IPB 1.3.1 to phpBB 3 Forum Conversion

December 1, 2014

Categorized: Kate's Updates
Tagged: , ,

I had an old forum archive on IPB 1.3.1 Final forum software from Invision Power Board.

1.3.1F is over 10 years old — it hasn’t been supported in a really, really long time, and its community of users is dwindling (or even nonexistent). More pressing, however — webhosts have been upgrading PHP lately. 1.3.1F has ceased to function without updates to make it compatible with new versions of PHP: some functions used by 1.3.1F have been deprecated, unsurprisingly.

There are instructions as to how to make 1.3.1F compatible, but running an ancient and unsupported application isn’t ideal. We didn’t want to continue running IPB on our server due to its age and insecurity.

Flat Website Copying

The first thing we tried was getting a flat copy of the website. We didn’t really care about forum functionality, as we’d already migrated manually to a new phpBB 3 installation (in an emergency weekend after a PHP upgrade notice from our host — a good reason to upgrade things before a must-have emergency, kids!).

We chose to go with a flat copy at first because our IPB was very heavily modified, with changes that easily could have caused issues with conversion. The conversion required going from IPB > phpBB2 > phpBB3. There is no direct conversion from IPB 1.3.1 Final > phpBB3. We figured between the IPB modifications and the phpBB2 conversion, it was best to try another way first.


The first tool we tried was HtTrack website copier. It worked okay — except forum URLs are dumb and tangly, so we ended up with many duplicate files despite lots of filtering. It was a lot to sort out. I was never actually able to get HtTrack to complete; though I left it running a long time (days and days), it kept going. Even running on a website installed to my local development environment, the copier eventually froze up.


The next thing we tried was wget — though, again, because forum URLs are dumb and tangly, download of the entire forum took over a week and resulted in almost 200,000 files between duplicates, blanks, and whatnot. Ouch. This was eventually pared down to the more manageable/sensible number of 37,000.

But, even after the download — the files needed updates to URLs and other references. Even with automated tools, the task of updating so many links across so many files… the chance for breakage was pretty high.

Forum Conversion

We decided to try and convert the forum. Though not the best solution (having two versions of phpBB, both requiring updates/maintenance) it provides more functionality than the flat site. With the flat site, everyone was prepared to lose private messages and user accounts. Converting would actually save that stuff — which is super neat!

IPB 1.3.1 Final > phpBB 2

Problem, though? IPB 1.3.1 is so old, there isn’t a converter for IPB 1.3.1 to phpBB 3. There is one for phpBB 2, though.

The IPB 1.3.1 to phpBB 2 converter worked much better than I anticipated, though the conversion was very slow. It took the better part of a day running locally! It was a very simple process, though, so there’s that. You just had to click through a series of menus and that’s that.

phpBB 2 > phpBB 3

phpBB 2 to phpBB 3 conversion is bundled into the phpBB 3 installer. It doesn’t require any extra tools. However, this part actually gave me more trouble than the 1.3.1 final conversion, funnily enough. It kept timing out at random. Through reading a couple forum posts, the most common culprits (insufficient memory for MySQL, etc.) were eliminated. Afterward, I found a forum post suggesting very long strings could cause the converter to fail.

This poster even provided a tool to check the database for such long strings, but I couldn’t get that tool working. The workaround for me was, as also suggested, was to edit the converter’s configuration variables until I could determine within a reasonable number of posts (20) where the error was.

Twice it was a very long string from a PayPal donate button causing it to yield an error. I kept having to watch for these errors as the converter ran, but it wasn’t too bad.

The important thing to remember is — you can keep running the phpBB 2 > phpBB 3 converter with different configuration variables. You do not need to restart the conversion all over again once you edit config variables. It’d take way, way too long to do that every time you hit an error — weeks as opposed to hours!

Post-Conversion Updates and Issues

Surprisingly? Not many!

  • Long usernames were truncated to 20 characters.
  • BBCode had issues: some of it displayed, some of it didn’t. IPB’s topic and forum shortlinks did not survive the conversion.
  • Some posts’ authors were list as “Guest” and did not survive the transfer. I’m pretty sure these posts were under a “Guest” account on the IPB.

Keep in mind, if you’re using my post as a guideline or a help document — the IPB and the phpBB template are both heavily customized. You may encounter fewer errors than I did, you may encounter more errors than I did.