  5. Change the name of the default forum. Again, ACP > Forums. Click on the link for your newly renamed category. Then click the green wheel next to “Your first forum” and change it to an appropriate forum name for your category.
  6. Edit or delete the default post. You can’t do this in the ACP, but on the forum index select the links for the category, topic and post and look for the edit icon. Edit the subject and content if you want or delete it altogether. Look for a little button with an X on it to delete the post.
  7. Add additional forums. Most likely you will want to add additional forums and may need to create more than one category. ACP > Forums. This part can be a little confusing but to start off it’s important when creating a forum to copy the forum permissions from the default forum. You can change these permissions later if needed. If you don’t do this, no one can access the forum until you explicitly add them later on. This can be very confusing if you are not familiar with phpBB. This video may be of help.
  8. Create and set an effective spambot countermeasure. The defaults is “Simple image” which has been thoroughly hacked. This means you could get spam registrations. You have two logical choices: the Question on Registration and (for phpBB 3.2 only) reCaptcha.
  9. ACP > General > Board configuration > Spambot Countermeasures
    1. For the Question on Registration:
      1. Under installed plugins, select “Q&A”
      2. Press the Add button and create one or more questions.
    2. For reCaptcha:
      1. Go to the reCaptcha site and generate a public and private key for your site. You must select a set of keys for ReCaptcha V2 Checkbox.
      2. Under installed plugins select “reCaptcha” (it is greyed out on first use) and press Configure
      3. Copy and paste the public and private reCaptcha keys from the reCaptcha site and press submit
    3. You will eventually find yourself back on the Spambot Countermeasures page. You must now enable your selection, so pick either Q&A or reCaptcha (depending on which one you setup) then press Submit. This will enable the spambot countermeasure.
  10. Review your server settings. ACP > General > Server configuration > Server settings. The main setting to check here is server protocol. If you use https to encrypt traffic, specifying it in the Server protocol field. Set up SMTP for email if you have Windows hosting or will send board emails through a SMTP server. Here’s why it may be a good idea to use SMTP.
    1. ACP > General > Client communications > Email settings
    2. Under SMTP settings select Yes for “Use SMTP server for email”
    3. Enter the SMTP information provided by your host or mail provider
    4. To test SMTP, ACP > System > General tasks > Mass email. Enter the username you created for admin when you set up the forum (it may be “admin”) and send yourself a test email. If it doesn’t work repeat these steps until it works correctly.
  11. ACP > General > Contact page. Disable the contact form. Since it has no Captcha, it will probably attract spam. There is a Contact Admin extension with Captcha you might want to install later.
  12. Create a link to your site’s home page. ACP > General > Board configuration > Board settings. If your forum is part of a larger site, you might want to fill in the URL field on this page for the home page of your site. It will add a Home link on the navigation bar.

This is enough to get your started with a useful, bare bones forum for public access.