A Review of Magento 1.3: PHP Developer's Guide

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Let me guess. You’re an in-house ecommerce developer. About a year or so ago you heard about this slick ecommerce software called Magento. You’re skeptical but you see a large community and free extensions. So you think you can make it work.

Yeah, you can start with that default Magento theme. It’s better than that crappy table driven one you are currently using with osCommerce anyway. So you start with the default theme. And all is well until you try to get that stupid dog picture off of the sidebar. Some of you might have just stopped there and I can’t say that wasn’t a wise choice. But for those of you who stuck with it, this is probably only the first WTF moments in a long line with Magento.

I have developed in Wordpress, Drupal, phpBB, ZenCart and on and on. And it didn’t take me long to learn any one of these when I was a newbie. Enter Magento. Magento is a different creature all together. I am at a point now where I understand how Magento does what it does, but up to this point I have bypassed using modules to change things. If I couldn’t find an extension that suited my purpose, I would go to the theme files and create a custom theme to do what I want.

If only I had the Magento 1.3: PHP Developer’s Guide before I started on my long trek across the continent that is Magento. I already have learned a lot through Magento’s forums but this book added a few missing pieces to the puzzle, modules. Some of the chapters I skimmed, because I had already been through a few Magento installations:

  • Installation - This part of the book will take you step by step through multiple ways of installing Magento. Magento has a massive amount of files and the quickest install process is through SSH. I learned this after uploading all the files manually once through FTP.
  • Core API - I have used this a lot. Some things are just quicker through the API. In fact, there are some things that you can do through the API that you can't even do through the backend. The book provides a complete reference to the Magento API and all the functions available.
  • Import and Export - This was actually what I became an expert on first and one of the reasons I chose Magento was it's flexible import and export process

But since I jumped into Magento with both feet with a site that was taking sales I didn’t quite learn enough about Zend and the book was good enough to give me a brief overview on the role that Zend plays in Magento. It is good to know the core structure so you know how everything else fits and works.

And despite all the theme hacking I have done with Magento, I still have yet to write a module and this book covered that topic in depth with a step by step tutorial. I now think I have everything I need to write modules for some ideas I have.

  • Shipping Module - This chapter walks you through creating a module that gives customers custom shipping prices for orders over a certain amount touching on everything you need to know to create your own custom Magento shipping module.
  • Payment Module - The payment module has to be one of the most important links in the chain. Something I have never tackled in any platform, because I would rather not make a mistake when it comes to money handling. But I think I have enough information now to write my own if I ever have to and I have been thinking of an affiliate module that would do things a little differently.
  • Fully Featured Module - This chapter takes you through every step of creating a module that has a frontend pages with their own urls, a backend menu item and a backend form to edit the data.
  • Third Party CMS Integration - Luckily there are extensions available to integrate Magento with Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal and Typo3. The Wordpress integration extensions is one of the free ones, but it is not necessarily click a button and done like many Magento extensions. This chapter steps you through installing this extension and touches on the other CMS integration extensions available.

I will be referencing this book a lot in the future. Magento can be a monster but it can be worth the trouble. There are features in Magento you can’t find in any other shopping cart software. And this book will help you as a developer push Magento to it’s potential even if you have a PHD in Magento forum searching by now.

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Stephan Miller

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Kansas City Software Engineer and Author

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