Shopware - first look

Shopware - first look

Introduction

Although Shopware has been around for well over a decade and is popular in many parts of Europe, for a lot of people in the UK, it's a new name in eCommerce.  Many draw comparisons with Magento, and as a Magento developer myself, I can say that it does have the exciting feel of Magento from back in the early days, before they were bought out by the likes of eBay and Adobe.

Both of these buyouts changed the entire landscape for Magento, and triggered changes like an ever increasing monetization of every aspect of the software and surrounding services, giving it a much more corporate feel.  Shopware instead feels a bit more like Magento back in those early days where the community was very active, very passionate, and it genuinely felt like you were on a journey discovering something new and exciting.

I've only been involved in the Shopware world for a very short time compared to Magento which I've been developing for well over a decade, but the fresh and welcoming feel you get when encountering Shopware and it's community comes from one place.  Shopware have the right people in the right places, who are passionate about the product, genuinely enjoy the job they do, and fully recognise that the community is a key aspect driving the constant improvement of the product.

Todays post is about my first impressions and experiences of using the Shopware software, and interacting with the employees and community.

The Shopware community

If you are at all familiar with the Magento world, you'll immediately recognise many high profile players from the Magento world are now in the Shopware world, or even openly active in both the Magento and Shopware worlds at the same time.  Possibly the most notable figure now with Shopware is Ben Marks, who was for many years one of the most recognisable ambassadors of Magento - now is an ambassador for Shopware.

And Shopware don't try to hide the fact that they are attracting droves of people from Magento, they're quite happy for it be discussed openly.  In fact, the presenter of the Shopware Academy online Shopware 6 developers course is openly both a Magento and Shopware enthusiast, and continues to be actively involved in both worlds.

Shopware have regular virtual developer conferences and contribution days to drive development of the platform.  They welcome community contributions, and go out of their way to make sure the community know the value of what they are providing.  The community is involved, and invested in the ongoing success of Shopware because their contributions are valued and make a real difference to the product.

The end result - a community that is welcoming, helpful and proactive - can't ask for much more than that.

What is attracting people to Shopware?

While Shopware is proving attractive to those in the Magento world, for many others it's still their first choice.  I think Shopware is proving attractive for many because of a few different things:

It just works

Shopware is easy and intuitive to use.  Although there's a lot under the hood, it's presented in a very accessible way.  Installation only requires you to provide the most essential information, with the rest being set automatically to sensible defaults.

The installation even allows you to include a migration tool to port your existing Magento 1 or 2, or Shopware 5 store to your new Shopware 6 store very easily.  I tested the migration tool with an existing multistore Magento 2 install and it worked well.  It gave me access to customise detail where needed, while making it optional to review other information.

The benchmark really in creating any software product is that 'it just works' 100% of the time.  The complexities involved in software development doesn't make this an easy goal to achieve, but Shopware comes pretty close.  I've only been using Shopware for a comparatively small amount of time, but as an experienced developer, I can see how much work has gone into the framework just from things like how solid the install process feels, and how smooth it was to migrate from Magento.

A few images from the installation and migration processes

A solid, modern codebase

Shopware has a solid codebase using modern coding principles and standards, with a sensible and up to date software stack.  The team who actually develop the Shopware core are highly knowledgeable and experienced, and have managed to build a framework which is customisable, while having an accessible learning curve.  This makes it pretty quick to get off the ground with development.

In terms of how customisable functionality is, Shopware scores well and the level of customisation is approximately equal to that of Magento 1, although it lacks an equivalent of the hugely versatile plugins found in Magento 2.  The use of plugins is a bit of a mainstay for many developers of Magento 2 and it provides an effective, upgrade friendly way to customise or override literally any Magento functionality.  But Shopware still gives a lot of potential for customisation and the wealth of events that are fired provide many entry points to customise core functionality.  There's also extensive developer documentation, and the Academy has good, video based courses for free.

Not scared of reinvention

Shopware takes the code where it needs to be.  Whilst typically full rebuilds of an eCommerce framework could be many years apart, the fact that Shopware is now at version 6, shows that keeping up with the technology by completely rebuilding when needed is not something they shy away from.  And that's exactly what happened from Shopware 5 to 6.  Comparing to Magento, we can see that over a similar timescale, there's only been one full rebuild when moving from Magento 1 to 2.

Whilst you can't upgrade directly from Shopware 5 to 6, the install process does allow you to migrate from a Shopware 5 store to your new Shopware 6 store in an accessible way.  This maintains the upgrade path while still getting a fresh, up to date codebase.

Free, accessible content

It's refreshing to find that Shopware provides free access to a lot of content allowing you to get up and running quickly.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that when signing up to the Shopware Academy, you can enroll and view the complete training content for free.

I remember when Magento first introduced similar training content, and were charging a sum which immediately made the courses inaccessible to many.  Instead Shopware just want you to learn and get involved, confident that later on you'll chose to invest in some form just because you believe in the product.

Extensions and updates

Like with many eCommerce frameworks, Shopware has a huge number of available extensions, and they are installable directly from the admin panel.  For those who remember it, this has something of the accessibility and feel of the old Connect Manager for Magento 1, making it easy to locate and install new extensions.  You'll also be prompted to install Shopware updates from admin keeping the core up to date.

This approach is certainly user friendly, but does have potential repercussions when it comes to development and in particular using version control.  Version control requires you to 'record' every file change across the install for easy reproduction and deployment across multiple environments.  Doing this ensures all files are identical across all environments for the most accurate testing and debugging.  Making changes through admin doesn't record these new file changes in version control, but depending on your setup it's not a showstopper.  If you do have staging and development environments alongside production, you'll need to take your developer's advice on the best way to manage the installation of new extensions and core updates.

Conclusion

There's a great deal to like about Shopware and overall I would certainly recommend you try it out.  With intuitive and user friendly usage, strong customisation possibilities second only to Magento, and a community and staff who are passionate, welcoming and proactive, Shopware certainly has a lot going for it.

There are minor downsides, but nothing that's likely to be a critical issue for the vast majority of store owners.  There's no support for PHP 8 yet - but I'm sure that will be coming soon and performance still feels snappy even without that additional performance advantage.  Coming from Magento 2, the codebase is certainly more simplistic and less customisable, but the flip side of that is that it is more accessible with an easier learning curve.  Customisation possibilities are good, but if you want a store that is very highly customised to the extent that it's not really just an eCommerce framework anymore, but also has major functionality additions and customisations - Magento is likely still your best option.

To summarise, if you're looking to build a solid eCommerce offering with good customisation possibilities, full ownership of the codebase, swift and cost-effective development, and are willing to sacrifice that 'ultimate' level of flexibility Magento gives, Shopware is a really solid option that should be right near the top of your list.

The attitude of the employees and community also adds a great deal, making the whole experience feel accessible and personal as opposed to remote and detached as can be the case with many companies.

You can learn more about, and get Shopware on their website, and if you're looking for a Shopware developer, they're quick and easy to find using our automatic, instant matching service.