OpenCart isn’t a system I’ve used before but Packt Publishing asked me to review OpenCart 1.4 Template Design Cookbook by Tahsin Hasan for them so I thought it’d be a good opportunity to learn more about an ecommerce shopping cart system. I spend a lot of time working on PHP/MySQL applications, including Drupal and CodeIgniter, but I haven’t used OpenCart before, so I’m coming to this book and application completely new.

OpenCart is a complete ecommerce shopping cart solution, with features including multi-currency support, product ratings and reviews, downloadable products and a discount coupon system, and it is of course customisable and templatable. OpenCart 1.4 Template Design Cookbook promises to help you get to grips with the basics of template design, as well as styling search results and customising the design of the administration panel to match either yours or your clients’ brand.

The book starts by walking you through the installation of OpenCart and some of the general configuration changes you may need to make in the process. OpenCart has an automatic installation script so this should be fairly straightforward for anyone who has installed a PHP/MySQL application before. The graphics tutorials in the book use GIMP - an open source graphics editing package - which is great if you’re learning as you can follow the tutorials and practice without having to buy any commercial software upfront.

The first major design chapter is ‘Chapter 3 - Layout Structure’. Here you will be guided through creating a new theme, modifying its styles using CSS and some basic banner placement. The book explains that OpenCart uses a Model-View-Controller (MVC) layout, and it’s important to understand this as it’s a very common application design pattern. Naturally, the focus is on the ‘View’ part, which manages the presentation of the application.

The book is very clearly laid out, with essential keywords highlighted, lots of code examples and screenshots showing how, for example, CSS changes affect the presentation of the store. The book is intended to be read while you’re setting up your store or building your theme, as the examples walk you through the process and the approach is very didactic.

The book expects you to have some HTML and CSS knowledge, but there are also areas which include PHP code, such as traversing arrays and printing variable values, so some basic PHP knowledge would be helpful. There is also some light JavaScript use in the form of including jQuery libraries. You can probably get by with little or no JavaScript knowledge, just by following the walkthroughs, but again, some prior knowledge of JavaScript would also be of help.

If you’re new to OpenCart, or have some knowledge and want to create your own theme, this book will guide you through the process with lots of examples, as well as ideas and best practices.

Thanks for reading my review, I hope you found it helpful and if you have any comments on OpenCart, this book or this review, please leave them in the comments section below - as always I’d love to hear your views.