Magento 1.4 Themes Design Book Review

Magento 1.4 Themes Design was written by Richard Carter and published by Packt Publishing. It was published in January of this year (2011). I read the eBook copy, so I have not yet been able to look at the paper copy, but if it is like every other book published by Packt, there’s not much to complain about.

This book is geared towards beginners looking to get their hands dirty with theming Magento, and understanding how it works. If you are only used to theming applications like WordPress or ZenCart, you will find Magento very difficult. Magento doesn’t just use template files. Magento is much more like a framework, and should be considered as such. They have implemented a powerful system of blocks, layout xml, and template files. The concept can be difficult to wrap your head around, and that’s where this book can really help you get started.

You’ll find the book very well organized, and the author does an amazing job explaining concepts without rambling on forever. There are many occasions where a link to a article (mostly wiki articles on Magento’s site) that better explains the concept in detail, which is nice as it doesn’t clog up the book, and allows you to choose to explore the concept further or not.

Some of the things about things about this book that I appreciate:

  • Suggests when upgrading from 1.3 to 1.4 to start the theme over from scratch. While this seems crazy, from my experience, it has been the best option.
  • In chapter 1, the author goes through 6 differently themed Magento sites (3 themes that come with a fresh Magento installation, and 3 established websites using Magento) and explains the design elements in Magento terminology. It was great to see so many examples to see how Magento themes can be used differently.
  • Defined the challenges of theming with Magento.
  • Did a nice job of explaining theme hierarchy.
  • Suggests only using a single xml layout file for your custom themes. I had already learned that this is a great practice to have, and the fact that the author suggested this and gave good reason for it was appreciated.
  • Walk you through how to create a theme from scratch (though still basically based off of the base/default theme).

As you walk through the chapters in this book, it does a nice job easing you into the concepts, and keeps the flow going, building further upon what you are learning. Overall, for a beginner, I would highly recommend this book.

The only cons of this book: If you are hoping for a detailed and in-depth explanation of how layout xml works (like I was), this book won’t quite do it, though does a great job explaining the basics, which is the purpose of the book. The only other complaint I have is that the author suggests that you FTP all of the unpacked files to the server. I wouldn’t ever suggest that, but, if you are a beginner and are unfamiliar with using the command line, I guess it gets the job done (though very slowly!).

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