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Building Online Stores with osCommerce 146

Stephanie Brain writes "Have you ever considered building your own online store and entering into the booming e-commerce arena? If you have, you may have come across some of the many open-source software available for downloading from the Internet. One of the most popular of these is OsCommerce which has been developed since March 2000 and has a full team of staff dedicated to its development. It is overseen by the founder, Harald Ponce de Leon and today there are around 6000 live, registered OsCommerce sites and 70000 registered community members, many of whom are active on the OSC forum you can log on to. This forum can provide a wealth of information when you come up against any obstacle when developing your own OsCommerce website." Read the rest of Stephanie's review.
Building Online Stores with osCommerce: Professional Edition
author David Mercer
pages 372
publisher Packt Publishing
rating 9
reviewer Stephanie Brain
ISBN 1-904811-14-0
summary Practical guide to building online stores with osCommerce

Back in October I started working with someone who had already downloaded the OSC software and had the basis of an online store installed. I will be running the store, however my first task was to change the whole look of the site and make improvements to it before launching NetTechShop properly. Having read the OsCommerce blurb which promotes the simplicity of using OSC, I felt sure that I could quickly get to grips with the "simple" programming language of PhP and HTML and have the site ready in a month or two. I was sadly disappointed! By the end of November last year I was getting desperate, having spent hours making modifications to the coding on the database only to either break the site completely or find it had not made one jot of difference to the look of the site. I searched in vain for OsCommerce For Dummies.

My pain was somewhat relieved when I discovered that a book was going to be published on OsCommerce by Packt Publishing and I put my order in immediately and breathed a great sigh of relief.

Strangely such a book has been lacking until now. You can find plenty of books about Php programming and MySQL or HTML, but try to find a book which is easy to understand for someone with less than a University or College IT qualification background and about OsCommerce in particular and you will search long and hard.

David Mercer's book is the book you have been looking for and is available in either a beginner's or professional edition. It is written in a straightforward, easy to understand manner, yet does not compromise on technical knowledge and provides all the essentials of getting your website up and running with OsCommerce.

The book covers: installing MySQL, PHP, Apache and OsCommerce and testing them, configuration and customization of your store, working with data, taxes, payment and shipping, securing your store, installing more advanced feature using contributions from the OsCommerce website and deployment and maintenance of your site.

Before going onto the technical aspects and explanation of OsCommerce, Mercer explores the whole area of e-Commerce, what is required of a website store to make it a success, the arguments for using an open-source solution such as OsCommerce and the decision making issues any business faces when deciding if OsCommerce is right for them.

This manual was everything I hoped it would be and with its many illustrations, including screenshots of the files you will be changing on an OsC website, I found that anyone with even the most basic understanding of website design, would be able to get to grips with designing a website store using OsCommerce. I had the professional edition and found it really easy to just dip into when I needed to know some aspect of the design process. The book's content is well laid out, in manageable chunks with bold headings, which are clear about the content and the index is comprehensive.

One of the things I really liked about the book was that it addressed the problems, error messages and frustrations you are likely to come up against in the process of building your OsCommerce site. Those were the things that made my head spin the most before I got the book and although you should be able to find out about many of your error messages and problems on the OsCommerce forums, it can take quite a time to search and plough through all the replies. It is much better to find the most common problems in one place with practical solutions.

Another important chapter which is covered in depth is the installation and testing of a payment module. The most popular of these, Paypal is covered in the book and detailed instructions are given on how to get it working correctly, again something which sounds easy on paper, but can cause endless problems if you do it wrong. There are other payment providers and gateways which can be integrated onto your OsCommerce site by installing other so-called "contributions" from the OsCommerce website and Mercer explains fully how to download these contributions and get them functioning correctly.

I am sure that this book will prove to be an essential resource for anyone contemplating starting an online business with open-source OsCommerce software and hopefully will avoid them spending wasted energy in the initial stages just trying to figure it all out. After I received my book, the only wasted energy I spent was wondering why the front cover was emblazoned with juicy oranges!"

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Building Online Stores with osCommerce

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  • Eh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bj8rn ( 583532 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @02:58PM (#14844387)
    How come the books reviewed here are always rated 8, 9, or 10? Some of them must surely be shittier than that.
    • Probably because people feel motivated to review the books they like, and not the ones the ones that sit on their shelf and never get used.
      • by bj8rn ( 583532 )
        There are books that I use a lot, and would recommend to others, yet I don't necessarily rate them all that high. Heck, I'd probably even review them on Slashdot, if I found them suitable for this site (which I don't). Yet I wouldn't score them higher than, say, four out of ten. Or maybe three. What I would do is, I'd point out the absolutely brilliant bit that made the book worth its price for me, and explain that it's really worth it, even though the rest of it is crap. But I'd never give it 8 out of 10 j
    • by bgog ( 564818 ) *
      Ahhh but since these are reviews that volunteers write they only write reviews for things that are worthy. If you worked for a newspaper then you'd get assigned books of varying quality. I a slashdotter reads something shitty they usually burn it or run away, instead of spending time reviewing it.
  • by swimmar132 ( 302744 ) <joe AT pinkpucker DOT net> on Friday March 03, 2006 @02:59PM (#14844413) Homepage
    But I last used osCommerce back in it's 2.2 days (t o build [] ). Doing modifications to the PHP / mysql code was absolutely painful. Horribly painful. There was hardly any separation of logic from the presentation. It was all a jumbled mess.

    Then I discovered [] and life is now good!
    • No, it's still terrible.
    • by flipper65 ( 794710 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @03:07PM (#14844513) Homepage
      Unfortunately it hasn't. There is really no concept of MVC in OSCommerce or it's branches like ZenCart. We tried to use both for a client project and ended up using Miva because of our inability to fix one area without breaking another. It's a bit hard to comprehend how a book can abstracts OSCommerce from php and mysql and still be relevant.
    • In defense of osCommerce, though, I was able to get [] up in and going in maybe two weeks after switching to osCommerce (and away from Miva merchant).

      So, it does allow for a quick and easy store. It was just that customizing it was hard (back then -- perhaps stuff has changed since 2003/04).

      Shopify -- [] -- is looking interesting now as well, and is also built using Ruby on Rails.
      • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Friday March 03, 2006 @03:11PM (#14844578) Homepage Journal
        I don't know how it holds up in the security department (though I'm soon to find out) but there's an ecommerce module for drupal that provides something like 10 payment modules and 6 or 7 product types including subscriptions, digital downloads, physical products, and bundles of some or all of these. It supports both paypal and paypal pro APIs, as well as practically everything else. The best part? It's SUPER EASY to set up. You just create some bits of db schema (IIRC) and turn on some modules and bingo, you're up and running.
        • Not bad (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bozovision ( 107228 )
          I've set up a Drupal store for a client. I've written patches for Drupal ecommerce.

          Drupal is a well designed system. The ecommerce module is not in the core. It's an add on and for the most part it's also well-designed.

          Drupal and the ecomm modules have pluginability as a key feature, which has lead to very quick development. However, I think that touting ecomm as a good offering is premature. It is improving very quickly, but it's not ready yet to compete with professional solutions. For instance - it only
      • I agree with you completely, as long as you don't need customization in the business logic then OSCommerce is a fine product, it's in custom implementations that you will have issues.
    • We need an open source nicely designed 3 tier e commerce J2EE solution. Merchantspace approaches that but it's closed and not as nice as it could be.
    • Seems like you are all being a little hard on OsCommerce. The point is it is open-source software and totally free. You can set up an online store and have a customer frontend and an administration backend, unlimited products and categories, lots of useful tools such as invoice creating, easy backup of database and supports many currencies and languages. Many different payment gateways can be added to the site by downloading one of the many contributions some of the software developers who support OsCommer
    • Sure, using RoR or Perl's CGI::Application [] framework will lead to cleaner code.

      The appeal of osC is the 2000 contributions that are available for free as extensions. Having helped several people set up stores with it, basically whatever customization people want, someone else has already made it and published it for free, so there has been a very low cost to get started with osCommerce for each store.

      Still, I agree it can be painful and scary to work with. I miss automated test suite, like I'm using to

      • I use CGI::Appliation at work, I program with it a great deal and I am starting to use osCommerce having looked at, and not bothered with, Handel.
        osCommerce is crap. The code is awful. There is a low cost to get started end up with an amateur piece of rubbish.
        I am seriously tempted to take time out of work and write something based on Handel (which I liked) which will take more out of my life but will leave me feeling alot less stressed about having to edit spaghetti code.

        No I'm no programming gur
    • Then I discovered [] and life is now good!

      how exactly did RoR help with the "jumbled mess" and lack of "separation of logic from the presentation" from osCommerce? did it automagically refactor the code for you? or are you living under the impression that all PHP is written like that?

      • by swimmar132 ( 302744 ) <joe AT pinkpucker DOT net> on Friday March 03, 2006 @04:16PM (#14845260) Homepage
        Rails enforces (or at least STRONGLY encourages) clean separation of code responsibilities. Combine that with smart code generation (of unit tests, directory structures, skeleton files, etc), easy unit testing, the elegancy of Ruby, and yeah, it saved me. As a pet project, I rewrote the bulk of [] from scratch in two weeks using RoR, including importing the data from the osCommerce site.

        I know that there is much better PHP code out there than what's in osCommerce, my comment wasn't about PHP. It was about osCommerce and its difficulties.
        • For what it's worth, CakePHP [] lets you the same thing RoR does, without having to learn Ruby. Having said that, the "this php app is horribly written. Thank goodness for this completely different framework and language that are not an e-commerce package" comment is a bit of a non sequitur if you ask me, and I think that was kv9's point []. jason
    • I used OSCommerce about a year ago to make a store front for my wife's greeting card business. I actually thought it was quite easy to modify and customize. I downloaded several add-ons from the osc forums and patched my install to add features. I do have to agree that once you have modified the code to your own needs, it becomes IMPOSSIBLE to do any further patches in an automated way. You literally need to download the original code again and diff it with the patch, then manually apply any needed changes
    • In the last month I have downloaded this software and spent countless hours building it from scratch. There is no template management system and everything is a mix of PHP and HTML. Every php file is a HUUUUGE collection of nested IF/THEN/ELSE's. I can't even imagine what the programmers were thinking. The image caching was also corrupting the images randomly. If you "purchase" a template like i did, its actually all the PHP files just rewritten. I ended up just scrapping it and moving over to x-cart last
    • by Eil ( 82413 )
      I haven't used osCommerce myself, but my cow-orkers have and they declare it to be one of the biggest, steamiest piles of bovine excrement that the open source world has ever seen.

      What they considered to be the worst feature of osCommerce were its "modules". Like many software products, you can install "modules" for added functionality. There were dozens of "modules" available. Imagine our surprise when we found out that osCommerce "modules" were really just patches against the already horrible code base. M
    • I'm setting up a webstore with osCommerce right now - I'm sorry to say that the annoyances you found are still around.

      Not only is all the HTML deeply baked into the PHP code, it's quite crappy HTML as well. To be honest, the standard layout looks like utter crap and I pity anyone who uses it. Well, atleast if you don't have a fondness for the worst freeware clipart this planet has to offer. If you add plugins to the code you'll find yourself in a world of pain when a new version of osCommerce is released
    • "But I last used osCommerce back in it's [sic] 2.2 days "

      Considering that 2.2 hasn't been released yet, that's quite an accomplishment. The most recent release was a patch on milestone 2 (of 4) of the 2.2 project:,121 []
    • I also made the mistake of building a website with it. That was a terrible decision on my part. I've finally replaced it by rolling my own using Smarty [], wfCart [], and paypal_ipn [].
    • osCommerce is just horribly coded and documented is the problem although I agree PHP isn't the best language for complex programs either.
    • I was going to say the exact same thing. I was working on a store for a client, using osCommerce, and I found any modifications to it ridiculously labourious. The HTML was everywhere, with PHP crudely wedged in between it. TEMPLATES, PEOPLE!

      I ended up using ZenCart, which turned out to be pretty much exactly the same thing, with very few updates to its osCommerce predecessor.

      Eventually I just used the ZenCart back-end, and developed my own front-end, using templates to at least make it sane.

      Horrible so

  • by oc-beta ( 941915 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @03:03PM (#14844452)
    With Yahoo stores, Ebay stores, Amazon shops, most SMB retailers will partner with them for their shopping cart needs. For the rest of us, this book is a good alternative.
  • For me, the biggest reason that I never got into websites that accept credit cards is because of the enormous amount of fraud that occurs. Maybe Google purchases will offer some protection without costing as much as paypal.
    • There are lots of things that people can do to limit the fraud they experience in online businesses. Most of it is really simple like checking the address and zip code on the account or the CVV2 numbers on the back of the card. Or, you can choose to not ship any orders to Nigeria, which will cut out a ton of fraud. Iwould seriously consider starting an online business if I had $600 laying around to get it off the ground. Yahoo! Merchant Solutions all the way.
      • Go to the gentoo page and click through to VR Hosting. You get a complete package with ecommerce, 50GB/mo, 5GB disk, 5 mysql dbs, email, blah blah blah for like $7/mo. At least, that's what they charged me. I Dunno about the security (as I said earlier []) but you can use the drupal open source CMS with the ecommerce module to get a super easy storefront integrated with a CMS, but they also have something already set up and ready to customize and use.
        • Interesting. Do you have a working site yet? I'm thinking about starting an greating card website where you can preorder the next 10 anniversaries and holidays so you never forget.
          • Yeah, but it looks like canned ass right now because I'm in the middle of dicking around with sIFR and figuring out theming. I'm also still trying to remember how CSS works - I just became a webmaster on Monday and it's been months since I've messed around with web content besides typing slashdot comments in xhtml :D

            In the last month or so, I've taught myself [basic but quite functional] javascript, ASP, and learned about several CSS features I've never used before. Right now, I'm about to delve into br

    • >accept credit cards is because of the enormous amount of fraud that occurs

      I wouldn't worry too much. You post on slashdot; you must be a little savvy. You just have to be careful which sites you use.

      Buying porn from an xxx site? Yes, kiss your card details goodbye.
      Buying some hardware from a new source? You'll check them out first.

      It's the vast number of complete fools out there who have the problems.

      • He was talking about the merchant side of things. As a consumer, if your cc is stolen and you get a $10,000 bill, you'll spend some time on the phone, but you won't end up paying it.

        As a merchant, if you send out $1000 worth of goods and it turns out the cc was stolen, you have to eat it.

        • >He was talking about the merchant side of things

          From his comment:
          >>Maybe Google purchases will offer some protection without costing as much as paypal.

          Don't think so mate.
  • Link... (Score:3, Informative)

    by bgarcia ( 33222 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @03:06PM (#14844505) Homepage Journal
    OsCommerce website []
  • PCI Compliancy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Wyndo ( 263536 )
    Is it built in a way that lets it pass PCI Compliancy testing? That's a big deal since last year, and many of us with eCommerce merchant sites are still struggling to comply with the myriad of rules and restricts imposed by Visa and Mastercard.
    • What's PCI Compliancy?
      • Re:PCI Compliancy (Score:3, Informative)

        by hal9000(jr) ( 316943 )
        To Quote "CISP compliance is required of all merchants and service providers that store, process, or transmit Visa cardholder data. The program applies to all payment channels, including retail (brick-and-mortar), mail/telephone order, and e-commerce. Compliance with CISP means compliance with the PCI Data Security Standard with the required program validation. The Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard offers a single approach to safeguarding sensitive data for all card brands. Other card compa
    • Re:PCI Compliancy (Score:2, Informative)

      by Wyndo ( 263536 )
      In a nutshell, it's a set of requirements applicable to any merchant who processes credit cards online. It's something driven by Visa and Mastercard, in their efforts to fight fraud. In my opinion, it's *way* too dramatic, requiring such a large number of points as to make it impossible for most smaller merchants to ever really comply. It's not optional, either. If you accept Visa and Mastercard, you have to be PCI Compliant. The amount of business you do can affect which compliancy level you have to meet,
  • I run and work with a lot of web development firms, and the out-of-the-box solutions for eCommerce are usually a nightmare - osCommerce included.

    They do quite a bit, but they're a NIGHTMARE to customize to a particular site. Forget leaving it up to your designers to implement the layout -- while they do use Smarty templates (wise choice) for their frontend, the code is sloppy and difficult to work with.
  • by spazoidspam ( 708589 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @03:16PM (#14844625)
    osCommerce is great if you don't plan on modifying any code. Its really easy to set up and get going. However, if you plan on making large modifications to the code, you are in for a special treat! The code is a gigantic mess, very very painful to read. I had a customer that wanted to use osCommerce, but they wanted to make the site look like their old shopping cart, which was proprietary. Lets just say that it would have been easier for me to build them a new shopping cart from scratch then to modify osCommerce enough to make it work for them.
    • Actually, I would say that it's roughly a toss-up whether it's easier to rewrite it or hack it, which is even worse, because every time you sit down to make a change, you have to revisit the question of whether or not you ought to rewrite the damned thing.

      It would be really nice to just rewrite the thing in a decent language, with a bit of structure and clarity, and maybe some useful debugging information. But because it basically works, it hasn't happened yet.
    • What I ended up doing was writing a bit that would inject item info from my layout and database into the OSC one once a person added the item to their cart. Not real elegant, but it works well. The frustrating bit is that OSC is hands-down the best open cart program I've seen.
    • Ugh, tell me about it. I work at a fulfillment house that ships products for ecommerce folks, and one customer had their site setup with oscommerce. Writing an integration between our servers and their shopping cart, even just setting it up to send and receive SOAP messages was a PITA. Too bad I didn't take the time to write a module to do that, so now its code mods everytime it gets changed... bleh
    • I know what you mean!

      I did an osCommerce site for an artist ( []) and modifying the layout was a nightmare. Because of the fact there is no separation between PHP code and layout, it is a case of traversing through nearly 50 jumbled files and manually changing many lines. It is a thing I never want to repeat EVER.
    • osCommerce is great for developers. While dense (there's a lot of code), it's easy to understand for someone willing to spend time working with it.

      osCommerce is also fine for non-developers who don't mind using the base install/look or paying someone to make changes.

      Where osCommerce sucks is for people who code HTML for a living and want to just change some HTML templates to change the design. Or for people who want to turn functionality on and off at whim. Or for people who can code, but don't want to s
  • osCommerce is a mess. The best thing to do is opt for the fork, Zen Cart [].
    • Er, Zen Cart is OSCommerce, just with a lot of mods. Warts on warts. Unfortunately, switching to ZenCart won't make your maintenance life any easier, although if it has the features you want, it's not bad. My main complaint about ZenCart is how much useless crap there is in it that hardly anyone will ever use. The ZenCart developers are supposedly working on a rewrite; having learned in the crucible of OSCommerce, perhaps they will in fact produce a nice clean replacement. I'm looking forward to s
      • Er, Zen Cart is OSCommerce, just with a lot of mods.

        No, it's is a "fork" in which much of the code base has been extensivly rewritten. But it's still crap next to Interchange []

        • Re:Bullshit. (Score:3, Insightful)

          by firebus ( 49468 )
          interchange rocks, but the learning curve is STEEP - much steeper than oscommerce, although once you make it to the top you've learned yourself a nice extensible system instead of a giant mountain of crap like OSC :)

          add to that the extreme unhelpfulness/bitchiness of the mailing lists/core devs, lack of 'how do i get started' documentation, and the lack of modules to support many payment methods (afaik, there's still no good, supported, paypal option!) has always discouraged me from using IC.

          my sense is tha
        • The rewrites aren't extensive. I've diffed them. Honest. There's lots of extra stuff heaped on, but that's not a rewrite - that's a barnacle. Barnacles can be useful, but they're not the same thing as a rewrite. Like I said, I'm looking forward to seeing the actual rewrite the zen dev guys are talking about.
    • Zen Cart is JUST as bad. Horrific code in the front and back ends. I could go on but I'd be sick.
  • Interchange (Score:3, Informative)

    by IMightB ( 533307 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @03:17PM (#14844647) Journal
    I have always preferred Interchange [] over osCommerce. It has a bit of a learning curve, but is so much more powerfull and flexible that it puts any other OSS eCommerce package to shame.

    osCommerce to me has always seemed to me like a "Your Mom can set it up and maintain it" type of application. And therefore has many issues when you try to do more advanced types of layout and flow.
    • Mod parent up.

      Interchange is a very powerful solution, but like the parent said: steep learning curve! We had a contractor in at work for our Interchange project, and you might like to consider that option too.

      FYI: At one point Red Hat funded it (for good or bad I don't know).
    • Interchange is a steller OSS package. Doesn't get much press, but by far the best "free" one out there.
      • Agreed... I used Interchange to set up an ecommerce site for my employer ( back in 2002. Since then it has become our internal wholesale order entry interface, tied together our accounting system and CRM software, and become our business reporting suite and warehouse application.

        Unfortunately, the reasons why it is so powerful are the same reasons why it has a high learning curve and a lot of people get turned off of using it.
        • I think Interchange also lacks a good "community", so unless you're up to the steep learning curve or want to PAY the dev team to do it for you, well, this is why people choose OSC. But if I had to go with OSC, I'd go with Zen Cart instead.
    • What language is interchange written in? What databases does it support?

      Searched all over their homepage. Lovely demo, but nothing on language or database support anywhere.
      • First sentence on the about page...

        Interchange is an open source commerce server and application server/component application, written in the Perl programming language.

        And since it's written in perl it supports whatever database you can access with DBI.
    • Re:Interchange (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dingfelder ( 819778 )
      I agree tht OSC is not the best solution. What I disagree upon is your take on the "better" solution. IMHO, cubecart [] is a much better solution. Why?
      • Their templating engines are much more robust (seperate html from php code)
      • Over 40,000 members
      • Valid XHTML & CSS Code (CubeCart claims they are the ONLY cart with this feature)
      • Simple integration for 2Checkout,, WorldPay, PayPal, NOCHEX, E-Gold and other secure payment companies! (almost 30 supported gateways)
      • free to use, low cost to rem
    • As a Perl programmer, I tried Interchange before osCommerce. I found Interchange difficult and slow to work with, often making it more difficult to customize than writing code from scratch. See the details I wrote about What's wrong with Interchange []. That's been awhile ago. Maybe it has grown into something I'd like better.

      Keep in mind Interchange grew out of a time when the web was wild and young, and pre-packaged e-commerce options were few.

      These days, Perl's CPAN offers a tremendous amount more in th

  • After hours of tinkering. I decided to go with a paid solution. I have been using Sunshop [] by Turnkey Web Tools for all of my e-commerce projects.
  • by tokamoka ( 859800 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @03:25PM (#14844717)
    OSC embodies pretty much everything that people say is wrong with PHP development. I'm sure they (the OSC devs) are a well meaning bunch, but if you ever want an example of spaghetti code, go download the source and book a week off. If you even consider using it, well good luck with altering the codebase in any significant way - you'll (almost literally) need it. What irks me most is that people will look at this and think that all PHP apps are this badly/painfully written. Believe it or not (and contrary to the general Slashdot line), with PHP5.1 it's actually really easy to write pretty good looking (from a programmers perspective), functional *and* maintainable OOP/MVC webapps provided you understand the above core concepts of OOP/MVC. OSC needs to be taken into a quiet room and shot, just like the rest of the old PHP4 apps.
  • This sounds pretty useful. However, the article only seems to give a link to a book. How about a link to the actual software please?

  • by drhamad ( 868567 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @03:39PM (#14844890)
    osCommerce seemed like a nice, easy, powerful solution when I decided to install it. Instead, it has been more of a pain than it's worth.

    A store with no ability to do coupon codes? (Without massive modification, which can't easily be done if your store is already running)

    I find it loses orders sometimes
    I've never gotten shipping to work right - hard to do shipping cost per item (with different items having different costs) per country (or even, just North America v. International, per item).
    Admin panel navigation is... strange, to say the least. Once you go into the pending orders, and leave, you can't then go back to just pending orders - you have to go to all orders (unless yous tart back on /admin/ ).

    Generally it's just inflexible, even with all the plugins you can put in.
    • I was able to get coupon codes up and running in less than a day on my heavily modified site. 'Massive' modification and changing a few files are 2 different things.

      Shipping is nowhere near as complicated as it is for other sites. There are more than a few cart applications where stores just spout 'FREE SHIPPPING' because they couldn't figure out how some goofy table sytem. OsCommerce is a lot easier.

      THe admin menu isn't the greatest, but so what? It's just a bunch of links so you can always create your own
  • "Have you ever considered building your own online store and entering into the booming e-commerce arena?"

    Yes, until I realized I have nothing to sell. Booming or no, mine would be an empty storefront. Same with my blog and forum. PHP/MySQL/free software is great and all, but I find that it languishes unused and underutilized for the most part.

  • by stevel ( 64802 ) * on Friday March 03, 2006 @03:42PM (#14844925) Homepage
    First off - I love osCommerce. I run a web store using it, have written several popular contributions and participate in the official forum. But the reviewer can perhaps be excused for thinking that there has not been a book on osCommerce before this - there are several. The problem is that Harald (or one of his minions) quickly removes from the forum any mention of any commercial product (book, add-on, service, etc.) relating to osCommerce other than those from his advertisers. Go to and search for "oscommerce" - you'll get many hits.

    Also censored from the forum is any mention of other cart software, especially those derived from osCommerce such as Zen Cart and CRE. Want to show how to interface osCommerce to a free API that also has a commercial version? Censored. Want to talk about your experience with a web host or SSL certificate provider? Censored. I once had an extended exchange with one of the forum moderators who seemed to equate "open source" to "one source".

    In any event, osCommerce is "not for wimps". A lot of people think the same way the reviewer did - that you download it, install it, and have an instant web store suitable for your customers. It took me about four months the first time to where I had something I would be willing to let customers see, and another year before I learned enough about it to customize it for the particular business and create something of a unique look. (I'm a software engineer with more than 25 years of experience and twenty or so languages under my belt.) You need to understand at least basic PHP, and some familiarity with MySQL wouldn't hurt either. One of the worst features is that making changes to the overall "look" of an osCommerce store requires editing some thirty or more source files.

    The current version of osCommerce was released three years ago. A small set of bug fixes was released last November. There has been ongoing work on a "Milestone 3" version that appears to introduce significant incompatibilities with the current and popular MS2. Personally, I'm skeptical that MS3 will ever be released, and even if it is, I think that most of the current MS2 users will ignore it.

    Again, I love osCommerce. It is great software and I do what I can to support the community. If you don't mind getting your hands dirty, there's so much you can do with it and hundreds of user add-ons and modifications. You should also look at the derivatives such as Zen and CRE. (These are two that come to mind, there may be others.) But if the letters PHP scare you, then you're better off looking elsewhere.
    • >First off - I love osCommerce.
      >making changes to the overall "look" of an osCommerce store requires editing some thirty or more source files
      Must be something in the water.
    • The problem is that Harald (or one of his minions) quickly removes from the forum any mention of any commercial product (book, add-on, service, etc.) relating to osCommerce other than those from his advertisers.

      This alone tells me all I need to know. If OSC could compete on its own merits, he wouldn't have to do this. There's more open commerce solutions out there than I have time to even install in a day. I'll pick something else.

    • One of the worst features is that making changes to the overall "look" of an osCommerce store requires editing some thirty or more source files.

      This is the majority of why I don't like OSCommerce. The concept of templates is negligible at best, and nearly all the layout markup is tables. Same thing goes for Gallery and Gallery2. I've set up two OSC sites, and on the first (about three years ago) I remember having to make the same visual change in 11 (!) different files.

  • Beware those who want to use OSCommerce, you better wait until version 3 is out, or else.

    Current version (2.2MS2) is worthy of being designed by the Flying Spaghetti Monster: There are no tiers, SQL queries are embedded in the middle of HTML output - and there are tons of similar queries around different modules - so if you want to change one SQL, you'd have to SEARCH FOR and change ALL OF THEM. I'd recommend you to start using printf with the thing.

    Also, the same php file is used for both displaying and validating input fields, and there are tons of duplicated functions across the whole thing.

    OSCommerce apparently doesn't know that there is something called "associative arrays", and there is very little OOP in there, but most of it is used to implement very primitive data objects (which, btw, could be replaced with a single associative array).

    If that wasn't enough, you can't search and modify input fields or tags, you have to use the predefined functions tep_draw_input_field, which aren't very user friendly either.

    Some of the configuration variables aren't defined in PHP, but stored in SQL tables so you'd have to modify the original SQL or add new configuration variable manually if you want to add a field to a table.

    The input fields for the admin section aren't stored in associative arrays, but are hardwired among the HTML code (which makes the html output functions a hinderance rather than a help).

    So if you want a version that looks *JUST EXACTLY* like your typical OSCommerce site, and don't plan to add ANY NEW features, sure, go ahead, use the prefabricated store. But if you plan to add any field, table, or whatever,
    I strongly advise to wait for v3, or to rewrite the whole thing using your favorite multi-tier framework.

    Want to change the HTML? Good luck! The thing isn't standards compliant, and was written when nested tables were the norm. For spaces, there's the classical spacer gif consuming your bandwidth.

    OSCommerce, is, IMHO, an example of "Open Source gone wrong". Instead of being the work of a community, with strategic planning and all that, it's the work of one man who did it his way, and later open sourced it.

    As for security, the credit card info is stored unencrypted in SQL tables, and the admin section can only be secured via htaccess. That means the password is sent unencrypted unless you really know apache security and know to implement it the right way.

    Thanks, but no thanks.
  • by tjic ( 530860 ) on Friday March 03, 2006 @03:55PM (#14845058) Homepage
    I run Technical Video Rental [].

    We recently (five weeks ago) switched to a Zencart based storefront. For those who don't know, Zencart is an OSC fork.

    Apparently Zencart is much cleaner than OSC, which makes me shudder in fear at the idea of OSC's source code.

    I like nice, clean, documented, tested code.

    Zencart is a mess. The documentation is close to non-existent, there are no comments, there's no MVC distinctions, we found several major security holes in a code audit before going live, weird little UI bugs abound (e.g. in the admin interface when you edit a customer's addr, you're *forced* to specify his phone number, or you can not proceed), there are places where code chunk A generates SQL, then passes it to code chunk B, which passes it to C, which *LOOKS AT THE SQL* and edits it, then executes it.

    With code like this, try editing an SQL query just a little bit, and you get a complaint on a web page with error messages pointing to an entirely different place.

    On the "security" topic, I note that once we got a demo of Zencart installed on a testing machine, with the tell-tale URL (<machinename>/catalog), I started noticing that a lot of the phishing spam I was receiving directed folks to <domainname>/catalog...yes, the phishers were using hacked OSC accounts, which they had (presumably) gotten into through SQL injection attacks on OSC.

    This is not to minimize the work of the OSC and Zencart developers - either package is a huge improvement over nothing...but if you want to do surgery on the code, it's a disaster. At Technical Video Rental, we need to track individual serial numbers of copies as they go in and out, and we needed to present sets of videos in a certain way.

    This work took two pretty darned good software engineers (me and the CTO of the company) about four man weeks.

    I'm not going to say something inflammatory and stupid like "I could have written an operating system in less time", but four man weeks is a pretty major investment of time to do something fairly simple like this.

    We're doing a lot of interesting stuff with the code base: we've spliced in WordPress for the corporate blog, I'm writing some AJAX stuff right now to allow customers to report problems with their orders from the order status page, etc.

    ...and the more we hack on it, the more we think "there's got to be another way".

    There's a good chance that over the next 6-9 months we'll end up preserving the OSC/Zencart db schema and data (for continuity with the running site), and dumping major components of the package.

    To boil it down: I give OSC / Zencart a grade of "C minus". It's like a decent looking house with a lot of rot inside the walls. As long as you're content to never look inside the cabinets or crawlspaces, you're OK, but once you do some poking, or decide to add an addition, you'll realize how much work you've got in store, and you'll start to wonder if you should just buy a new house.

  • My company passed on osCommerce. When compared against other commercial products, the cost to customize osCommerce outweighed the purchase of a better, commercial solution. For us, that was []. Everyone's mileage may differ but it seems like the most prevelant complaint about osCommerce is the unexpected cost to customize it. You're going to encounter this anywhere. Fortunately for us, spending money up front did decrease our overall costs.
  • I played with OSC a long time ago and I walked away wishing I had those 2 weeks back. Recently I have been asked to play with it again and it's still not fun. I administer Better Bike Parts, Inc. [] and it is a HUGE headache meeting customer needs. The code is almost impossible to understand.

    Go with something like X-Cart. The $200 will be well worth it.
  • I have not read the book, but I'd like to comment on osCommerce. I had the questionable pleasure of setting up and customizing a shop using osCommerce. Installing - I admit - was a breeze, but what followed was the worst experience EVER.

    osCommerce was programmed without any planning, thought or clue of anything; the code is hardly documented or commented. After a few weeks I started to understand how it all works, and believe me: I have never seen anything this big programmed so badly. I am talking about os
    • "There is no abstraction layer to the database; most work is done directly using SQL. The DB layout is a nightmare, and the queries are painful to look at and even worse to work with."

      This is what gets to me about people doing stuff that runs on *nix systems. UnixODBC [] gives you the database abstraction layer. Why Heck! Using UnixODBC in a PHP project like OsCommerce should allow it to run unfettered on Windows servers. The only problem I've run into with UnixODBC is some vendors
  • Although, I can not comment on osCommerce, I can comment on (which I belive is built off of osCommerce).

    I would definitely consider myself a beginner to php. I personally found that this was not important since the forums at had specific answers to everything I needed to know to tweak my pages. They spell out the pages you need to modify and specifically which values need to be changed. I mean my grandmother could do that.

    Now perhaps osCommerce does not have the community backin
  • OsCommerce is crapware, that's right crapware. I did a mod for a client and their code is some of the sloppiest, dirtiest, unintelligble code I have ever seen. They need to learn some good developmental practices. I can't imagine how inefficient that code runs.
  • As someone who has been involved in customizing several installations of OsCommerce, I can tell you that Oscommerce is one of the worst representations of what Open Source is "suppose" to be. Bluntly put, It is one of the biggest nightmares I have ever had the misfoturnes to work with. You encounter everything from maintainability headaches to security holes to plain ugly code. It is put together with chewing gum. Is there really no Open Source alternative to OsCommerce?
  • I spent a couple of days getting Agoracart to run on FreeBSD (and even documented all of the errors I ran into: []. htm []).

    I thought it was really easy to get going and really easy for someone who didn't know HTML to get a basic shopping cart up and running.

    In fact, I thought it would be a piece of cake for me to take care of the store, but have someone else, like our secretary, put together a product spreadsheet for me to simply import and have an
  • A few months ago, I was asked by a client to develop an e-store using OSCommerce.

    After looking at what the client wanted and what OSCommerce offered, I recommended going with Drupal [] instead. Admittedly, the e-commerce side of Drupal wasn't as robust as what OSCommerce offered, but Drupal's superior API, highly-customizable theming engine, and well-documented codebase made it the preferred choice IMO. I had to write some custom code to support the e-commerce options the client wanted, but it didn't take mo

  • I just read that osCommerce's overall design is hard to change...
    ie, without having to fiddle with over 10 source files.

    So, I wonder if osCommerce may not be utilizing the magic of CSS?

    Cf: []

    I continue to be impressed (when not amazed) how much a CSS change
    can influence a site's look, if not its feel...

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