Mastering Magento

After a long time, I’m back with a book review: Mastering Magento. A book by Bret Williams and published by Packt. It will be a bit long review so I hope you will be able to keep up with me.

But for all of you who are in a hurry, here is a summary of my thoughts:

Book really did amaze me with the tips and chapters it contained. From looking at the table of contents I was not really interested and I had thought, yet another book covering the basics and not really telling something useful that you cannot learn in a day or two. Yet I was wrong. This book is really a good reference for Magento. You will probably read it on occasion when you wonder how a thing can be done. Book really covers the pains and problems endured during setting up a new Magento site so the author’s experience will help you overcome your own problems. It’s good because it really feels like “Ok, that’s enough pain, I should write a book about my experiences and I will get lots of thanks from others” Anyone who think about opening a Magento shop should at least check this out. Thanks Bret :)

Now if you are still with me, let’s continue.

I checked the index of the book and it was not really interesting for someone who was already familiar with Magento as the concepts are pretty much the basic stuff. The most interesting chapters seems 9th and 10th for me as I’m mostly a technical person and like the integrations and optimizations.

As defined in the preface this book is an Owners Manual. It does not intend to be a tutorial to setup a new Magento web site, but a reference for the hundreds of features loaded into Mangento.

This book is really for anyone who has a Magento site and needs to check some quick things as it contains good tips on different aspects of the book. It seems that author actually documented his pains and experiences in this book, which will really help for anyone who uses Magento.

In the first chapter, author does not really start from installation but from the planning phase. It was different for me because, as the author has said, I like to look at new things and first thing I do is install it and start messing with it. However while this is good for curiosity, it’s not really good for your business as it will take a lot of time. Author tries to tell you exactly this. However if you bought this book, you are probably already lost in the installation. I don’t think lots of people will first buy the book then install Magento, so they have already lost time in this exploration phase. Yet the planning phase is pretty cool and contains good tips about technical help, hostings and Global-Website-Store definitions which you should really read if you are new to Magento. It also gives you hint on how you should set your store and sell your stuff.

Second chapter was about installation and gives you an idea on how a website works, hostings (cloud and shared) and security. Tips about the PCI was important because I had not seen these tips (even the mention of PCI) in any other book. Parts about the sample data installation and cache disabling made me smile because I had lived the same problems with the author. It was even interesting to read store configuration, installation files, multi-language, currency conversions etc. Don’t forget to read the part about the backups and security.

Third chapter is about products, categories, relations and managing these. The core of the Magento is the attribute and attribute sets for the products. If you have used Magento once, you should be familiar with these concepts and why they are important. This chapter tells a good deal of things about these attributes too. I liked the part with the product imports because that’s something I had problems with too. While I don’t recommend using Magmi instead of the API, it’s still worth a shot (Magento does not recommend direct DB operation, so Magmi might become a problematic tool for different versions).

Fourth chapter talks about themes and designs. It’s a good overview of the theming and gives you an idea on what are the basic concepts and variants and blocks etc. I was not really interested in this chapter however, it really does a good job on telling what themeing is and how you can and you should use it. You will probably don’t get understand a lot in this chapter however when in doubt check this “reference” and it will probably help you.

Fifth chapter is all about the sales and payments stuff. I’m also one of the guys who really had lots of pain during the payment gateway development, this chapter was pretty interesting. However I was not really interested in the administration part as it was just simple steps which you can learn without this book. But as a reference, it’s understandable to include these. Explanations about the Payment sites was a bit more interesting but there was nothing about writing your own. It also talked about emails that were sent, but I was not really satisfied with this chapter.

Sixth chapter is about managing pages. I really suggest using an external CMS like Drupal or WordPress and an integration module (told in the 10th chapter as well and told in detail), but if you need something simple you an use Magento’s CMS. The chapter tells you about the layout xml files and how you can manage them. You will probably use them but well, I suggest to use something external.

I have skipped to the chapter eight after this to have a look on how Magento Connect and extension/module writing was written in the book. Magento Connect part was about how you should decide to install an extension or not. If you are not new to the Open Source community, probably you already know the hard learned lessons there. Extension writing part was much more about how to “package” it rather then developing it. It was something I did know so it gave me an idea on what should I do.

Optimization is definitely important. It was always a problem for Magento but with caching and all it saved a lot of lives. Ninth chapter tells how you can improve the site’s performance with simple clicks and all. It’s important to at least read once this chapter if you want to scale Magento, there are no real advanced tricks but before making anything you can learn more about the out-of-the-box caching system and some more basic techniques and that boost might be enough for you. 10th chapter will talk about some extensions and backing up etc.

Last chapter, as the chapter tells, is a pre-launch checklist. It containes some good tips even though very common yet mostly forgotten if you consider the deadline. You should at least pass it over before going live.

I know this is a bit long review but the thing is, the book is really full of things and I was not really able to summarize it well enough. Think of this review as a summary of what this book contains and what it doesn’t so maybe it will help you better.