Creating and Modifying Themes

If you don't like the templates and styles available on the Internet, or you wish to integrate phpBB with the look of your web site, you'll need to create your own theme or modify an existing one. By creating your own themes, you are totally in the driver's seat as to how you want your board to look.

I'll tell you up front that working on a template for phpBB is serious business. Depending on how much you wish to customize your template, you may find that it requires as little as a couple days or as long as a month (or more!) to get the theme the way you want it. Like most projects, some parts of templating can be quite tedious, but your hard work will most certainly be worth it in the end.

â– Caution You'll want to make sure your HTML and Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) skills are up to snuff before you begin working with phpBB templates. phpBB 2.0 templates, by default, make liberal use of style sheets and somewhat advanced HTML to generate pages.

Putting in the extra effort to integrate phpBB with your web site will score major points with your visitors. A seamless integration of phpBB with the rest of your site gives your board an extremely professional appearance and establishes continuity, so people will remain familiar with your board's navigation as it relates to the rest of your web site. The results will show that you put a lot of time and energy into what you do, and that you take pride in it. Additionally, do you want to be just another one of the many phpBB boards out there running the default subSilver theme? Making your community stand out captures your visitors' interest, and they'll be more likely to come back for more.

In this section, I'm going to run with the assumption that you are shooting for an integrated look for your site. It's the course of action I recommend, as continuity goes a long way toward keeping visitors comfortable with your site's layout.

This section is also based on modifying subSilver. When you're working on your themes, I strongly suggest using the default subSilver style as your base. subSilver is well tested, actively developed, and well supported in the community. It contains implementations of all the pertinent template variables, and has plenty of documentation. You can do as little or as much to it as you want. Because subSilver is the default phpBB theme, having some continuity between it and your custom skin will help users adjust to your community more quickly, especially if they are familiar with other phpBB-based boards. Finally, modifying the default theme helps you avoid a sticky mess involving other template authors who may or may not wish for you to use their work as a base.

â– Caution If you are tempted to use FrontPage or another WYSIWYG HTML editor, resist at all costs! You run the risk of introducing a great deal of incompatible code. Additionally, these editors may try to reformat (and ultimately destroy) the .tpl files, which are not full HTML files, but rather snippets of HTML that phpBB's engine pieces together to build full pages. Avoiding WYSIWYG editors for special projects such as a phpBB template is always a smart move, as they just don't know how to handle these files. Stick with a text editor like EditPlus (, and you won't go astray.

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