How to Install and Configure a Forum with your ecommerce solution provider
Once you've built your website, you might like to offer your visitors an opportunity to interact with it, and to talk to you and each other without having to use email. Forums are absolutely ideal for this purpose. Here are some considerations when integrating forums with your ecommerce solution provider
Choosing a Forum for your ecommerce solution provider.
Before you can install a forum on your ecommerce solution provider, you need to decide which forum software you want to use. In most cases, this decision will depend on what your server can run and whether or not you want to pay. Here are some of the options to consider with your ecommerce solution provider:
vBulletin (www.vbulletin.com). vBulletin is the most popular of the commercial forums for an ecommerce solution provider. It costs either $85 per year or $160 plus $30 per year of updates. Despite its high cost, vBulletin has a large community who produce add-on functions for it that you can download for free. Many of the web's largest forums run on vBulletin, including the Something Awful forums. It uses PHP and MySQL and is easily configured to use with your ecommerce solution provider.
Invision (www.invisionpower.com). Another commercial forum to use with your ecommerce solution provider with a devoted community releasing add-ons, but not as large as vBulletin. Again, PHP and MySQL. Its pricing structure is also broadly similar to vBulletin's, but slightly more expensive. Really, you might as well use vBulletin instead of this.
Ikonboard (www.ikonboard.com). Ikonboard is a free forum to use with your ecommerce solution provider (but not an open source one), written in Perl. It is now being developed by the community after its original developer abandoned it to work on Invision. Although many forums still use Ikonboard, most are moving away from it – it wouldn't be a good idea to start a new forum with it.
phpBB (www.phpbb.com). phpBB is a free and open source PHP forum to use with your ecommerce solution provider that supports more or less every database system out there. It has a large community and an easy templating system, and is currently the most popular open source forum out there – it comes pre-installed on many hosts.
YaBB (www.yabbforum.com). YaBB is a free, open source forum written in Perl to use with your ecommerce solution provider. What makes it unique, though, is that it doesn't need a database to run: it can create its own flat files to store threads and comments. This is a rare and useful feature if you don't want to deal with the hassle of database administration.
Installing Your Forum on your ecommerce solution provider.
The installation process for your ecommerce solution provider, of course, vary depending on which forum you use – you should read the forum's 'readme' file that will come as part of the download. However, in general, the process will go like this:
1. Open the config file (called something like config.php or config.pl) and add your database details – that is, your database's name, and your username and password for your ecommerce solution provider
2. Upload all the forum's files to your server, preferably in a folder called 'forum'.
3. Go to the install.php/pl file using your web browser (ie. actually go to it at your website on your ecommerce solution provider).
4. Follow the install script's instructions. This should create all the tables in your database automatically and let you create an administrator password for the forum.
5. Delete the install script on your ecommerce solution provider (this is for security reasons).
Once you've done that, you've got your forum installed on your ecommerce solution provider. You should now be able to log in as an administrator and change the forum's settings, including installing any templates you might want to.
There are quite a few problems you could run into while you're installing your forum on your ecommerce solution provider.
Can't find install script. If you have trouble finding the install script to run it, check exactly where you uploaded the forum's files. You need to include the forum name in the URL, and the file may also be in an install sub-folder.
Install script fails. You need to make sure that you entered your database's details correctly for your ecommerce solution provider into the config file, otherwise the forum won't be able to connect to your database. You should also remember that you often need to create the database itself even though you don't need to create the tables, as the forum won't usually do that for you.
Forum installs but then doesn't work on your ecommerce solution provider. Make sure that you uploaded all the forum's files, keeping the subfolder structure intact. Don't upload the files from each subfolder separately: upload everything together, keeping the files in the correct subfolders.
If you run into any other problems, it may be a known issue with your software – check their help and support forums for your ecommerce solution provider or the forum software for more information.