OpenCart 3 vs OpenCart 2 in 2018: Should You Update?

OpenCart 3 was released in 2017 almost a year ago – back then, we gave it a try concluded it doesn't offer much in terms of tangible benefits to store owners compared to OpenCart 2.

Today, we're giving OpenCart 3 another try to see if something has changed and if it makes sense to switch to OpenCart 3 – or stick with the proven and stable OpenCart 2.

This is an April, 2018 update to the original blog post published in June, 2017.

New features in OpenCart 3? Not too many.

Generally, OpenCart's team is known for publishing new releases without much fuss and without much information except for the release blog posts.

We've went ahead and assembled the details about the new features introduced in OpenCart 3 – as well as about the ones we expected that didn't get introduced.


Extensions can now be installed via the in-app extension marketplace

OpenCart 3 comes with an in-app extension marketplace, which will make it possible for store owners to download and purchase OpenCart extensions directly from the administration area.

While this sounds good in theory, OpenCart still lacks a unified standard for third party extension developers.

Most popular extensions come with OCMOD/vQmod code, custom setup procedures and possible conflicts with OpenCart core, third party themes and other plugins – which means a high chance of ending up with a broken store after installing a custom plugin.


OpenCart now supports Crowdin translation integration

OpenCart 3 now includes a new section in the admin area that allows looking for and installing translations from Crowdin, a crowdsourcing translation project.

This should make it easier for store owners to contribute to and install new translations directly from Crowdin.

The drawback is that OpenCart lacks proper translations on Crowdin – there are only a few dozen languages and most of them are unfinished.

So, to run a decent OpenCart-based store in most languages store owners will still need to turn to professional third party translations available elsewhere.


Theme and language editors let store owners edit the files directly

OpenCart 3 makes it possible to edit theme and language files via Theme and Language editors.

On one hand, this means it will now be easier for OpenCart store owners to modify their stores without having to resort to file editing via FTP.

On the other hand, modifying template and language files is still a technical process and doing this without any technical knowledge will often lead to – again – a broken store.


Multilingual SEO, but no microdata

OpenCart 3 has added an option to specify SEO slugs in multiple languages – as well as a handy SEO keyword editor for the store's administration.

However, a few crucial SEO features are still missing from OpenCart 3, such as microdata support for rich snippets and social media sharing and support for URL prefixes.

This means OpenCart 3 store owners still depend on third party extensions if they're intending to run search engine friendly online stores with OpenCart.

This also means MultiMerch's default SEO system with support for, Open Graph and product URL prefixes would still be a better option out of the box.


Still the same old checkout

I've mentioned this one in my blog post about OpenCart problems – one page checkout extensions are among the top selling OpenCart extensions.

Still, OpenCart 3 comes with its regular 5 step checkout.

This means OpenCart store owners still rely on third party theme and extension developers to implement a dozen different quick checkout versions – with all of the support and compatibility consequences.


Still no analytics and marketing tools

If you're a store owner running an OpenCart online store, you're out of luck when it comes to sales and marketing tools to track and enhance your performance.

As of 2018, OpenCart out of the box still offers no support for:

  • Google Analytics' Ecommerce Tracking
  • Abandoned cart reminders
  • Automated coupon generation
  • A convenient way to generate promotional campaigns

While these aren't deal-breakers since you can always find a third party extension to do it for you, it would be great if OpenCart itself could step up their game. It's an e-commerce platform, after all – and e-commerce systems should be concerned about helping store owners to monetize their marketplaces.


Still no performance optimization

A number of users on OpenCart forums and website have noticed performance issues when testing OpenCart 3 compared to OpenCart 2:

From my first tests, it looks like OC is visible slower than OC 2.x.
I haven't had time to analyze it (maybe in the next days), but is it because of the twig?

everything goes to the crapper for speed.
stupid move!

OpenCart 3.0 is noticeably slower that OpenCart 2.3. Has any profiling been done to determine the areas that should be targeted for improvement?

It is currently not clear whether this is due to Twig or something else, but store owners with larger stores will need to keep an eye on performance.

Unfortunately, OpenCart 3 still doesn't offer much in terms of performance optimization out of the box – you'll have to rely on third party extensions for your CDN integrations, style and script minification and advanced caching.


Still no proper update process – one year later, there's no sure-fire way of updating to OpenCart 3

Even though OpenCart 3 is presented as a stable version, apparently the default upgrade script has issues that prevent users from properly upgrading to OpenCart 3.

Still, even when the upgrade script is updated, the issue with third party themes, extensions and modifications remains open:

Upgrades, especially from 2.x to 3.x are the equivalent of buying a new car. Your existing paint job, wheels, mods, etc are not carried over to your new car. They have to be rebuilt. Keep this in mind before you think about upgrading. It is also recommended that you use an upgrade service by someone who is familiar with the upgrade process as they can save you time and money in the long run.

It appears that live store OpenCart 2 to OpenCart 3 upgrade will again be a tedious manual process, pretty much like upgrading OpenCart 1 to OpenCart 2.


What about the design and usability in OpenCart 3? Nothing new.

Not much has changed in terms of design in OpenCart 3 compared to OpenCart 2:

  • The administration panel has received a slight color scheme facelift
  • Most admin-area interfaces have remained the same
  • There's nothing new for customers, either

We've compared the design of OpenCart 3 interfaces to OpenCart 2 to see if OpenCart 3 offers something worth upgrading in terms of usability.


The administration panel has a new color scheme, but not much more

The OpenCart administration panel has received a minor facelift – mostly the new color scheme and the sidebar filter panel (although we'd prefer it at the top to leave more space for the data tables).

Apart from the color scheme and the filters, the admin-area interfaces haven't changed much:

  • there's still no dynamic table sorting without refreshing the page
  • there's still no one page order or product editing so you'll have to click through tabs
  • the default OpenCart 3 admin dashboard hasn't changed compared to OpenCart 2

While you can always use third party extensions for custom admin-area features, it would be great if OpenCart kept up with the times in terms of its interfaces.


Nothing new for customers – same old default theme, same old demo data

According to OpenCart's GitHub commits, a new 2018 theme was considered at some point, but was apparently scrapped.

Thus, OpenCart 3 comes with pretty much no front store design changes, with the exception of the h1 tag with store's name added to the page header for some reason.

Even the demo products haven't been updated – the brand new OpenCart 3 still features the iPhone 4 released in 2010 and the Canon EOS 5D from 2005.

Finally – and most importantly, in my opinion – there are no interface improvements to customer accounts.

This means, OpenCart 3 still offers store owners:

  • the same boring customer account navigation
  • the same order listing with no product details
  • the same quirks with account pages containing a single element

While you can argue that the default theme and the demo products don't matter much since no one's gonna use them anyway, the customer account interfaces look really sad.


Theme support for OpenCart 3 lagging behind

We've assembled this list of 30 best selling OpenCart themes from ThemeForest to see which OpenCart versions they support:

Turns out, only 11 of the 30 best selling OpenCart themes support OpenCart 3, while OpenCart 2.x and 1.x is at 19. This might make finding a great OpenCart theme for 3.x a bit more complex.

In addition to this, only 4 of the 30 bestsellers support all three OpenCart versions.


The technical things – what's changed for OpenCart 3 developers?

Since neither the features nor the designs have changed much in OpenCart 3, only the technical part remains – and it's the one that has most of the changes (for good or bad).


Twig is the new PHP template language

This one's mostly intended for developers, but OpenCart now makes Twig the default template language instead of pure phtml.

This means third party extensions and templates will need to be rewritten into Twig before they can be used with OpenCart 3.

While many developers have been working on this since early OpenCart 3 alpha versions, it may still take months before most third party extensions and themes are available for OpenCart 3 in Twig.


A few minor changes for developers

In addition to the major Twig change, OpenCart 3 has also introduced a number of smaller changes that affect developers:

  • Third party extension developers are only allowed to keep files in a few specified locations, compared to the whole file system in OpenCart 2
  • Language files are now being loaded implicitly, so you don't have to do hundreds of manual variable assignments each time
  • Emails are now being sent via OpenCart Events
  • Admin reports are now extensions, which opens up the possibility of third party reporting extensions

I'll have to agree that most of these changes are good for most developers – it's also good to see OpenCart starting to enforce at least some rules for third party extensions.


Various bugs and the roadmap is still unclear

Even though OpenCart 3 has been originally released as a stable version, there were reports about various issues users have encountered when testing the newly released OpenCart 3.0.

While most of them seem to have been fixed in the current development version, there were no official OpenCart releases published since July 2017.

If you're a store owner starting out with OpenCart 3.x, you'll have to pull the bugfixes from GitHub or OpenCart Forums comments manually, which doesn't always work out:

I tried to apply both fixes suggested, and it did not seem to fix the problem. There was no change. Without this fix, I am dead in the water. It is impossible to setup a payment plan of any kind.
This bug means that anyone trying to install opencart for the first time will be unable to complete the install and setup a simple payment gateway. :( :( :(
It seems this bug has been around for a while. Has anyone figured out a way around this issue???

Unfortunately, the OpenCart 3 roadmap is still unclear.

It seems that active development of OpenCart 3.1 is underway on GitHub apparently with support for Bootstrap 4, but there are no official release dates or an official roadmap.


Conclusion: OpenCart 3 vs OpenCart 2 in 2018?

When it comes to major OpenCart releases, we recommend not to upgrade right away and wait until the new version matures and becomes stable enough.

With all this in mind – should you be using OpenCart 3 in 2018?

For the store owners, OpenCart 3 looks pretty bleak:

  • there's no way to easily upgrade from OpenCart 2
  • there are no new features in OpenCart 3 with tangible benefits compared to OpenCart 2
  • no major usability improvements in either store front or administration area
  • no performance improvements, some reports on decreased performance
  • no official bugfix releases since July 2017, the future is still unclear

For the developers, OpenCart 3 has a few major downsides in addition to a few minor improvements:

  • Twig is a pain to switch to, especially for developers behind larger extensions
  • OpenCart 3 is yet another version to maintain compatibility with, considering that OpenCart 2 is still widely used
  • Implicit language loading is a good thing while the extension folder restrictions should make creating poor code more difficult
  • If the upcoming OpenCart 3.1 does introduce Bootstrap 4, it will be another major change for theme and extension developers to adapt to

In 2018, just shy of one year later after the official OpenCart 3.0 release, our verdict for OpenCart store owners is – stick with OpenCart and you'll save yourself a great deal of a headache!

Meanwhile, let's wait for OpenCart 3.1 and see what it brings.

Martin Boss

Martin Boss

I'm the founder of MultiMerch and a marketplace ecommerce enthusiast.