Short answer: no.
Less short answer: technically, yes, but you may face technical difficulties, and your server will probably have very low specs, resulting in a slow, sometimes hanging forum. It’s also likely you’ll need a credit card, even without fees.
Basically, if you need a fully functional Discourse forum and a good user experience, you can’t have this for free.
Why can’t I easily set up a Discourse forum for free?
Discourse has some requirements. You need a Linux server with SSH access, an email provider and a domain name. While you can find some free services, there are always severe limitations. They also often require a credit card number for various reasons.
What if I really want to set up a Discourse forum for free?
Third party hosting
Here’s a list of companies that can provide free, Discourse-compatible servers:
|Offer||Specs and limitations||Requirements||Additional info|
|Oracle Cloud Free Tier||1/8 OCPU, 1 GB RAM, 100GB HDD||Credit Card (Can not be a gift card)||Installation guide|
|Amazon AWS Free Tier||1/8 OCPU, 1 GB RAM, 30GB SSD (max), and 750 hours per month
Only the first year
|Credit Card (Can be a gift card)||Installation guide|
WARNING: If you stop your AWS instance, even for a minute, the IP will be rerolled and Discourse will die. Use this at your own risk.
Free email sending services
You can theoretically use any service that offers SMTP, but free services like Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail… Or any ISP email provider usually explicitly forbid this usage in their terms of service.
Plus, there will probably be severe rate limitations that can interfere with the proper functioning of Discourse’s features.
|Sendinblue||300 emails/day||Phone number|
Free domain name
A domain name is needed for Discourse.
Self-hosting Discourse is an advanced solution that requires proper technical skills, hardware, software, bandwidth, and a domain name. Unless you really know what you’re doing, this is not a solution.
Hosting Discourse for free is not the way to go. You won’t be able to have decent service and will face inconveniences, and you’ll probably need a credit card/gift card as well.
And if you have a credit card, you’ll have access to cheap servers that can handle Discourse very well, as well as cheap email sending services and a cheap domain name.
You’ll be able to host your Discourse forum for the price of a good sandwich per month.
Because of the low specs and HDD, Discourse will be very slow. ↩︎
If you host a site on AWS along with another VM, then you will go past the 750 hours more than likely and you will be charged about $0.0125 per hour. In short, only host your Discourse site on your AWS account. If you go over your SSD or hours limit, then you will be charged. If you can’t pay then your AWS account will be suspended. ↩︎