FreeNetshop is an on-line e-commerce, sales and order-tracking software suite with a customer interface modeled on the popular “shopping cart” theme.
  • Manufacturer: FreeNetshop

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  • Price: As the name says, it's FREE!

  • Reviewer: Kevin Lyons

FreeNetshop is an on-line e-commerce, sales and order-tracking software suite with a customer interface modeled on the popular “shopping cart” theme. It is designed to run on any UNIX system using any NCSA-compatible web server, including Apache. FreeNetshop is, of course, free and is licensed under the GPL.

FreeNetshop (FNS) works with the freely available mSQL relational database and is capable of running multiple independent copies on one server using a single instance of msqld. This makes it ideal for web presence providers and ISPs who serve multiple customers/domains from each system in their server pool. FNS has been tested on version 1.0.9 and 1.0.16 of mSQL. Porting to mSQL 2 and MySQL is underway.

FNS uses the mSQL C programming API, the excellent CGIC library from Thomas Boutell, and UNIX library calls to optimize speed and minimize runtime size. Independent configuration parameters are compiled at installation to reduce lookup overhead during execution. FNS is also customizable from site to site by editing a few HTML pages.

The FreeNetshop distribution is composed of Common Gateway Interface (CGI) programs and HTML forms. FNS was designed from the ground up to allow multiple sites to be hosted on a single host machine. As such, FNS CGI programs are small and fast.

Performance of an FNS installation is primarily a function of the speed of the database (mSQL) and the web server. mSQL was chosen as the database since it has defined the performance mark for small to medium-sized relational databases and is easily obtainable. For example, an indexed lookup of one record in a table with 100,000 records took less than half a second, including web server and client response, on an AMD 586, 133MHz machine with 16MB RAM. A non-indexed search for a string in a 50-character field for 100,000 records took less than three seconds on the same machine.


FreeNetshop version 1.3 features:

  • Small, fast execution using compiled ANSI C

  • Cookie-based user tracking

  • Sales tax calculations

  • Automatic HTML page generation with a customizable header and footer for all products in the database

  • Shipping cost calculations for up to five classes of UPS shipping

  • Password verification

  • Support for public terminal account cleaning

  • Both virtual and non-virtual host operation

  • Support for SSL operation

  • Small size: less than 424K in gzipped, tar file; installed to around 5MB; executables average less than 95K

  • E-mail order notification

  • Web browser-based administration

  • Real-time sales reporting

Table Relations

A view of the FreeNetshop table schemas reveals that the database has not been fully normalized. This decision was made to minimize table lookups at specific points in the application CGI programs. Of course, the effect of this decision is to sacrifice some small amount of storage space to achieve faster response. Figure 1 shows the table relationships. It can be seen that customers may have one-to-many and one-to-one relations with Cart and Orders. Orders, in turn, can have one-to-many or one-to-one relations with Lineitems. Lineitems and Cart are one-to-one related to Products. Products (i.e., a product record) will have a many-to-one relation with Lineitems and Cart, since one product number will be in multiple shopping carts and order line items.

Figure 1. Table Relationships in FNS

Program Flow

The FNS distribution is divided into customer-level programs and administration-level programs. Customer programs are located in the site cgi-bin directory. Administration programs are located in admin/cgi-bin for each site. The admin directory is protected with the htaccess facility included in most NCSA-compatible web servers, including Apache.

Customer-level programs are linked into the HTML pages and each other so that the process of adding items to the shopping cart and placing an order is completely menu-driven. Nevertheless, it may be useful for the hosting ISP or administrator to understand the ordering process as it relates to the cgi programs. The customer-level programs are search.cgi, addcart.cgi, viewcart.cgi, upcart.cgi, preorder.cgi, ordercalc.cgi, order.cgi, clearcust.cgi and account.cgi. Figure 2 shows the customer ordering sequence.

Figure 2. Customer Ordering Sequence

search.cgi provides the means for the customer to enter keywords to search the products database table. search.cgi prints out a listing of all matching records (products) with a short description and a link to product HTML pages. In addition, search.cgi pulls in header and footer HTML files so that the dynamically generated results page appears within a consistent-look site interface (refer to the CUSTOMIZE file included with the distribution for details).

addcart.cgi adds a product to the customer's shopping cart. Internally, addcart.cgi sends a unique cookie to the customer's computer and adds the appropriate product number to the Cart database table. In addition to the standard product number, price, etc., a sequence number is added to the Cart table. The sequence number is based on the date and time the item was added. This provides a means for the site administrator to remove old entries from the Cart table. There is no limit to the amount of items a customer may add to his shopping cart.

viewcart.cgi pulls up a listing that shows all product items in the customer's shopping cart. Additionally, quantities are shown in a form field so that the customer can change quantities or remove products from his shopping cart.

upcart.cgi performs the actual update of product quantity in the Cart table, then regenerates the shopping cart listing page with the updated quantity shown. Links are provided in viewcart.cgi and upcart.cgi to allow the customer to proceed with placing an order.

preorder.cgi was added to FNS 1.3 when shipping costs were added for five classes of UPS. preorder.cgi takes address information from the Customer table if the customer has ordered before, and provides blank form fields if the customer is new.

ordercalc.cgi takes the shipping information and address data entered from preorder.cgi and calculates order cost and shipping. order.cgi then provides form fields for the customer to enter credit card information. If the password the customer entered into preorder.cgi is correct, then the default customer credit card information is filled into the form fields automatically. There is also a field for the customer to enter any special comments regarding his order.

order.cgi commits the order information to the proper tables. In particular, order.cgi updates the Order tables, creating a unique order number, updates the Lineitem table and removes the selected items from the Cart table. Additionally, order.cgi creates an e-mail order notification message and sends it to the site administrator. order.cgi also provides output of the order to the customer for saving or printing. Once the administrator receives e-mail notification of the order, he can verify completeness of the order and forward a copy of it to the customer via e-mail. The e-mail order notification can also be printed by the administrator and used as a packing list.

clearcust.cgi allows the customer to delete all entries from the Customer table that correspond to his cookie-based user ID number. This is intended as an additional privacy/security feature for customers who order from public terminals/kiosks. While a thief would still need to know the customer's password to gain access to credit card information, the shipping and contact information that was last entered on a particular terminal would appear the next time the FNS site was visited if this functionality was not provided. clearcust.cgi can be invoked by the customer from the bottom of the order completion/processed page which is generated by order.cgi.

account.cgi allows the customer to change default billing and shipping information. The customer must enter his e-mail address and correct password before being allowed to access any data.