“New” Essential IT Solutions online shop

The Essential IT Solutions computer online shop has been in operation for quite a while but as it attracted more-and-more visits it needed an upgrade.

We use the popular Prestashop software to run our online shop. With more than 3 million downloads, it is one of the world’s most popular shopping carts. It has, as the publishers like to remind one, “Over 310 dynamic features.”

We chose Prestashop because it is relatively easy to work on. We say “relative” because once you start presenting a few thousand products and a number of types of offers it requires a lot of dedication to make things work the way you want it (as any type of cart would).

Our first aim always is to make it easy for you to browse and shop the products on whichever device you use: desktop computer, laptop, tablet PC or smartphone. That is made possible through the use of CSS grid design – which, in the case of our Prestashop theme, is based on Twitter Bootstrap framework.

We moved our sites onto a fast cloud hosting service with ample RAM to speed up page delivery. We chose a local hosting company (instead of overseas hosting) to increase TTFB (Time To First Byte) and reduce page load times on all devices. We’re doing lots of layout and performance tweaks – and that’s why it’s “new” again.

Essential IT online computer shop

Moving sites to a cloud

Moving to a cloud-based storage system is easy. It only becomes challenging once you start tweaking your server settings to maximize your site performance and adding non-standard features.

Big oops!

Regular visitors will have noticed that we had a big oops when moving to our new servers. Frustratingly, our online shop was offline for a few days. We’d like to share just a bit of that experience with the hope that it will help you too if you encounter such problems.

1. Your hosting provider

It must have been Murphy’s Law that at the time we were ready to move to the new cloud servers, the hosting company we then used had big problems with their servers. Our files were corrupted and some of our backups had failed. Eventually, after making a lot of noise and after we pulled every trick in the book, we managed to transfer our web properties.

Our advice: if you have a problem with your current hosting provider, chances are that the problem will recur. Rather move to another reputable provider. (With hindsight, we should have moved earlier.)

2. 24 hour service

We were with a hosting company that advertised 24-hour technical assistance but their technicians worked normal office hours while the after-hours help was left to a single inexperienced assistant. Obviously, we needed to transfer our sites late at night, when there are fewer visitors. Full 24-hour hosting support is very important.

Our advice: Make sure your hosting provider has proper 24-hour technical assistance. Research the company on Facebook, Twitter, Hello Peter, the mybroadband forum and general googling to see what their current users are commenting. If you don’t like it, move to the company that has the best user reviews.

3. The dreaded error messages

Even after we had finally moved our sites, we experienced a few problems. These were due to our own fault and we’d like to share those with you (again, that it might help you if you are experiencing similar problems).

A) “500 Internal Server Error” – When you see this 500 error, your Apache server is telling that it encountered an unexpected condition that prevented it from fulfilling the request. This is an all-too-common problem but, fortunately, is easy to fix.

Usually the 500 error is caused by configuration issues with a) system permissions, b) PHP or c) the websites programming.

  • i.) System permissions – Check the readme or setup documentation of the software you are using, log in via your cPanel or FTP and check the permissions of the directories and files.cPanel Change Permissions IconTo change the read, write, and execute permissions of files listed in the cPanel File Manager, click the cPanel Change Permission iconTo change permission in FTP, right-click on a file and click Properties. There you can set the permissions according the software requirements.

    FTP change permissions

    If the 500 error persists, submit a ticket to your hosting provider – it might be a system permission change needed to a root file to which you might not have access.

  • ii.) PHP – malformed php cgi scripts, invalid directives in the htaccess file, system limitations and/or file ownership can cause a 500 error.If your site is on a shared server, submit a ticket to your hosting provider.If your site is on a dedicated server, see if rebooting your server will fix the error. If not, it could be any of a number of issues, from having to re-install/updating your server software or programme software to command line or compile issues. You’ll find most solutions simply by googling but if you don’t, feel free to post your question in the comment form below.
  • iii.) Website programming – The programme might have corrupted during download, unpacking or installation. Try re-installing it.It there was an initial coding problem with the programme, contact the developers. If it is a purchased or subscription-based programme, you’ll most likely have ticket or call support. If it is a free programme, google the problem or search the programme forum. If you’re not sure where to get help, post it in the comments form below and we’ll try to provide a solutions or, in the least, point you to the programme forum.

B) Smarty internal write problem on line 44 – Smarty is a PHP template engine developed to separate the front end and the back end of web page development. In short, it is meant to make things easier when making changes to your website layout.

Smarty requires a file compilation process to work its magic. If anything goes wrong along the processing, you’ll get a Smarty error. If your error log is turned on, Smarty will tell you exactly where the error is.

In the given example, the line 44 error described that Smarty could not complete the process due to, as it says, an “internal write problem.” That means that it could not find the path to the required file/s as per the script it called – or, simply put, the file path (file ownership) is wrong.

Now here’s the interesting part: the file path that Smarty is referring to (most likely) is not within the Smarty engine but is an external path. Here are possible causes:

    • – the folder name has changed (perhaps the original installation was in a file called “thisfile” and has now changed to “thatfile”.


    • – the folder was moved to a different directory (from /thisdirectory to /thisdirectory/overthere).


  • – your new server has a limit to 8 characters on root file paths. If the login on your previous server was “longerthan8characters” you’ll have to change it to a login with 8 characters or less. This is particularly true if you still use MySQL version 4 or earlier.

file not found!

C) “classes/Rijndael.php on line 50” – Once you’ve installed the required software and you want to log into the admin panel, you might get this problem that prohibits you from accessing that admin panel. This usually reverts back to the original Smarty problem as discussed above (because your admin panel is part of the Smarty template). Once you’ve sorted out the above mentioned Smarty issue, you should not get any Rijndael problems.

For the record, Rijndael is an Advanced Encryption Standard developed by Belgian cryptographers Joan Daemen and Vincent Rijmen.

For further reference, see the list of HTTP status codes.

The One Minute Manager Delete Issue

From the above, you would think that if we are so well versed in server and software maintenance then our online shop should not have been offline for any lengthy period. So, what went wrong?

Firstly, the transfer of our blog and other sites went without a hitch. We did, however, have a problem with keeping our online shop live. The reason was stupendously simple: the install files and database of the online shop were “accidentally” deleted … twice!

Here’s how it happened: we use a front end developer and back end developer. After the sites were transferred successfully to the cloud servers, the front end developer (who transferred the sites) accidentally promptly deleted some sections. He then proceeded to re-install everything, which, in itself, is a timely issue because it was pure manual labour.

Then the back end developer deleted the files! Again, a lot of time went in to manually re-installing the necessary files and databases.

The necessary files and software could be re-installed because we had backups of backups. So, here’s another tip we can share: always keep ample backups!

Why do we call this last-mentioned experience the “One Minute Manager Delete Issue?” The “One Minute Manager” strategy is a management technique based on three parts: one-minute goals, one-minute praisings and one-minute reprimands. Quickly identified the issues, address the problems (and quickly re-addressed them where neccessary) and make a point to prevent similar problems reoccurring. Keep your eye on the ball and go full speed.

FA-18 breaking sound barrier

Speeding up

At this time of writing, we are busy with further software and server performance tweaking. In the meantime, all is working well and we encourage you to visit the Essential IT Solutions computer online shop.

Date: 16 Apr 2014