MiniVend—the Electronic Shopping Cart
At the heart of MiniVend is the Products database. Normally, it is just an ASCII file with fields separated by tabs. The field names are given in the first row and MiniVend indexes the database with GDBM (GNU Database Manager) automatically. You can even hook up to a real SQL database through Perl's unique DBI interface, if you already have one.
You can update the database on the command line with the offline command, or if you just want to change one record, you can use the update command.
It is possible to import data from any source, provided the data can be formatted with the fields separated by tabs. If you want to adjust all the prices in the system, it is easy to do so with the commonadjust feature.
MiniVend records all sessions for future use. Obviously, some session data will become obsolete after a while, so it is a good idea to put an expire script in your crontab file:
44 4 * * * /home/httpd/mvend/bin/expireall -r
This will prevent your session databases from growing too large.
MiniVend is very impressive, almost awesome. This is software of a kind that other companies ask thousands of dollars (or euros) for, and MiniVend is free through the GPL. It is also a showpiece, demonstrating the versatility of Perl. A shopping cart system is not a small piece of code; MiniVend is a full-featured, powerful example.
MiniVend is a big system, not something you can cover in one session. It has scores of features I didn't even have time to try out yet. I've had a few problems with it, but I firmly believe that MiniVend is a system that can be used for any kind of electronic commerce. As I learn the features and study the code, I will become more familiar with it and can make it do all the things I want it to do.
If you're looking for a turn-key system, MiniVend is not it. On the other hand, if you are looking for a powerful, flexible and easy-to-use system, MiniVend is for you. The documentation is great, the source code is all there and if the support on the mailing list scales up a bit, there is nothing to fear.
Kaare Rasmussen (email@example.com) is a software engineer and developer, responsible for the software direction of a small Danish ISP known as Webline when work, family and other duties allow the time. Kaare has been working with almost all aspects of the IT industry for the last twenty years or so. He has written several books in Danish during the past five years—the latest one about using the Intranet with Linux.
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One of the best things about the UNIX environment (aside from being stable and efficient) is the vast array of software tools available to help you do your job. Traditionally, a UNIX tool does only one thing, but does that one thing very well. For example, grep is very easy to use and can search vast amounts of data quickly. The find tool can find a particular file or files based on all kinds of criteria. It's pretty easy to string these tools together to build even more powerful tools, such as a tool that finds all of the .log files in the /home directory and searches each one for a particular entry. This erector-set mentality allows UNIX system administrators to seem to always have the right tool for the job.
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