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How to set up Simple Machines Forum

Simple Machines is an open source community that develops a range of software for the Web. Simple Machines Forum is a popular “off the shelf” forum environment that allows you to quickly set up an online community.

Forums were one of the earliest forms of communication on the Web. Even though social networks are now widely popular, forums are still prevalent.

Simple Machines Forum (SMF) is very versatile and feature-rich forum solution, and it’s easy to set up without coding knowledge. It lives in a slightly crowded marketplace, alongside better-known solutions such as phpBB and the commercial vBulletin, but for many it offers the “best of both worlds” by providing some premium, commercial-standard features, but in an open-source package.

Unlike phpBB, extending the functionality of SMF is a cinch. You don’t need to go digging around in mind-boggling code – instead you simply download and install plugins. The same thing goes for installing themes. In a way, it’s all rather like WordPress, the popular content management system. Ease of use has made SMF very popular, and the support community is nice and lively.

Today, we are going to guide you step by step through the basic installation of Simple Machines Forum.

What You Need

You will need your own domain and Web hosting account upon which to install SMF. If you don’t have your domain yet, check out our step by step guide to obtaining domain and hosting services from HostGator. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this guide easily later.

For the purposes of this tutorial, we are working on the assumption that you are using HostGator for hosting services. If you are not, don’t worry. HostGator uses cPanel, which is the most popular Web hosting control panel in the world. Many other Web hosting services use it too, so there is every chance that you’ll still be able to follow this guide.

Let’s Get Started

1. Go to your cPanel login link and enter your username and password. This information is provided to you by your hosting service provider in an email when you first sign up.

Main panel

Even though the wealth of cPanel options can seem initially daunting to novices, it is actually very easy to use. Stay tuned on Make a Website for a comprehensive tutorial on cPanel that will follow soon.

2. Locate the “Software/Services” group of icons on the right. You will have to scroll down a fair way to find it.

3. Look for QuickInstall and Fantastico De Luxe, both of which are excellent automated installers for Web applications. SMF is available via both installers (at HostGator at least), but we are going to use QuickInstall for the purposes of this tutorial.


4. Click the “QuickInstall” icon, and then locate Simple Machines Forum – you will find it in the “Forum Software” section on the left. Select it, and then click “continue.”

QuickInstall - SMF

5. If you have setup your domain properly, you will see it in the drop down list. The blank field afterwards lets you specify a subdirectory in which to install SMF (i.e. www.yourdomain.com/forum).

We will assume for the purposes of this guide that you want to place your SMF forum in the root directory, so it appears as soon as people visit your Web address. For this reason, we will leave this field blank. However, if you are building a forum as a new section of an existing site, you will need to use this option to place it in a subdirectory.

QuickInstall - SMF Install

6. Leave the “Enable Auto Upgrades” box checked, and then fill in the rest of the information, ensuring you use a valid email address. Once you are done, click  ”Install Now.”

7. When the installation is complete, you will be given a login URL to administer your SMF-powered forum, along with confirmation of your admin username and password. You should keep a note of these. You should also receive an email containing the details.

QuickInstall - SMF Finished

If you’ve installed SMF very shortly after arranging your registration and hosting, and receive a “page not found” error when you try to access the site, don’t be alarmed. Your domain registration needs time to propagate across all the global DNS servers. The process can take anything from few hours to 48 hours. If you want to learn more about this, click on this link.

8. Once access is available, a login screen will welcome you when you visit the admin URL. There, just key in your admin username and password and you can start building and managing your SMF powered forum.

SMF - Admin

Congratulations – your Simple Machines Forum is ready to go!

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Author Picture Written by Pete Zaborszky
Pete runs Make a website and wants to get detailed information to the readers. He is dedicated to being the best and providing the highest quality at anything he does. You can also find him on Twitter or Google+