I have been searching recently for a good forum system to use in conjunction with a WordPress front-end, while bbPress is great and I do use it to power the forums at ThemeFurnace, it doesn’t scale very well for forums with large numbers of posts. I have a forum approaching a million posts and tried porting it over to bbPress but unfortunately it’s very slow to use – there is a noticeable delay when navigating the bbPress portion of the site and when making new posts to it.

One new system for forums that has caught my eye is called Discourse, it’s touted as a “next generation” forum solution, built using Javascript it is very fast to use, has an infinite scroll so there are no page loads when browsing longer threads and has built-in tools for voting out trolls and spammers.

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As you can see, out of the box, it has quite an attractive design – there is less visual bloat that you will find with other older forum software and it is quite easy to customise using CSS. One notable site that recently switched over to Discourse is the Sitepoint forums, which is one of the largest forums aimed at designers, developers and webmasters. You can see how they have customized it here.

In partnership with Microsoft

The hosting requirements are a little different for Discourse so in this post I’m going to show you how to deploy it to Microsoft’s cloud hosting service, Azure.

Visit Discourse » Signup for Free Azure trial »

How to Install Discourse

To begin with you will need an account at Azure, signup for a free 30 day trial and you will need an an account at Bitnami, also free. Azure can let you directly install many different types of web application with one click, it doesn’t currently support one click installs for discourse however so I chose to use Bitnami to handle the installation for me. In their words:

Bitnami is a library of popular server applications and development environments that can be installed with one click, either in your laptop, in a virtual machine or hosted in the cloud. We take care of compiling and configuring the applications and all of their dependencies (third-party libraries, language runtimes, databases) so they work out-of-the-box. The resulting packaged software (a ‘stack’) is then made available as native installers, virtual machines and cloud images. These Bitnami application packages provide a consistent, secure and optimized end-user experience when deploying any app, on any platform.

To get started visit the “Launch Discourse in the cloud” page and login to Bitnami.

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Then locate the text “If you want to run a permanent server, select ‘Launch in Account’ in the Azure Launchpad.” and follow that link on the following page :

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Now you can choose your region and adjust your server size, the slider will show the monthly cost for your desired size, to proceed click the “Create Virtual Machine” button.

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You can then watch as your virtual machine is created. Once it has finished, you will be given the URL to your discourse installation, the admin URL and logins and some SSH logins.

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You can click the “Manage in the Azure” console button which will take you into your Azure dashboard where you can monitor your instance’s resources etc.

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Managing Your Discourse Forum

Now you have discourse installed, you can visit the forum and login using the credentials supplied before. Once you login you will see a number of default posts have been added which contain information to help you start configuring your forum.

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The “Admin Quick Start Guide” contains information on how to access the Admin Dashboard ( simply visit /admin ), how to being customizing the colors and adding a custom logo to your forum, How to establish staff members and private forums, creating categories, enabling file uploads and so on.

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On the main page of the admin dashboard is an overview of your site’s stats: visits, members, PMs sent, user warnings, likes, flags etc.

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The main area where you will want to spend a bit of time tweaking everything to your liking is the “Settings” tab which has a lot of options down the left hand side. Here you can adjust settings for complete control over the site, it is very thorough so you should check it carefully. Some options included are :

  • Required – Site title, Email settings, Logo URL
  • Basic Setup – Taxonomy naming, Category colors, Tracking code
  • Login – Registration and Login settings for Twitter, Facebook, Github etc
  • Users – Username settings, cookie settings
  • Posting – Min post lengths, duplicate posts

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Another important area you will want to look at is the “Customize” tab which allows you to create custom color schemes for the site, add custom HTML ( for adding your site menu / header or welcome message etc ).

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Extending Discourse

As with most forum systems, there will be some extra functionality you want to add depending on your type of forum. At the moment there are two places you can find plugins for Discourse, there is a category on the official site for plugins. Each thread has a different plugin and most are hosted on Github.

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There is a number of plugins and importers also listed on DiscoursePlugins which will link you through to the Gitub repository for each.

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Hopefully that has give you an overview of this promising new piece of forum software and showed how easy it is to install on Azure.

Visit Discourse » Signup for Free Azure trial »


Author:

Oliver Dale is the founder of Kooc Media, An Internet Company based in Manchester, UK. I founded WPLift and ThemeFurnace, find out more on my Personal Blog. Thanks!

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