Ecommerce Spot

The pros and cons of free shopping cart source code

Do I need source code for my shopping cart?

I'll start by defining "source code" and "open source". There's a lot of confusion around the term "open source", and this especially applies to shopping cart source code. Source code simply refers to having a copy of the code used to make the shopping cart run. However, the license, meaning what you are legally allowed to do with that code, under which the source code is made available varies enormously.

There are two broad categories under which shopping cart source code licensing falls. Firstly is commercial licenses. VP ASP is an example of this. You have to buy the software in order to get the source code, and you are then limited in what you can do with it. For example, if you made significant changes to the source code you wouldn't be allowed to then start selling it or giving it away as a product.

The other sort is a non-commercial license, most common with free shopping cart source code. There are a few variants of this, the most common is called a GPL license. This basically means you can make whatever changes you want, but if you then distribute those changes, you must include all source code with that distribution. That stops someone from getting a free shopping cart, making a few changes, and then distributing it under a commercial license. These shopping carts are almost always free, including the free shopping cart source code.

...there's a good chance your shopping cart will include source code.
Why would you want source code? There are a number of advantages. If you find a bug in the software, and you have the technical skills or have access to them, you can fix it straight away, rather than waiting for the developers to fix it, which may in some cases take an unacceptable length of time. Similarly, if you want a modification made you can do that yourself. Open source shopping carts often tend to have a strong developer community offering lots of plugins and modifications. It's often easy to find a programmer who will make changes or fixes for you for free or cheaply. A good example is osCommerce source code can be obtained for free and there are hundreds of developers actively using & working on it.

The downside is something called forking. Lets say you've changed the source code to add a new feature. When the next version of the shopping cart is released, the developers may have made changes to the same part of the software as your changes, making it effectively impossible for you to use the latest version without additional work or loosing your custom modifications.

If you choose a shopping cart without source code availability you should check their support so you aren't stuck if you run into problems in the future.

Most shopping carts are written using either PHP or ASP, in both cases due to the nature of those languages it's very hard for the developers to not make source code available, so there's a good chance your shopping cart will include source code.

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