Setting up your first forum can be a challenging task. The last thing you’ll want to do is have to move it to another server. In this article, we’re going to make sure that never happens. Here’s how to tell what to look for in a web host when planning on hosting a forum.
First, let’s talk about databases. In order to organize the vast amount of data that a forum could potentially hold, having a hosting service that supports databases is a must. Usually, forum software is very lenient on what type of database to store information in. For instance, phpBB is compatible with FireBird, MySQL, MS SQL, Oracle, PostgreSQL, and SQLite. That gives the user a lot of options as to what they want to do. All this cross-compatibility makes forum software convenient to more than one type of webmaster. No matter what they are used to, there’s a setup to match their preferences.
The other thing a forum owner must take into account when choosing a hosting plan for a forum is that it usually takes more than one database to support. Many blog writers learn that they can use a single database with different prefixes in their table names to emulate having multiple databases. In this way, some blog writers can get away with free web hosting. For a forum, this isn’t really a desirable setup. Forums have many more database entries than blogs do, and they have to be divided up into many categories. Having the ability to create more than one database is a must. It should be noted, though, that most forum software allows for a single database setup. It just usually doesn’t end up very well once the forum grows.
The most popular forum software vBulletin uses PHP as their scripting language. PHP version 4.3+ should take care of most functions for the forum. It’s important to know though that PHP isn’t always what it seems. Often times web hosts advertise their business as having the latest and greatest PHP version. What they don’t tell you is that they limit the use of certain functions and add-ons associated with PHP. If you start getting errors about missing files and modules on an initial forum setup, that’s the first thing that should be investigated.
Here’s a list of items that should be enabled in PHP. If the information isn’t given on the web host’s site (often times it isn’t), contact the hosting company and ask. Basically, it’s the same list that WordPress has.
- Zlib (file compression, helps with bandwidth)
- Remote access to FTP (automatic add-on installations)
- Support for XML documents (necessary for RSS feeds)
The amount of bandwidth you’ll need to host a forum is directly related to the forum usage, but in order to figure this out properly we need to have a base figure. In order to make the base figure more accurate, there are two possibilities:
- 50kb average page size for low-moderate image usage
- 200kb average page size for moderate-high image usage
In order to properly gauge any of these, we also need to define the following variables:
- Average page views per user daily (usually 10 to 15)
- Average number of active users per day
In this article, we cannot define the average number of active users per day though as that would be related to exactly how successful the site winds up being. What we can do is use the hosting company’s bandwidth allowance to tell how many daily users the site can support.
So let’s say we have a monthly bandwidth allowance of 1 GB. Divide that by 30 (days in a typical month) and you end up with a daily bandwidth limit of 33mb. If every user uses 500kb per day (50kb page multiplied by 10 page views on average), then the forum only allows for 66 active users per day. From this we can only conclude that no amount of bandwidth is too much.
This actually goes back to databases. Most web servers allow for a certain amount of data to be stored in the SQL databases. The actual disk storage capacity of the site doesn’t really have to be all that big, though it should have enough room to store extra things like avatars and small attachments. It’s the database that can take up a few gigabytes of storage once it starts to get popular. Make sure your SQL server is ready to handle that.