PHP Ecommerce software for a coder?
May 23, 2006 6:10 AM   Subscribe

Modifiable out of the box ecommerce software recommendations for a coder, preferably PHP?

Apologies in advance, I tend to be wordy in my questions to provide all the information I can.

What I'm looking for: I have a few small scale ecommerce sites in my near future, each having somewhat different requirements and very different designs. I am looking for a free or cheap (under $1,000) ecommerce package that will support all the usual ecommerce functionality (cart, catalog, checkout) out of the box, and which allows for open modification of the code.

As a bonus, I would love something that has significant third party style "plug in" support -- support for payment gateways, POS systems, etc. POS in particular would be valuable (integration with the Quickbooks POS a lot of small businesses use).

Who is going to use it: I'm an experienced PHP coder (as well as java/jsp, but I prefer PHP). I'm also an experienced actionscript coder, but I'm not terribly optimistic about Flash ecommerce. I will be solely responsible for the tech side of these stores.

Like a lot of coders, I have a tendency to say "screw it, I'll just write it from scratch", but I'm trying to remain disciplined here and not reinvent the wheel.

What I've tried in the past: The last time I had this problem I selected os commerce. Oscommerce was awesome because there were so many features supported out of the box and users had made add ons to do pretty much everything I could ever want. However, oscommerce's code was horrifying. I'm generally not a zealot about MVC/rigid display/logic separation, but osc was just a mess, PHP code splattered all through the HTML. The HTML itself was old school nested table hell. That said, I did manage to learn my way around in the mess and overhaul the design. On two different stores.

My dilemma right now is do I deal with the "devil I know" (osc), or face a new one?

I've been reading about Zen Cart (an oscommerce fork that's supposedly cleaner), X-Cart (a cheap smarty template based system), Virtuemart (a mambo based system). But I'm having a problem evaluating them because 99% of the reviews are from non-coders. I don't care how easy it is to change the design without knowing HTML.

So, long background out of the way, any first hand experiences or recommendations for how I should proceed?

PS. I know there seems to be a trend lately to recommend Ruby on Rails for everything in the world. I guess I'm open to that, but I watched the must lauded "15 minute to make foo" demos and wasn't too impressed. I could have knocked out the same apps in PHP in the same time easy, and the code would have been plenty clean. I guess I'm open if there's some huge benefit other than rails being Teh New Shiny.
posted by malphigian to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't like oscommerce, you won't like Zen Cart. It may be better in some ways, but the basic approach is the same and the code base is fundamentally just as ugly. I can't comment specifically on any other osc forks (CRE Loaded, CastleKart, etc.) but my impression is that the same situation applies.

X-Cart could be a good bet. It's templated quite well with Smarty. Unfortunately, you might not be able to peruse the non-template code without purchasing it—last I looked, the downloadable demo used ionCube to obfuscate the PHP pages

I've played with Squirrelcart and it seems to be coded pretty cleanly, but of course it depends on what specific kinds of modifications you have to do. With all of these free or low-cost packages, I've found that even as an experienced and creative coder, it's easy to run into a brick wall if you want to change certain things. Especially things related to the ordering/purchasing workflow (for example, you want the user to fill out form B before A instead of A before B, or A and B simultaneously). If what you're trying to do doesn't seem to fit the model of any of the open-source or PHP packages, you may be better off going with a higher-end commercial package (Miva?).
posted by staggernation at 6:51 AM on May 23, 2006

Ruby On Rails is pretty nice. Ignore those 15-minute videos; they mainly hang off the most over-hyped and least-used feature of Rails - scaffolding. This is the code behind the scenes that allows you to produce very quick and dirty admin apps. It's handy for getting stuff up and running quickly, but you'll never keep it for a final app.

Rails is pretty nice. I've recently been working on a complex discussion forum project and I've been impressed with how quick it's going, despite the fact that I'm learning Rails as I go. Ruby isn't so great - I find it a little colloquial and ambiguous.

I was also a PHP veteran and now I do refer Rails. If you're going to code your own, definitely take a look at RoR. It's well-supported, reasonably well-documented and is growing very fast.
posted by pollystark at 7:00 AM on May 23, 2006

ZenCart's as much as mess as OSC. I'm having enough luck with CubeCart (recommended here, I think) that I think you should at least download it and take a look.
posted by Leon at 7:34 AM on May 23, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations.

I had feared as much about zen cart. Cubecart and Squirrelcart both look interesting and are not solutions I had considered previously.
posted by malphigian at 10:14 AM on May 23, 2006

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