Why Modern Forums Are Switching From HTML To BBCode

HTML code and BBCode can both perform the same basic actions, so from a surface perspective it might be confusing why site owners are going through the effort to swap out  “strong” tags for “bold” tags when they both do the same thing.  So why do the majority of forums seem to use the less-standardized styling language known as BBCode?

Let’s first get a better understanding of what the two markup languages are..

What is HTML?

HTML, or HyperText Markup Language, is the standard computer language used to create web pages. It uses tags (keywords surrounded by angle brackets) to describe the structure and layout of web documents.

What is BBCode

BBCode, or Bulletin Board Code, is a markup language that is very similar to HTML. Its tags are enclosed in square brackets rather than angle brackets.

The difference between the two is that BBCode acts as a buffer to HTML.  So while you can perform hundreds of different functions with HTML, BBCode limits that number depending on what the site wants to allow you to do.

So why Switch from HTML to BBCode?

Answer #1: Safety

Allowing HTML at the user level poses a security risk. It allows users to use potentially harmful codes that could disrupt the page’s layout. HTML can also be used to run JavaScript, leading to cross-site scripting (XSS). Cross-site scripting occurs when an attacker injects a script into a web application’s output and executes it in a user’s browser. The injected script can be used to perform a number of activities such as installation of malware, redirection to hostile websites and stealing of cookie and session information. HTML makes forums sites more susceptible to hacking.

With BBCode, forums are able to prevent unwanted code injections. BBCode provides users with enough flexibility to perform most tasks without security concerns. It actively forbids use of tags that would pose a risk and allows for those that would contribute to the user experience. BBCode allows users limited access to HTML while preventing XSS and more. As a result, forums are able to provide a safer and more limited way of allowing users to format messages.

Answer #2: Simplicity

BBCode is a markup language similar to HTML, but has a much simpler syntax. HTML is big and complex. Directly inputting HTML code can be daunting to users, especially the inexperienced ones. BBCode is user-friendly and more importantly, newbie-friendly. HTML can take weeks or even months to learn. On the contrary, most of the features you’ll use with BBCode can be easily learned in just a single day or afternoon. With BBCode, simple tags can be defined to produce big, complex HTML on the backend. It provides users with an easy way to format their messages.

HTML has some advantages such as speed and the many extras it supports. However, with user-generated content (as is the case with forums), BBCode is a clear winner.

If you’re interested in starting your own forum but haven’t taken the leap yet, I recommend you check out our forum building tutorial here. It only takes 15 minutes and is written for all skill levels to complete.

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