Practical Ecommerce

Preventative Maintenance

I spend just as much time troubleshooting Miva Merchant issues as I do customizing storefronts. I’ve found that no matter how much you foolproof something, someone out there can, and will, find a way to break its functionality. Fortunately, users of Miva Merchant often need only follow a few steps to keep their online stores running clean and troubleshoot issues.

Delete, Pack, Pack

Miva Merchant 4.x and lower database files are DB III compliant (which gives us flexibility to import and export data to and from many applications), and when any items (products, orders, categories, etc.) are deleted in the store, they are flagged for deletion in the appropriate database. This means accidental deletions are recoverable (though it requires working with the databases directly). The process of packing those databases after you delete something keeps database files running clean, and lessens the possibility of record numbers being reused. Reused record numbers are called dupes and can cause corruption of the database files themselves.

Abandoned shopping baskets can also make some database files grow quite large. This is why there’s a method to delete expired shopping baskets. And the deleting step should always be followed by packing the store’s data files.

Using the Delete and Pack routines under the store’s and domain’s utilities branches is the most important step every user should take to keep their Miva Merchant stores in top shape.

Keep Modules Updated

Checking for module updates frequently will ensure your store is utilizing the latest and greatest of a module’s features, and with the fewest bugs possible. While most developers only release major updates when many features are added, bug fixes often result in immediate updates. Updating a module is normally the first step in troubleshooting a conflict with a third-party module.

Test While You Go

I, as well as most module developers, am asked every day to siphon through large blocks of HTML and tokens (used to call in specific content from database fields, or conditionally display content), or check all the settings in the module interface, to find out where the user went wrong. You can usually turn an hour or more of troubleshooting into just a minute by testing design and functionality as you make changes to the store. I recommend users refresh screens or click appropriate links in the live store after each change or two. This helps you catch your own mistakes and fix them right then, rather than having to spend sometimes endless moments trying to figure it out later.

Nearly half the time developers and designers spend making customizations is spent testing as we work, so the process of testing as changes are actually made should be practiced by everyone.

Realize Module Limitations

Not all third-party modules work flawlessly with other modules, or even Miva Merchant itself. That’s why it’s key to read documentation and also think logically when considering, installing and configuring modules that need to work with other modules. Keep in mind that some modules just won’t work with others, especially if they both are written to customize a screen (product, category, etc), and some modules have to be “called in” to other modules. For example, a module that overwrites the entire product screen would need to call in the functionality of a module that changes the way product images are displayed or manipulates bulk pricing of a product.

Seek Support Wisely

When seeking support for your Miva Merchant store, following key steps can cut down troubleshooting time for yourself and the developer or support team. Often you can completely eliminate the process of calling someone for support if you go back to the basics.

The first step is to read documentation, including any FAQ files. Many times the answer to a question lies within something already repaired and documented. For HTML or token issues, copying and pasting the current settings, then reverting back to the original configuration so you can plug your changes back in a step at a time will improve your chances of catching the problem quickly.

Knowing who to talk to is also key in resolving issues quickly. Mail server and permissions problems usually are reliant on the host. Errors of missing files are usually attributed to the failure of uploading or installing a file, but they could also be a permissions problem. A developer normally handles module conflicts, and when it’s between two modules by two different developers, they will often work together to locate the problem.

The goal here is to save you time and money. While it’s easy to open a support ticket whenever you find a problem, consider the time invested by the support team. Many developers support module problems themselves, so great increases of support time can mean other modules aren’t being updated or developed, and ultimately can call in a price increase for their products.

The ultimate goal, however, is to make sure your Miva Merchant store is running smoothly. Errors in the store cost you time and money as well. Having a clear understanding of how Miva Merchant, and any other modules you may be running, work is the best insurance policy you can have when it comes to fixing a problem.

Don’t Ignore Problems

You wouldn’t ignore a clicking sound in your car’s engine, well, maybe you would, but it wouldn’t be a wise choice. The same goes for Miva Merchant. While there are steps to take, often many, you DO want to take steps to keep your store running smoothly and fix problems as they occur. And your bank account will definitely thank you. Repairing a corrupt database could run you $75 or more per occurrence, money that could be better spent elsewhere, like on that nifty, new module you’ve been eager to try out.

Pamela Hazelton

Pamela Hazelton

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