In theory, could you make discourse look like phpBB?

Let me first say that I personally prefer using discourse forums above phpbb forums for a couple of reasons, mainly functionality related. On a phpbb forum I still sometimes have things like “Oh wait ! This guy actually did react on my post there 2 years ago.”

That being said, if I raise the question on a phpbb forum if they would like to switch to discourse, I often get a reaction like this:

is it me or every Discourse forum i’ve seen feels “messy” and hard to read? phpBB and similar forums may feel too “2000s”, but at least they work and the front-page being categories with a blurb about what the categories are all about (and category groups in case there are many of them) makes it much easier to go and read a forum. Also all the widgets and trinkets and everything that seems to be added with pages full of little user icons, buttons, etc make it feel too busy - something that is worsened by the minimal (to no) separation of different posts (and the “replies” tab which is really confusing since by clicking it you see the same stuff twice if all replies are to the main or to few posts). In ‘regular’ forums, quotting, having a grid and somtimes even alternating background colors for different replies help.

This quote is from this reddit page:
and is +1 by 35 people, so I guess many people feel this way. For me, it is not about the style or look that makes discourse good, it is about the features such as being able to quickly see all the latest or unread post, the markdown editor, the ability to like a post, the ability to tag someone, the ability to summarize a topic, the good search functionality, the mathjax support as plugin etc. etc.

All those things are for me much more important then how discourse actually look. So I was wondering, would it be possible to make discourse look more like a phpbb forum using a plugin ? It is of course not necesarry to remove features that discourse have to make it more look like phpbb, but I’m more thinking about the category page, and just how posts are displayed.


Not sure if you really need a plugin. You may be able to accomplish much of this with the css / customization features.

You might be interested to catch up on these topics if you haven’t aren them already:


You’ll have to be a lot more specific about what you want, if as stated in the above quote you want the homepage to be the categories page simply edit the topnav site setting to put categories first.

I second this. I’ve done just that and combined with fixed category order and tweaking the amount of featured topics it makes a big difference, and afterwards you only need to tweak the css a bit to suit your taste.

I’d also like to point out that while I agree that the Discourse default layout is not without it’s faults, the way phpBB presents itself (particularly in combination with how people split it into a million categories) has been broken from the beginning and for so long that people simply have gotten used to it.

I’m actually surprised it has taken this long for someone (such as Discourse team) to actually do something about it.

FWIW, as it pretty much boils down to which one you prefer to customize, after toying around with it for a couple of weeks I’ve found Discourse to be way less off putting and much more practical than it seems.


I think it is mostly that people find discourse to busy looking. But I’m glad seeing this minimal discourse discussion etc.

You’ll have to be a lot more specific about what you want, if as stated in the above quote you want the homepage to be the categories page simply edit the topnav site setting to put categories first.

I mean simply let discourse look just like a phpbb forum with more functionality. But I will play around with some CSS and see what I can get.

Well, phpBB is very busy itself so this is a rather conflicted statement… “Please make Discourse look like this other very busy, confusing thing”. Better to just focus on simplification: voting the least popular and least used UI elements off the island as we did with stars and starring.

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Well, I totally agree that phpBB is confusing and lacks many features, and doesn’t look as stylish as discourse. I do prefer discourse in every way above phpBB. But if forums where I’m active only want to switch to discourse, if it looks more like it, well… why not make some extension where discourse look more like phpBB ?

I understand that the discourse team doesn’t feel like doing this, but I was wondering if it is possible, I’m trying to achieve it with CSS, it is kind of hard, I’m not sure if I will succeed, I will post it if I have something.

Maybe I should note, that only after I really began to look at phpBB, when trying to copy that style for discourse, I noticed how much strange design things there are. Like every post must have a title, but nobody cares to give the post a title, so at every post you have: “Re: Topic Title”. I honestly just hadn’t noticed that, I think people reading the internet get trained just ignoring things that are not interesting, like an advertisement banner etc.


With so many things to compare and complain, they say that the Discourse is messy and phpBB is simple? Really?

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