Migrating from vBulletin 4 to xenForo 1.3 - personal experiences


Hi folks,

Someone on the Tapatalk forums noticed my migration in a support issue I raised, so he asked me in private to share the experience of migrating from vBulletin 4.2.2 to xenForo 1.3. Since I got carried away and used quite a bit of keyboard ink for it, I thought it might help to post it here as well - maybe some people will resonate with my experience, others may find something useful from it... Grab some popcorn, it'll be a few screens :D

Oh and by the way, incidentally the forum I run is called XF, and it's been active for more than 10 years. One could say it was destiny to move to xenForo :D

Where do I begin?

I had some issues with vB which accumulated over the years. Historically our community was running vB 2, then 3. vBulletin had lots of options built in, but the code was also a complete mess. Styling was a major pain in the rear. Then, finally vBulletin 4 was launched, with lots of hype and hopes on my end, for finally embracing web standards and best practices for HTML + CSS, separating content and design, etc.

What a disappointing failure that was. And they kept pushing it as a gold nugged - oh look, now we have an integrated CMS, why don't you buy version 5, but by the way we haven't changed anything on the forums.

More issues starting surfacing, and in the end I had just enough. Let me give you some examples.

Performance was crap. The mix of in-line styling and CSSs made the pages absolutely huge, with long times to load. It was not uncommon for a page with 30 posts to have more than 100 HTTP requests, straining the database server, and generating a total traffic of nearly 200-250kB. For. Every. Single. Friggin. Page.

SEO? No such concept. Handcraft your robots.txt and sitemap file, then hope that Google won't penalize you for reaching the same content through the gazillion possible URL parameters. With and without &page= . With and without &s= . At one point I spent several days tweaking URL parameters in Google Webmasters Tools to identify which produce unique content and which are just for navigation (and should be ignored).

We speak Romanian on my board, which has some language-specific characters like ă î â ș ț and their uppercase versions, which used to require ISO-8859-2 codepage. UTF-8 came to the rescue of the Internets and solved this issue for everyone. Weeeell... except for vB, even that vB4 was promising UTF-8 compatibility. I did manage to convert the database to UTF-8 (no thanks to vB but to tweakers elsewhere), but the encoding of the text stored in the database remained ISO-8859-2 with lots of &code; encoded letters.

This was actually the drop that filled the proverbial glass, when a new subversion of PHP was installed by my webhost, which no longer supported some of the deprecated functions used by vBulletin to encode/decode characters. Suddenly our language-specific characters appeared garbled, but only when using the Quick Reply function. And the search function was throwing half a screen of warnings.

I didn't even bother to investigate, was so fed up with it that I knew it was time to move on before the whole thing collapses.

I had some previous experience with Invision Power Board, and it seemed like a good alternative. But the timing was wrong, they are on the brink of releasing a new major version, and it's a bad investment to purchase the current one right now. So I kept searching, and got a recommendation for xenForo.

The transition has been a breeze. Tips:

- Test the upgrade first. Install Xenforo in a test sub-folder and a separate database, and import the existing vB database afterwards. It should keep your users, IDs, permissions. I had to do this twice just to get the codepage conversion right and all characters to be correctly converted to UTF-8.

- Prepare your community that a change will come. Announce that the board may look and work a bit different, and they will have to adjust.

- Look for (free) styles in advance, and offer your members a choice. The styling is pretty easy in XenForo, although there is a learning curve. Personally I stuck with adjusting the color pallette (some sliders and color picking like 20 hues for the 3 sets of colors).

- Check with your hosting that they support ImageMagick and have the imagick PECL extension active. This will allow your board to resize avatars in a higher quality than the default gd - possibly with transparency, etc. This is currently an annoyance with my community, that the avatars they upload (some are transparent PNGs, others are animated GIFs) are automatically resized to 3 fixed-size JPGs, and used as such in various area of the forums.

- Turn off the vB board first, then change its URL in settings so that you can keep it running somewhere hidden (move everything to a sub-folder "oldforums" or something), just to be able to reference later on user permissions and other stuff. Only then start installing xenForo in your main folder (root of the site or /forums or whatever).

- You may consider using a different URL for the new forum (ie move from /forums to /community or something). This will make your life a bit easy with Google, to have it index the new URLs and drop the old ones from cache by denying access to that path through robots.txt. Unfortunately I had the forum in the root of the site, and all vB URLs would no longer work after the switch to xenForo, so I had to inform Google of the changes through some elaborate robots.txt changes, and through an add-in which redirects old URLs to new ones (by using the migration table generated during the import of old forum - keep it, it's useful). But it is a pain in the neck to make old URLs disappear from Google cache; it keeps warning me every few days that some important page is being blocked by my robots.txt.

- Check forum permissions!! My Administrators group was not allowed to even view the forums :)

- Ask people to check and confirm their private messages. My community is still under confusion of different counters, for private messages before vs. private conversations now.

- You may require some additional features available as add-ins into xenForo. Here are the ones I'm using:
Stay Logged In checked by default - for login screen;
Double Post Merge
Last Post Avatar
Lost Password
Post Message Regex Replacer - was a bit of a pain to figure out how to install, but made my life very easy to convert old bbcode for youtube clips into new format;
Sitemap for XenForo
Smiley Manager
TPU: Detect Spam Registrations
Unread Post Count
User Edit on Front End
User Moderation Queue on Front End

What's really cool about xenForo:

- The themes are fully responsive, so Tapatalk may be required just for the people who like it; otherwise, the xenForo theme works just fine on mobile phones and tablets. Up to you to turn off the notification for mobile users to use Tapatalk.

- The anti-spam filters for user registration are much, much better and leverage existing RBLs and other online resources which collect known spam threats.

Hope this helps... More to come, as I adjust to the new platform :)

Thanks for the patience to read!
Goodf post. We had issues with VB 5.0 however not to the depth you did. I found out about XF from a post in VB's support forum about six months after setting up a VB forum. I was tired of empty promises on basic features being fixed in updates. I checked out XF's forum and was pleasantly surprised about how helpful XF forum members were, seeing frequent updates from the developers and happy posts about the updates working.

We made the switch this past January and haven't looked back.

I enjoy updates that are not released until they are working well despite pressure from some who would like to use the latest and greatest.
I can't wait to run 1.4 in production, but I applaud the XenForo team in not releasing it until it is ready.

My investment in XenForo's software is easily the most enjoyable investment this year - one that I expect will last for a long time
I have to say that Xenforo has been great, like many i run vB4 and i was (un)lucky to have been a closed beta tester for vB5 and i can say that is when i made up my mind to move. At first it was hard due to the legal fight because some key areas was missing that my site needed to move on fully like a gallery and showcase system.

But with the community here i have found the addons from the likes of @Chris D @Bob B @Luke Foreman and many more to be to a very high level and they have taken my site to the next level and passed it, not only with how well made they are but they also make running the site so much less work for myself what free's my time up to do even more with the site.
Thread hijackers, shoo :p :D

Top issues so far:
- Avatars, avatars, avatars. Fixed size JPGs poorly resampled from a PNG or GIF via GD (not all of us have ImageMagick) are a PITA. Please, please reconsider this design decision, so that we can either type in the path to imagemagick on the server without PECL, or can use avatars as-is, scaled down with CSS.
- A built-in notification for latest version in the Admin Control Panel - at the top left it shows the installed version, next to it could be added the latest version available with the link to customer account.

Another benefit of XF: fewer database errors "User ... already has more than 'max_user_connections' active connections". Apparently XF has optimized queries and serializes requests better than vB. The limit imposed by my webhost is 10 concurrent connections.
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