OpenCart CMS Review

OpenCart (current version – is one of the few open source CMS to launch online stores. The first software release took place in 2009. The system along with its multiple plugins are distributed on a free basis. Thus, a huge number of small and medium web stores are now powered by OpenCart, while the platform itself is used to create forks (other software).

Despite the global interest of the audience in the product, the community of OpenCart developers has notably decreased. This is why software updates are extremely rare now. If not for new sponsors, users could expect the update to version 4 for several years. Regardless of its occasional releases, OpenCart still remains one of the most powerful and functional eCommerce CMS even compared to paid competitors.

Due to the compatibility with different hosting types and successful architecture, OpenCart works great both for small projects and medium web stores (those that come with catalogs, which include dozens of thousands of products).

The prevailing amount of extensions is distributed via the official directory and installed into the system from the control panel (like in WordPress). This helps newcomers master the platform.

At the same time, OpenCart has several inconvenient aspects, some of which can be considered critical. We’ll discuss all the nuances and special features below, in our detailed OpenCart review.

OpenCart CMS Review
  • Powerful and full-featured eCommerce CMS
  • Open code and free distribution
  • Extendability via plugin integration

OpenCart CMS Pros and Cons

OpenCart is not a user-friendly software, but this system still works well for eCommerce projects.

Just like any other CMS, OpenCart has its pros and cons. Like any other CMS, OpenCart has its pros and cons. Let’s enlist them below.

Free distribution (no licensing or functionality restrictions);
Open source and ability to seamlessly adapt the software with regard to your needs (granted that you have the required skills);
Multistore support;
Multilingual support;
Unlimited directory with unlimited nesting. Filters, search options etc.;
Other important eCommerce features – promotional codes, discounts, customer accounting, notifications etc.;
Extended functionality due to plugin integration;
Opportunity to fine-tune web page block output settings;
Multiple ready-made templates (including free ones);
Quality documentation and training materials;
Fine-tuning the output of page blocks;
API provided out-of-the-box;
Integrated reports and visual analytics;
Fine-tuning user roles, opportunity to organize the work of teams and sales managers;
Toolset needed for effective work with customer subscriptions (for relevant business models);
Great SEO features even without plugins;
The current software version supports all the relevant server configurations (PHP 8.1+ etc.).
No ready-made mobile applications;
No adequate import/export system (third-party plugins are required, which are often paid);
Complex processes to install extensions and their settings;
Complicated template customization;
Many add-ons from the catalog require manual installation (auto-installation via the admin panel does not work);
Free templates are very difficult to find and this is close to impossible for the current software version;
Many important plugins are distributed on a paid basis and there are no alternatives to them;
Many plugins are outdated and not compatible with the current software version. It doesn’t make sense to wait for an update, it’s easier to hire a specialist to complete the task;
The total budget for launching a large or a medium online store on OpenCart can be compared to buying ready-made solutions on commercial platforms (due to the cost of hiring pros, getting/integrating/configuring plugins);
Software updates are released randomly. There is no guarantee that existing bugs will be fixed.

The software is really good for its niche.However, you will avail a high-quality and functional OpenCart-powered web store, if you have enough experience, knowledge, time and, of course, relevant budget to cover all the expenses (apart from hosting, this also includes the purchase of plugins, themes, integration modules etc.).

To sum it up, you just need to know how to work with it.

OpenCart CMS: Minimum Requirements

Do I need to learn anything before choosing OpenCart for my projects? How high is the entry threshold? To be frank, OpenCart does not target beginners.

CMS OpenCart

It has a complex architecture and special processes for module set up. It will be difficult to master the system without reading the documentation or viewing specific samples. Alongside, however, you will be able to install the software inside the local server (for example, OpenServer or similar platforms) and explore the features of the admin panel in detail.

Opencart Dashboard

Just a few days will be enough to navigate the main points: element positioning, feature activation, the organization of block output on web pages, issuing the required privileges etc.

You will soon get used to the OpenCart panel, and it starts looking quite logical. It goes without saying that plugin/template installation is not that convenient as in WordPress, but there are also more customization settings here.

Thus, there are minimum requirements for system users. You can’t just decide and start working with the software. Take your time to explore its architecture first.

Are there any web store size requirements? They are quite conditional. Firstly, a lot will depend on the quantity and quality of extensions (plugins) used as well as on the hosting performance. OpenCart works great on dedicated servers and can handle heavy loads. If the web page creation logic is distorted (because of plugins), then web pages will load slowly. This especially concerns custom filter pages.

OpenCart won’t work for small web stores. Its functionality will be largely redundant here. The CMS is an ideal solution for catalogs with hundreds of thousands products.

Minimum Hosting Requirements

The previous software version, OpenCart v3.0.3.8, was compatible with a legacy environment based on PHP 5.4+. Current stable PHP version still remains 8.1, while the old-stable version is PHP 7.4. PHP 5.4 is considered heavily outdated.

OpenCart release along with the subsequent have improved the situation. To be properly installed, OpenCart now requires at least PHP 8.0 and it works adequately with PHP 8.1.

The following extensions must be enabled on the hosting: curl, ZIP, Mbstrings, Xml and some others.

MySQL with the MySQLi or mPDO driver will be required as the database server.

Apache is recommended as a web server, but you can alternatively use such solutions as Nginx or LiteSpeed.

It is possible to obtain the enlisted configurations on the majority of shared hosting providers (in shared plans) and they can definitely be set up on virtual or dedicated servers based on Linux or even Windows.

There are no special server configurations for OpenCart. However, you can create your own bundle comprising PHP and PHP accelerator, MySQL, web server, CDN and advanced caching system.

How to Work in OpenCart

We have already mentioned that the OpenCart control panel is not the most user-friendly, but this does not mean that it is impossible to use it or that it does not work. Everything you need is available here and it is always at hand: summary panel (dashboard), catalog and design (template) management tools, extensions (+ built-in marketplace), sales, subscriptions, returns, clients, marketing tools (coupons, newsletters), reports and other settings.

You will be able to create backups, manage downloaded files and track errors without any additional settings.

In other words, OpenCart offers powerful functionality out-of-the-box, but we’ll focus on that further. Let’s discuss how to start working with the CMS, if you are a beginner.

Getting Started

The first step is hosting choice. Hosting providers differ in type, performance and reliability. When it comes to the global network, HostGator is one of the best options to go for. It works best for web stores that need global coverage (most of the audience is located in Europe and the USA). The cost of plans starts at $2.75/mo, all shared subscriptions come without clear disk limits and with high performance.

The second step is software installation. If you have chosen high-quality hosting, OpenCart installation will be completed in one or two clicks, using the auto-installer script. If not, then you will need to manually download the distribution, unpack it and upload it to the hosting, create and connect the database, run the installation script and follow standard steps.


The third step is plugin/template set up, adjustment of localization settings. Much depends on the required functions and preferences. Some extensions may be paid.

The fourth step is filling the catalog. To enable bulk product import/export, connect and configure the appropriate extension in advance. Manual content adding or directory loading via MySQL will be available out of the box.

Further work is no less responsible and painstaking: order collection, their processing, dealing with returns and claims, online website promotion (SEO and marketing), advertising etc. These are standard steps for any eCommerce website.

Website Editing

The minimum settings you should make include: specifying web store name, entering the description, uploading a logo and setting contact data (country, address, phone, working hours, etc.) as well as defining local settings – currency, time zone, measurement units.

OpenCart Editor

If you want clients to be able to find clear cooperation terms, fill out the information pages “About Us”, “Shipping Rules”, “Service Rules”, “Privacy Policy” etc. Standard documents can be also used here.

The most challenging work is to fill the catalog. This is what you need to do:

  • Determine the structure of categories and their names;
  • Specify all product attributes that will participate in the formation of filters;
  • Add product manufacturers to the database (with their description, logos etc.);
  • Add products and fill in all their attributes: prices, images, descriptions, meta-tags, inventory balances, technical characteristics, categories they correspond to, filters they refer to, products that will be offered as similar ones etc.

OpenCart Editing

You can do this in the appropriate fields and tabs of the web interface.

If your store supports several languages, then part of the data will need to be duplicated in other languages (this is usually the general properties tab, where there are descriptions and names as well as SEO tags).

That’s it, the website is ready for work. Integration with payment services may not be required if you accept offline payment (for example, when delivered by a courier or when issued at a point of sale).

Website Publishing

You don’t have to complete separate actions to publish a website in OpenCart. As soon as you save a product, category or other entity, the software immediately publishes the corresponding content.

There is an exception, however. If you fill the store with content and conduct other tech work, it makes sense to enable the development mode. In this case, clients and search engines will see a standard stub.

Do not forget to disable the Maintenance Mode (development mode) in the web store settings after you finish all the work.


The baseline OpenCart version provides the following features out-of-the-box:

  • An almost fully configured web store version with demo data (you can explore the settings and the basics of the editing process);
  • Catalog with categories, filters etc., which comes with unlimited nesting and complexity;
  • Product attributes and options. A large number of different designation types and codes (articles, EAN, ISBN etc.);
  • Work with digital goods and a subscription sales model;
  • Multilingual and multi-show window support;
  • Management of warehouse balances;
  • Calculation of taxes;
  • Calculation of complex delivery options based on the product weight and dimensions;
  • A ready-made system of reviews and linking of goods to manufacturers;
  • Complex discount algorithms and promotion tools for (on scheduled dates/periods), gift codes;
  • Powerful SEO capabilities (all necessary meta-tags, manual user-friendly URLs, category descriptions etc.);
  • It is possible to redefine your template version for each individual product;
  • Tools for information page management;
  • Ready-made slider and banner system;
  • Personal user accounts and order status tracking system, user groups with different benefits, additional fields;
  • Convenient interface for refusal/return accounting;
  • Ready-made tools for processing personal data requests (in accordance with the GDPR policy);
  • Powerful marketing tools (referral codes, coupons, email newsletters);
  • Multi-currency approach with automatic conversion at specified pricing;
  • Subtle local web store settings – countries, geozones, taxes, etc.;
  • Adequate reporting system – for marketing (sales, returns, shipping, reviews etc.) and for optimizers (who is online, what pages are viewed, statistics, etc.).

When it comes to payment systems, they are already integrated by default. You just need to set them up. The issue that is currently lacking is a convenient import/export system.

What’s New in Version

The release of the fourth software version was delayed for a long time. The developers decided to abandon the use of OCMOD and many other third-party extensions that were previously included in the distribution.

The latest software version with OCMOD is OpenCart (September 2021).

Current CMS version is OpenCart (released on August 15, 2022). Listed below are the changes that were introduced as compared to the last version of the 3rd branch:

  • Compatibility with PHP 8.1 is provided (minimum version for installation is PHP 8.0);
  • OCMOD and 3rd party extensions were removed;
  • A new event-based system of extensions was added;
  • A convenient tool for managing CRON tasks appeared;
  • Processing of incoming GPPR requests (according to personal client data) was implemented;
  • System of working with product variants was improved;
  • The system of notification of CMS administrators was updated;
  • The updated system is notified to CMS administrators;
  • To increase the security level, the system offers not only to move the downloads folder, but also to rename the path to the admin panel during the first setup (you can now set any other directory instead of the default your-site/admin);
  • jQuery libraries were updated up to 3.6.0 version, Bootstrap libraries – up to the current version 5. The same is about CKEditor and Font Awesome that was updated up to the current version 6;
  • All web forms now use AJAX;
  • The software can be updated from the admin panel;
  • The order editor has been redesigned so that it does not require API sessions.

Two updated releases have already been issued since the release of the first stable 4th branch. Multiple minor bugs and problems have been fixed.

The changes are almost imperceptible visually yet a lot has changed. That is why, the current software version will be incompatible with many extensions from the directory and with many premium themes. You need to wait for a while until the developers fix/update their modules.

It makes sense to use the 4th branch of the software for new web stores only, if you are ready to detect and update the required extensions. There is no need to upgrade from version 3 to version 4 of the software for old web stores. It is necessary, however, to check the compatibility of installed plugins and templates.

Plugins (Modules)

The OpenCart software uses such a concept as “extensions”. These include:

  • Modules (these are basically additional output elements in page layouts – there are pre-installed modules, but you can create your own modules or install ready-made ones from the marketplace, from third-party developers);
  • Dashboard extensions (widgets providing various information about the store and the software);
  • Anti-fraud systems and captcha elements;
  • Interface language packages;
  • Design themes;
  • Analytic systems and reports;
  • Integration of payment systems and shipping services;
  • Other extensions.

Installation of extensions is completed through the marketplace and manually (by downloading the necessary files to the appropriate directories on the hosting or by downloading packages through the web interface in the control panel).

There are more than 20 thousand extensions in the official OpenCart directory and only about a half of them is distributed on a commercial basis (almost 7,000 extensions are completely free). The average plugin price ranges between $20 and $60.

It should be noted that only about five hundred extensions are currently compatible with OpenCart

There are also plugins on third-party platforms, including the websites of individual developers. Many extensions for payment gateways are distributed only through their official websites.

Using plugins, you can significantly improve the functionality of the baseline software. For example, you can add an import/export system, integration with marketplaces, CRM, ERP systems, warehouse accounting services, Internet telephony, mailing services etc.

The interface for installation and configuration of extensions is not the most convenient, many elements are scattered in different parts of the control panel. However, you can still get used to this.

SEO and Marketing Features

The software allows switching to the HTTPS version and lets you centrally manage URL page SEO out-of-the-box.
Additionally, you can set all the required SEO attributes for each entity (information page, product page, category page etc.):

  • title,
  • description,
  • keywords,
  • text description.

Due to the built-in system for working with reviews and product evaluation points, marketing becomes much easier. You will be able to receive real feedback from users and manage it.

Built-in email newsletters (the simplest functionality without a template builder yet with SMTP integration) and a large number of sales stimulation systems are offered as ready-made marketing tools: promotional codes, gift coupons and discounts, planned promos for specific time periods, banner rotators, uniting users in groups, additional fields in user profiles etc.

If some features are lacking, you can use niche extensions from the directory.

Switching to HTTPS Website Version

You won’t need any extra plugins. Everything is ready for work in a secure protocol. It is enough to configure the web server (for example, to get or upload the key file to the hosting panels) and make changes to the CMS configuration files:

  • for a web store – config.php in the website root,
  • for an admin panel – config.php in the admin folder.

Here are the variables to add:

define(‘HTTPS_SERVER’, ‘https://your-site/’); // there should be an admin panel directory in the configuration settings for administrators;

define(‘HTTPS_CATALOG’, ‘’); // this variable is required only in the configuration settings for administrators.

If desired, you can configure automatic redirects from one website version to another using .htaccess files.

Mobile Applications

There are no official mobile applications for OpenCart stores. Even if there are ready-made solutions in the network, they are distributed and supported by third-party developers.

These are generally paid solutions or custom applications.

Free options are almost always outdated and are unlikely to be compatible with the latest software versions.

As a result, it is better to use the API and write your mobile application. In this case, you will be responsible for its support and management.

How to Create a Web Store with OpenCart

As far as OpenCart CMS was developed for eCommerce projects, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Let’s repeat the software features now:

  • OpenCart is not suitable for small (micro) stores. The system is designed for large and complex catalogs;
  • You can sell physical goods, services, digital products (with subsequent download) and subscriptions through OpenCart;
  • Integration with marketplaces (AliExpress etc.) is possible, but only with the involvement of third-party extensions.

Thus, starting a web store does not differ a lot from the procedure of working with other platforms (software configuration, catalog updates, promotion etc. – standard steps and stages).

How to Create a Blog with OpenCart

A blog can be useful to stimulate sales as well as to provide clients with information and to increase user loyalty.

There is no built-in plugin for setting up a blog in OpenCart, but there is functionality for creating information articles. Even basic tasks can be solved with it. Additionally, there is a product review system. However, there is no built-in commenting system.

Therefore, you will need to choose, install and configure a third-party extension, for example, OptimBlog or its analogues.

Currently, there may be compatibility issues (due to the newly introduced OpenCart 4).

Website Design and Templates

OpenCart templates (themes) serve as extensions. They are installed and activated like any other modules.

You can find less than 2 thousand templates in the official CMS directory. However, only about 2 dozen of them are currently compatible with the latest OpenCart version. This is a temporary phenomenon.

OpenCart themes

Premium templates can be found on various third-party platforms as well as on the websites of individual authors. Alternatively, you can order the development of a unique design on a turnkey basis.

Free OpenCart templates exist, but they are very rare. Many of these designs are already outdated.

Listed below are the OpenCart design customization features:

  • You can use different design templates for different web stores (show windows);
  • You can choose an individual content display layout for each product;
  • There are tools to control the output of blocks on different types of web pages in the administrator panel (similar to the layout builder);
  • Any template file can be edited manually directly from the control panel – TWIG template generator syntax is used;
  • You can show your design options to different types of users, for example, there is a separate design for mobile users;
  • Additional blocks within pages are organized using a system of special modules (this is like a set of blocks in online website builders that can be expanded using plugins or manually).
  • There is a built-in system of banners (rotator).

The only issue is that many OpenCart template developers use complex layouts. As a result, the installation process ceases to be standard. In fact, it is easier for you to start with a ready-made solution than to simply install a theme.

Each template may have its own configuration algorithm.

Layout Builder

OpenCart makes it possible to configure the output of a block set for each web page type in detail. These are the so-called layouts. For example, this can be a web page of categories or manufacturers, a separate product (goods), check-out, comparison etc.

This is what you can specify during the editing process:

  • The store for which the layout will be applied;
  • Routing (the path, where the layout will be opened);
  • Positions of modules/widgets inside the page.

Standard points are used as positions: left column, right column, top of content, bottom of content.

The approach somewhat resembles a website builder in terms of its principles, except for Drag&Drop options. When adding a module, you need to select it from the list of available options.

Tech Support

How can creators of a free CMS make profit? They can earn on the commission from buying plugins and themes, on hosting advertising and on paid technical support/maintenance services.

OpenCart has all these points.

Free support includes:

  • open forums on the official website or on the sites of active community participants;
  • official documentation for developers (only in English) and GitHub;
  • technical books on using the platform;
  • blogs, videos and other materials available online.

You can avail premium support from the OpenCart team (from $120/mo for consultations, from $150 for fixing individual bugs etc.) or from platform partners. You can always hire freelancers. Migration from other platforms is provided on the basis of a paid Cart2Cart solution or third-party plugins available in the marketplace.

Pricing Policy

OpenCart does not have basic (community) or any extended versions like BigCommerce. The software is distributed completely for free.

You need to understand, though, that the website cost does not include the price of the CMS only. This is only the sufficient technical minimum.

You will also require:

  • Hosting. If you choose HostGator, the cost will start at $2.75/mo (in the cheapest plan, the cost may be even higher depending on the hosting type chosen);
  • Plugins. The average cost of each plugin ranges between $20 and $60 (one time payment);
  • Template. Around $40-$100 for premium themes on niche platforms. You need at least one design, but there may be several of them. Software capabilities allow that;
  • Domain. Many hosting providers offer free plans for the first year of use. The cost of hosting prolongation depends on the selected zone.

Thus, the minimum cost of your OpenCart website constitutes around $150-$300 for the first year of use, excluding commission fees for using eCommerce services (CRM, newsletters, payment services etc.).

Bottom Line: Does It Make Sense to Launch a Web Store with OpenCart?

When talking about CMS popularity, then only about 0.5% of all websites available in the global network are powered by this software (or about 0.8%, if we talk about websites that only use the system). This may not seem enough at first sight. In fact, however, these are millions of projects – mostly online stores, not just ordinary websites.

It goes without saying that the software is not as popular as WordPress or Joomla, but its niche is also completely different. In the field of online sales, it is impossible not to consider him. Moreover, OpenCart is used in both small and large projects.

The fact that OpenCart has multiple localizations for any market worldwide, then the answer is obvious – the software may be used when setting up online stores. What’s more, it has to be used for this very purpose.

There are a few nuances here, however. Everything will depend on the project type, the size and complexity of the catalog, the set of necessary integrations, the budget and the possibility of individual website maintenance. If you have a small catalog, it makes sense to pay attention to website builders. They are more convenient and cheaper to maintain. If the catalog is large, but you don’t have specialized knowledge and extra money for technical support, then it is better to choose commercial platforms, where the required integrations are already available for application.

OpenCart will also work great for medium-sized stores that have their own development department as well as for inexperienced entrepreneurs who are ready for small financial investments into startups or for independent improvements (specialized knowledge and skills are also required).

CMS will not work without hosting.You need to thoroughly choose the one. We recommend HostGator, but you can also view the list of the most popular hosting providers to pick the company that complies with your needs and requirements most.


Howard Steele
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