Possible to emulate old-style PHPBB like design?

Is it possible to configure Discourse in a way that makes it look more like old-style PHPBB like boards where the “homepage” is a list of categories, and not the more fire hose style list of topics it is by default?

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Yes select the categories view in the setup wizard that runs after you install.


Go to admin, site settings. Search for “top_menu”. Move “Categories” so it’s the first item in the list. (see below)

There’s also the “desktop category page style” which you may want to look into

Edit: @codinghorror beat me

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Remember the wizard is safe to run at any time. I wouldn’t tell people to do it that manual way any more.


Maybe there should be a link to the wizard on the admin page.


Is there a picture somewhere of what this looks like, or an example board that has this feature enabled?
I’m trying to migrate from phpbb and i find the category list ( as shown here ) as extremely off putting for starters.

I understand that discourse is MEANT to be a radical departure from heirarchy based navigation, but i have users who have been used to phpbb for up to 12 years…

I really like discourse for it’s array of modern features. Yet it’s a pain in the ass to tack on and maintain modern features into phpBB. But the lack of heirarchical based navigation throughout the forum, substituted by ‘let the algorithm decide what you see next’ makes discourse too wild of a leap for a forum full of left-brainers.

if anyone has hacked on discourse to be a little more compatible with the phpbb mindset, i’d love to see an example of it.


The advice above is helping you choose Category view as the default view when users open the site. To see it on meta simply hit Categories at the top.

Discourse offers two levels of hierarchy for Categories and lets you colour code them. Very straightforward.

You can also enable tagging and view posts by tags which gives you even more flexibility.

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I’m seeing the same thing from a community that is looking to fork. I think there are governance and presentation methods used in Discourse that appear to be more of a “this is what we feel should be the best for your community” rather than taking a community and basing presentation and a governance structure around that particular demographic. This particular community considering the fork is nearly 20 years old and others that I either started or had a principal role in 20-25 years ago are still going strong today. I see the key to a good implementation is having the software adapt to the people not making the people adapt to changes in the software.

If you want to see what a category presentation view looks like you can click the “category” option at the top of this forum (to the right of the Discourse icon) and that will give you the view of what it looks like. There is an option for only category or the one I like category but with recent threads on the right side of the screen.

In the “basic setup” menu in the admin section there is an option “desktop category page style” that provides six different default layout types. There should be enough options there to please even the most crusty of the old timers.

Why would you need to fork (and all the pain that that would entail!) - can’t you achieve what you need to with a Plugin or even a Theme Component? (and all the benefit to the rest of the community that might represent?)

btw, how well does phpBB work with touch interfaces?

I read it as the community was forking, rather than looking to fork discourse… :laughing: Hope I’m not wrong!


The community is forking to another place, not the software. :wink: Corporate interests acquired it and have basically turned it into a click farm. The goal is to get it back to a run by/used by the community setting. We don’t own the content (though created it) so we can’t do a conversion. The most prominent members are kicking around doing something else.

Based on the early response the people that drive the community aren’t too keen on Discourse. It’s just too different for them and I understand that. Notwithstanding I think that Discourse is technically the best option. I’ve had to crash course basically the whole stack but I dig the cut of Discourse’s gib. The user trust system and ability to do things that long time users have been doing without arbitrary goals and metrics is my biggest concern. That’s what I’m doing now, seeing how to migrate a couple perhaps few hundred core users to levels they had previously. There are noob constraints on fresh users on the current site but the old guard I want to have top privs. There are some that only post a handful of times a year but they have a status in that community/industry that regardless of the frequency they get VIP status.

I don’t care for phpBB and wouldn’t use it given the choice so I ain’t the dude to field touch screen query. Plus for this particular bunch the average, average age is 48. The median is in the mid 50s. Anyone coming in mobile is using Tap-a-Talk. (another client I’m not so fond of). Compare that to the open source hardware company my wife and I had for five years where the median age was early 20s. It was mostly all mobile. Not everyone is mobile first. Not yet anyway.


Got you, haha … yes you have to be very careful how much (and in what way) you try to “monetize” or your community will walk!

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I read a bit of Atwood’s recent blog about stack overflow and realized that discourse is basically a riff on what worked in stack overflow. It all clicked in my mind that this is baked in the cake.

I run an electrical engineering board where the chronological order of posts matters. The whole concept of discourse runs against this by trying to redirect the user to similar posts in various places and this lack of logical order is a huge problem.

If you have figured out how to tune this behavior out, i’d like to see what you’ve came up with.

Phpbb importing is feature-incomplete because phpbb has so many oddball things that could never feasibly be supported here. We ran up against this wall first. Realizing the site was too different for our users was the second stumbling block.

Phpbb is still horrible on touch interfaces with the default prosilver theme and many themes based on prosilver. Many buttons are too small to touch on a mobile device without massive retuning of the CSS, which i have done myself, but it was a lot of work. Font sizes are too small on mobile as well, which necessitates throwing out some redundant icons and features to make room for bigger fonts.

You can see my cleaned up CSS at https://endless-sphere.com, although there are currently a few small display bugs i’m working out.


Also not a fan of tapatalk because it’s a potential security hole and is a redundant way to do what phpbb should be doing in the first place.

The main reason people use tapatalk is for the ease of image uploads. I set the image uploads on my board to an unlimited size with a 1024 x 768 thumbnail creation which solves the inconvenience problem of uploading images at the expense of storage space. Later on, i plan on running a script to resize all the uploaded images larger than 1920 x 1080…

Regardless of this, people are used to using tapatalk anyway because they’re used to phpbb boards being retarded on a mobile device. Despite the fact that my CSS has fixed a lot of these things, people continue to use it out of habit.

Nice job, looks good! And a very interesting subject matter for a forum :slight_smile:

Looks like you have at least 3 levels of hierarchy, correct?

Thanks. I actually tried to push it towards an even cleaner and more modern design but ended up with users freaking out over removing the redundant subject lines and some other lesser used functions to make way for more visibility on mobile.

So what you see is a very conservative version of my vision for modernizing PhpBB’s looks.

Another thing i am not reasonably able to do is move to a WYSIWYG editor because we have almost 3 gigabytes of text in the posts table and phpbb developers do not support their WYSIWYG plugins as major versions go forward.

phpbb by default has these layers of hierarchy which are well defined across the site.
the board > the category > the sub category > the post
Although the post does not show up in the breadcrumb navigation which is a fail; although this is easily remedied with a HTML template / CSS hack.


You also have these options to navigate the site as well, and they provide a quick way to see what’s going on overall.

Very logical to navigate.

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Err what? This is completely untrue. Discourse is strictly chronological and 99% flat unless you choose to manually expand specific replies.


Yeah, I had an instance where some users where completely lost by the expanders, so I just hid the downwards expanders with CSS and then everyone was happy.


Also @awesomerobot has an old school 1999 forum theme he worked on recently. Maybe he can share info about it?


It’s the repetition of the posts in the reply that are again displayed in flat mode that cause the confusion. This is the only app in which I’ve seen that behavior of the replies duplicated in the flat view. The CSS edit taking the expanders out is a good idea. I’d rather see a more or less threaded or flat option but then I’m that guy that hung on to threaded way after everyone else went to flat. Or if nothing else the ability to turn the expanders off in the admin panel so it was flat only. I’m not so wild on using presentation code to control what’s basically a feature toggle but that’s a nifty way to deal with it.