UPDATE: I have since moved away from vBulletin. But the information below may prove useful to others.
So it’s been a few weeks since I migrated my forum from e107 to vbulletin. All in all it went fairly smoothly, but there are a few lessons worth sharing.
Read on to discover how to go about selecting a new forum package, th problems encountered, the lessons I learnt from porting my forum over and how successful the project was.
Why did I Chose to use vBulletin?
Choosing an alternative forum package was a tricky decision, and there is much discussion around the Internet as to which is the best forum software? After researching the different options there seemed to be an obvious shortlist:
This short list was based on forum packages that were based on PHP/MySQL, were stable with a solid user base, were being updated regularly, and had the core features I needed.
Of course there are plenty of others and I’d encourage you to do some research yourself, wikipedia has a list that will make a good starting point.
In the end vBulletin had two big winning factors:
- The ImpEx import suite provided alongside vBulletin could handle an e107 forum import. As I already had a licence I was able to run a test of the import on my Dev install and it worked well. Importing my old forum posts was critical to the whole migration.
- Built in friendly URLs. Most of the forums had some kind of friendly URL solution, but they were either as part of a plugin or had a different idea of what friendly URLs should mean! I wanted to be able to see thread and forum links made from my forum title. Plugin solutions did not appeal as sooner or later official support might be added and you might end up in a whole lot of trouble if the plugin is then scrapped and the URL structure is different. vBulletin offered supported friendly URLs out of the box. I don’t know whether friendly links provide a search engine ranking benefit or not, I just wanted them as the links are so much more appealing.
How Did I Move my Forum to vBulletin?
All in all the process went smoothly, but this was down to careful planning and testing. IF you are going to undertake this migration then I strongly recommend setting up a test environment, doing multiple runs, and testing the results carefully.
The core forum content was migrated using vBulletin’s Impex importer. This nifty bit of software is available as a separate download after you have purchased your vBulletin license.
Get going by entering the usual configuration information (database connection info etc) and uploading the files to your server.
You then need to select the appropriate import for your source forum and then you get to sit back and watch it load. A great feature of the import package is that you can re-run different import modules if things haven’t gone quite to plan.
After the import there are some important steps to go through, you’ll find these listed in the documentation here.
Remember, you should run this in a development area until you are happy with the end product.
A key consideration for any migration of this sort is how to redirect your old forum URLs to your new ones. Inevitably your new package will have a different structure and any forum owner should be concerned about preserving the old links.
Fortunately a handy feature of vBulletin’s import makes this relatively easy. Another big tick in the box when it comes to selecting a new forum package!
When you run the import, vBulletin records all of the old thread IDs in the new table. Most forum URLs, including e107’s, are hinged around the thread ID, so if you have the link between the old and new ID automating this redirection shouldn’t be difficult with a little bit of coding.
So to redirect my old e107 forum to the new one I created a plugin with a single e_MODULE file that picked up what forum thread was being looked at, used this to look up what the new thread ID is and then instigated a 301 redirect.
Alternatively, I recently discovered this script and will probably try to adapt it. Using this 404 redirect technique will mean I can remove the old e107 install.
Unfortunately the Impex import software is unable to bring over the encrypted passwords from e107. Therefore the final part of my migration consisted of an email out to all the registered members to let them know they needed to reset their password if they wanted to get back into their forum accounts.
Again vBulletin makes life easy by providing functionality to send out emails to all members.
Unfortunately the importer didn’t handle all the BB Codes on my original forum, quotes and images were not always handled correctly.
Fortunately ImpEx comes with a little script to help patch up these remaining issues: cleaner.php.
This script can be used to do find and replace type operations on your original posts enabling you to update old bb codes to the new vbulletin ones.
When I sent an email out to all previously registered forum members I was naive enough not to anticipate a number of spam complaints. Even though I explained who I was, why the email was sent, provided unsubscribe options and given that all site members had freely given me their email, and confirmed it by responding to a further message, four people still decided to complain to my ISP (not too bad out of 6000 emails!).
I think people just forget what they’ve signed up for or don’t really understand the difference between an unsolicited message and a previous contact. Who knows? But my ex-forum member’s mistake resulted in me firing a number of emails off to ensure my ISP I was not spamming! I was even able to show the time and IP that these people signed up with and demonstrated that they really had given me their email addresses.
Fortunately, when sending out emails from vbulletin you can filter on a range of criteria. So if doing this again I would exclude all people who are inactive so hopefully only my regular users will get the message.
The other problem I had was setting up a default configuration for the imported users. In the end I added a new user, set them up as I thought they should be and then updated the user table to have matching settings.
Things to look out for:
- Default editing options – let people use the advanced WYSIWYG editor.
- Subscription options – I wanted people to be unsubscribe by default to save resources
- Forum sort order – A number of users noted that the forums were ordered by post title rather than by last post. This is a configurable option for each forum. Once updated remember to update counters as I found this was required to see the change.
All in all the forum migration was a success and not too painful. If you are keen to do a swap then don’t be put off by the perceived difficulty.
That said, paying for vBulletin did seem to pay off as the range of tools and options that come with this package seemed to make a difference. If you migrate to this or another forum package then remember to test carefully offline before making the move for real!
See the finished forum here.
Have you migrated a forum, what did you move from and to, how was it? Feel free to share a link.