Vanilla Forums

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Vanilla Forums.png
Original author(s) Mark O'Sullivan
Developer(s) Todd Burry, Tim Gunter, Matt Lincoln Russell, Klaus Burton
Initial release 1 July 2006 (2006-07-01)
Stable release
2.3 / November 18, 2016; 60 days ago (2016-11-18)
Written in PHP
Operating system Cross Platform
Platform PHP / MySQL
Size 3.8 MB
Available in Official support for English, Multilingual
Type Forum software
License GNU GPL[1]

Vanilla is a lightweight Internet forum package written in the PHP scripting language using the Garden framework. The software is released under the GNU GPL.[1] Vanilla Forums is free software, standards-compliant, customizable discussion forums. Since 2009 there is also a cloud-hosted version (offered by Vanilla).

Vanilla's open source project was released on 1 July 2006, and has since undergone many changes; the most notable being the complete rewrite between Vanilla 1 and Vanilla 2, the latter of the two became the primary product and Vanilla 1 was passed into the hands of other developers.[2] Vanilla is designed to bring forums back to their roots, providing core functionality with additional features such as emoticons available as plugins.[3]

Business model[edit]

Vanilla 1 is unfunded, and supported by other developers, it is not supported by the original core team.

Vanilla 2 is currently funded in part by a custom, non-distributed hosted implementation of the software run as a commercial SaaS, by Vanilla Forums, Inc. offering various plans with support options.[4][5][6]

Plans offer many features from the open source version with additional premium add-ons supported by the core team.[7]


Vanilla is a free,[8] FOSS, extensable and multi-lingual forum system. The following items describe the open source version:

  • Users can easily set up and maintain a full-featured discussion forum with unlimited categories
  • A variety of community made themes and add-ons are available.[9][10]
  • Single-Sign On[11][12]
  • Social media login[13]
  • Embeddable forums[14]
  • Import from other forums[14]
  • Commenting system for a site[15]
  • Integates with other FOSS projects, like WordPress[16]


Mark O'Sullivan created an early version of Vanilla to support his own online graphic design and programming community.[17] Between 2002 and 2005, this alpha version of the forum went through many revisions, and the core theming and plugin engines were built, culminating in the release of Vanilla 1.[18]

Vanilla increased in popularity and was invited to TechStars 2009 in Boulder.[19] At the start of 2010 Vanilla received 500,000 CAD in series A funding.[20] In July 2010, Vanilla 2 was released, which was a complete rewrite of Vanilla 1.[21]

Vanilla 1[edit]

Vanilla 1 has a very lightweight core with a number of optional plugins, including chat, private messages, "Who's Online", and attachments.

The most recent version (1.3.0) was released on February 17, 2012.

Vanilla 1 is no longer maintained by the Vanilla team, and has been transferred to another development team.

Vanilla 2[edit]

Vanilla 2 is a complete rewrite of Vanilla using the Garden Framework, an MVC, object oriented, modular, extendable framework.[22]

New core features in Vanilla 2:

  • GPL importer for other forum systems such as vBulletin and phpBB.[23]
  • <embed> Vanilla (embed forum anywhere via JavaScript)
  • Social Connect
  • Vanilla Mobile - Configuration required
  • Vanilla Connect (Single Sign In)
  • Themes
  • Banner
  • File Upload - included as a plugin
  • WYSIWYG Editor - included as a plugin
  • Emoticons - included as a plugin


Garden is the PHP framework on which Vanilla 2 is built, and deployed with, but can also be used as an MVC framework in its own right, and has a convention-based folder structure.[24][25]

When downloading a Vanilla release, it is packaged in Garden as an application.[26]

Garden can be developed on via 'Addons' of applications, plugins, themes, and locales.[27]

Each application follows the MVC paradigm, and applications are typically placed in the applications folder, pluigns in plugins folder, and so on.

Applications can be extended by plugins and themes, these mainly use a combination of convention based file structure, configuration, and event hooks.

Pluggability is a core feature of the framework, as is object-oriented programming, so the application and core is mainly extended via plugin classes using a public method naming convention to denote event hooks, 'magic event' hooks, 'magic methods', and occasionally method overrides. Some general functions in the core can be overridden by predefining them.

In addition, locales can be used to translate into different languages, or variations of text, which are replaced by reference.

Release history[edit]

Legend: Old version Older version, still supported Current stable version Latest preview version Future release
Version [28] Release date Notable changes Latest release
Old version, no longer supported: 2.0 21 July 2010 Bug fixes[29] 14 September 2014
Current stable version: 2.1 29 April 2014 MeBox, Improved social features, bug fixes, improved embedding of forums, support for WordPress plugins, /me action 2.1.13 29 October 2015
Future release: 2.2 12 November 2015 Improved features, better security and PHP 5.3 min requirement[30] 2.2 12 November 2015


PlushForums[31] is a commercial fork of the Vanilla 2.0 branch. It incorporates a new design, real-time discussions, an integrated blog, image gallery, member directory and paid subscriptions. PlushForums was awarded the 2014 Critics' Choice Award for Best Commercial Forum Solution by CMS Critic.[32]

Hosted forums[edit]

The hosted version of Vanilla runs on the newest version of Vanilla. It also provides features that are held back from the community edition (usually people who are self-hosting their forum). The features held back are Reactions[33] & Badges, Polls, User Ranks, and enterprise integrations such as Salesforce, Zendesk and Github (among others). This leads to ongoing discussions in Vanilla's own community forums. There have been numerous discussions in the past about the business model and why certain features have been held back.[34] The community version of the software has seen developers replicate much of these functionalities.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "vanilla/". GitHub. 
  2. ^ "Vanilla 1 Site". 
  3. ^ Gunter, Tim. "Vanilla Emotify Plugin". 
  4. ^ "Another Look at Vanilla: Online Communities Reinvented". 
  5. ^ "Designing A Hosting Platform Around High Availability, Low Cost". Rackspace Hosting. 
  6. ^ "Booting the jerks from discussion forums". The Globe and Mail. 
  7. ^ "Difference between self-hosted vanilla vs Vanilla hosted". Vanilla Forums. 
  8. ^ Miles, Stephanie. "App Vita". 
  9. ^ "Browse Addons". Vanilla Forums. 
  10. ^ "What are Features and Addons?". 
  11. ^ "Vanilla Documentation". 
  12. ^ "Canadian software company improves on the Internet forum". IT World Canada. 
  13. ^ "Vanilla Forums". Vanilla Forums Blog. 
  14. ^ a b Charles Hamilton. "Hosted Community App Vanilla Forums Now Embeddable". 
  15. ^ "Montreal's Vanilla Forums Launches New Commenting Feature to Help Cultivate Online Communities". 
  16. ^ "WordPress › Vanilla Forums « WordPress Plugins". 
  17. ^ "Vanilla Forums". Vanilla Forums Blog. 
  18. ^ Archived from the original on February 15, 2014. Retrieved February 4, 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  19. ^ Contributor. "TechStars Incubator Hatches 10 New Companies". TechCrunch. AOL. 
  20. ^ "Vanilla Forums Receives $500,000 (CAD) Round A Funding for Its Innovative, Open Source Community Forum Software - Business Wire". 
  21. ^ "Vanilla Forums Gets Investment, Releases New Version". 
  22. ^ "The forum is dead, long live Vanilla". Boagworld - Web & Digital Advice. 
  23. ^ Archived from the original on May 13, 2010. Retrieved February 4, 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. ^ "cakephp - Forum/Board written atop one of the big PHP Frameworks - Stack Overflow". 
  25. ^ "Mark O'Sullivan • Garden Preview Part I". 
  26. ^ "Vanilla". 
  27. ^ "How to Build a Simple Module and Integrate it as a Plugin". 
  28. ^ "Vanilla Forums releases". 
  29. ^ Burry, Todd. "Vanilla Community Forums". 
  30. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  31. ^ "PlushForums". 
  32. ^ Johnston, Mike. "2014 Critics' Choice Award Winner - Best Commercial Forum Solution". 
  33. ^ Stubbs, Ryan. "App Storm". 
  34. ^ "The Community and Vanilla - Please Read". Vanilla Forums. 
  35. ^ "Yet Another Gamification Application 1.0.3 by hgtonight". Vanilla Forums. 

External links[edit]