Magento 2: Everything Store Owners Need To Know

Magento has completely rewritten its ecommerce platform. But just how radical is Magento 2?
Magento_2

On November 17, 2015, Magento, Inc. released a new major version of their flagship e-commerce platform — Magento 2. With a complete rewrite of all of the core code, templates, and configuration, along with major changes to the database and infrastructure, it’s the most radical change to the Magento platform since its inception.

The announcement of Magento 2’s general availability boasts “enhanced performance and scalability” and “Open, Flexible Architecture,” so it seems clear that the goals for Magento 2 were largely technical ones. Store owners should be aware that, despite the big new number, Magento 2 is primarily a code rewrite, not a bundle of new features and reimagined admin workflows.

In this article we’ll talk about what new features Magento 2 brings, how it impacts existing stores, and what the upgrade means for store owners.

What Does Magento 2 Have That Magento 1 Doesn’t?

Most of Magento 2’s changes are under the hood, including an almost total rewrite of the core code, configuration system, and templates. The primary goal of the rewrite appears to have been to bring Magento up to date with modern coding standards, along with improving speed and stability. As a result, the core of Magento’s functionality is largely unchanged as the focus was making the code more robust rather than redesigning the functionality of the platform.

That said, a handful of new features have been added, including:

Improved checkout flow

Guests no longer have to decide whether to create an account up front. Magento will detect if a customer has an account using their email address, which is the only datapoint required before beginning checkout. If they have an account, they’re prompted to log in; otherwise they complete checkout as usual and are given the option of creating an account (using their checkout information) at the end of the checkout process.

Full-page caching

This was formerly an Enterprise-only feature, but it’s now available in the Community Edition (the free version). It allows entire pages to be stored in Magento’s cache, improving load speed dramatically.

Overhauled admin interface and frontend

Both the admin UI and the storefront have been completely rebuilt using modern web standards — including responsive design. Store owners and customers alike will now be able to have an optimized experience on their mobile devices.

Simplified swatches

Swatches were introduced in Magento 1.9, but Magento 2 simplifies their use considerably, in part by incorporating them directly as attributes and allowing you to simply pick colors for each option rather than having to upload images.

Product videos

Products can now have embedded videos as well as images. They integrate seamlessly with the image slider on product view pages and can even be used as thumbnails for product listings. Vimeo and YouTube are supported.

Importable custom options

Magento 2 allows you to import custom options from one product into another. This will mostly eliminate the need for a third-party custom options template module.

What Does the Magento 2 Upgrade Path Look Like?

Magento 2 is a complete, ground-up code rewrite. As such, you should look at the upgrade from Magento 1 to Magento 2 as a total site rebuild rather than a software upgrade. All of your custom themes and extensions will need to be rebuilt.

The Magento team has released a migration guide and tool, but it only accounts for your product data, not custom themes and extensions. The largest barrier to upgrading will be having all of your custom themes and extensions rewritten. Your integration partner will be able to advise you on the time required to migrate all of your site’s data and custom code.

How Urgently Do You Need to Upgrade to Magento 2?

Magento 2 has been officially released — it’s no longer in beta. However, as with any new piece of software, it should be considered fairly unstable until it’s been in the real world long enough to get battle-hardened. As such, you should probably not be in any hurry to upgrade unless you’d like to position your company on the cutting edge. It would probably be best to consider an upgrade to Magento 2 the next time you plan a general site refresh, but no sooner.

As a side note, a good guideline for updating your site is about once every three years given the speed at which web technology advances.

For How Long Will Magento 1 Be Supported?

A timeline of three years from Magento 2’s release date has been mentioned in various places around the web — so, until November 2018. There hasn’t been any official confirmation, although one of Magento’s core developers did tweet as much.

Regardless of how long Magento 1 is officially supported, it’s likely that the community will continue to support it for a long time. As the largest e-commerce platform to date, Magento has always had a thriving developer community.

Resources & Additional Reading

Because most of Magento’s core functionality remains unchanged in Magento 2, most of the admin and customer experience remains unchanged as well, so there’s not much store owners will need to learn once they familiarize themselves with the new interface.

However, here are a number of resource links — mainly  technical — that may be of interest to advanced users or that you can pass along to your integration partner.

  • Official Magento 2 Announcement – Provides a high-level overview of Magento 2’s major selling points.
  • Migration guide – A comprehensive guide to migrating your data from Magento 1 to Magento 2. Includes a link to the official Magento migration tool.
  • Magento 2 Developer Documentation – A work in progress, but the canonical resource for developers learning Magento 2.
  • Magento 2 Overview – A technical presentation by Alan Kent, Magento Chief Architect. This was one of the first glimpses of Magento 2 released to the user community.
  • Magento 2 Demo – You don’t have to wait to upgrade your site to Magento to start experimenting. Here’s a demo of the storefront. It also contains a link and credentials for the admin backend.

Conclusion

While Magento 2 is a ground-up rewrite of Magento 1, a surprising amount of functionality will remain unchanged for store owners once the pain of upgrading is over. Magento 2 is very much a developer’s upgrade and for most non-technical users, it will feel more like an incremental change than the sweeping reimagining it’s advertised as. It is a sweeping reimagining, but it’s all behind the curtain.

Speaking as a Magento developer, I feel confident saying that the rewrite was a necessary step (even an overdue one) for Magento to remain competitive in the long term. A lot of their technologies were very outdated and they’d accumulated a lot of cruft in the code base. It was time for a thorough reevaluation of the whole system with an eye for implementing modern technologies and coding practices. Magento 2 should satisfy the developer community and give the platform the foundation it needs to continue being the e-commerce package of choice for many more years.

However, non-technical users should definitely adjust their expectations, especially in light of an upgrade process that is going to be deeply painful for most. Despite the big new version number, Magento 2 will still feel very much the same as Magento 1, for both store owners and customers.

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About the Author

Cameron McDonald


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