[Product Post] Multi-Forum Deployment of Vanilla

In a recent post, we discussed structuring categories in a very large community forum. In this post, we’ll cover how you would deploy Vanilla when dozens of separate forums are required, i.e. when you want several separate forum instances that each have their own user database, distinct branding and unique configuration.

When does a multi-forum deployment make sense? Here are a few use cases:

  • A software company that publishes dozens of titles wants to create a community forum for beta testers for each new version of each title. Forums are constantly being created and deleted as the betas begin and end.
  • An education software provider wants professors to be able to create a community for each course, each semester.
  • A mobile game publisher has a library of over 100 games and is constantly adding new titles. Each game has it’s own branding.

A multi-forum deployment will be done using a feature called the Hub which lets you quickly create several forum instances or even automate process. Implementation considerations will include the following:

  1. Automating (or simplifying) creation of each new forum instance
  2. Theming (branding) and URL creation
  3. Authenticating members when they register and log in

Creating Forum Instances

There are two approaches here depending on the rate at which you are creating new communities: a fully automated process and a more manual process.

If you are creating a new instance once in awhile, then creating new instances manually from the Hub Dashboard is the way to go.

If you are creating sites very frequently or on very short notice, site creation can be automated using Vanilla’s API. Your application makes a call to the Multi-site API and provides Vanilla with a human readable name and folder. The new site will take on the default configuration and plugins that you set on the base Hub site.

Theme (branding) & Configuration

Here again, there is a fully automated option and a less automated option. The fully automated option allows you to create forum sites that are nearly identical:

  • Same default layouts
  • Same plugins enabled
  • Same list of categories
  • Same roles and permissions
  • Same theme (with same colors, fonts, etc)
  • A Unique forum name
  • A Unique logo
  • URL syntax such as https://community.company.com/forum-name

If you need each instance to be unique, most settings can be modified manually after the instance has been created.

If each site needs a more unique theme, Vanilla’s service team (or your dev team) can create a base theme that has theme options that allows your non-technical Vanilla admins to swap image and logos as well as set colors using a color picker. This makes it relatively easy and quick to create a more unique looking forums:

  • Step 1: create a new site from the Hub dashboard,
  • Step 2: upload the standard size images and select color values. In theory, a new, unique looking site can be spawned in a matter of a few minutes.

Member Authentication

Another consideration is how to setup forum member registration and login. Here are the three use cases we typically see:

  • Members authenticate via single-sign-on (SSO) to any of the forums
  • Members authenticate via SSO only to some of the forums
  • Members authenticate manually using Vanilla’s login page or with social logins

In most of our multi-forum implementations, authentication occurs via single-sign-on where members are already authenticated to your website or application and are able to access Vanilla seamlessly. On the Vanilla side, SSO is pretty much out of the box and we support several protocols. On your side, some development is required to provide Vanilla requested information when a member attempts to log in. If you want to restrict which forums your users can access, Vanilla will ping your website upon SSO to check that the member is authorized to access that forum.

If SSO is not required, members will register and sign in to each community using Vanilla’s registration or a social login such Facebook Connect of Microsoft ID.

Quick Notes:

  • The features required to support a multi-forum deployment are only available on our VIP plan.
  • Multi-forum implementations almost always require some services from the Vanilla services team.
  • Some of the APIs used in these implementations are unpublished in our API documentation.