Nahuel Sanchez

A place to write down what I discover and learn everyday at my workplace. Front-end may be the main topic, but who knows, probably I'll be publishing something else.

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Magento virtual themes or why theme changes don't show up in the front end

You have a Magento 2 theme created (at least you can see it in your IDE and we're going to assume there's no typo in the theme.xml nor in the registration.php), you can also see it in the Admin, and finally you have it configured for your store.

Then you go to the front end and you see a Frankenstein's monster: the CSS is okay but the Layout XML is not being taken into consideration. The front end kind of knows which theme to load, but it's loading it only partially.

What it's going on? How do we fix it?

One of the possibilities is that the theme is set as Virtual instead of Physical in the database, causing behaviors such as the described above.

Magento 2 happen to have 3 types of themes, of which I have found very little information in the official documentation (just a minor mention in the Troubleshooting section of the 2.0 "Apply and configure a storefront theme" page but gone in the 2.2 version of it) but a convincing explanation in this StackExchange question.

We have "Physical themes" which are the well-known themes such as Blank and Luma, second we have "Virtual themes" which appears to be themes that extend a Physical theme but doesn't exist in the files (nothing in app/design), and finally we have the "Staging themes" which I have no idea what they are nor how they behave (sorry).

These 3 different types of themes are defined in the Interface Magento\Framework\View\Design\ThemeInterface as 0, 1, and 2 for Physical, Virtual and Staging, respectively.

If you go to your database (using the Terminal, PhpMyAdmin or an app like Sequel Pro) and take a look at the theme table, chances are that you'll find something like this:

If you encounter a 1 in the type column for your theme, there's your problem. Change it to 0 and everything will be fixed.

How the theme became Virtual without anybody setting it anywhere?

You're probably wondering how that 1 ended up there without anybody setting it (at least you're sure you didn't as you just find out about all this).

As described, Virtual themes are themes that doesn't exist in the code, meaning there are no files for that theme (how Magento expect us to use this type of theme is for me unknown).

If you're using a version control system such as Git maybe (maybe) you ended up for a moment in a branch without the theme files and somehow loaded the front end or ran a bin/magento command. For a moment only, Magento saw in the database that a theme is set and active but found no files in the code for such theme, so it changed it to Virtual.

Leave your stable job and stop being a coward

I worked on the same place for almost 6 years until one day I quit.

That statement, while true, is extremely simplistic and it's not like I woke up one morning and said "Today is the day I move forward", but instead took me a lot of thinking and time (more than a year) until I reached that decision.

What took me so long? Mainly lack of bravery. Chances are that if you are reading this post you're a coward too, but that's okay, it can be our secret, and you shouldn't be ashamed of that. My cowardice is known as "being too much time in the comfort zone" by other posts you might find on the Internet, but I don't want to be that polite and instead call stuff by its names.

My lack of bravery grew over the time fed by the fact that my job was secured in this place after 6 years. I'm not saying that I was irreplaceable, but after 6 years it's not like somebody were going to fire me overnight.

Also, routine mixed with flexibility. I knew I had a job from Monday to Friday, a secured job, something to do within a company with many clients, and on the other side if I wanted to slept 2 more hours I could do that and there was no problem because they knew how I was and that I was going to work towards objectives (meaning me sleeping two more hours in the morning won't jeopardize any project). You know, comfort zone.

Something started to bother me, and it was the fact that inside me I knew that my performance could be better. My work done could be delivered with a higher quality and especially in less time, and I could be learning something different, new, or a different way to accomplish my job description's objectives.

I was somehow stuck, and I wanted to know how the work can be done from a different perspective, under a different pair of eyes. Like the "I want a second opinion" phrase in the medicine world.

It's a sentiment hard to put on words, that you're probably feeling too, that I compare to the need of leaving your parents' house to live by yourself.

If one day you make the step, you're in for a smoothie of feelings starting from "What the hell am I doing?" to somehow relief, peace, panic, adrenaline for sure, happiness. If things goes well (it can fail, I mean, sorry, but this is not quite an inspirational post... things can go terribly wrong so think twice, haha) you'll find yourself smiling on the back of your Uber ride while looking over the window (with a stupid face in my case).

As I don't want this to be a motivational post, and as I don't want to sound like I'm saying "leave your work, leave everything behind and pursue your dreams because life", let me pitch in some disclaimer points here.

We need to know that jobs are not like yogurt and they don't have an expiration date based entirely on time. If you happen to be on a job for 3 years, 5 years, or whatever, don't quit just because you believe that you're being too much time in the same place.

I don't believe in the feeling that a cycle is completed based only on the time you spent on that cycle. There are more than years spent on the same chair, so if you're happy where you are just keep going and that's just okay.

Consider also that being mad is not a reason to quit. If you're mad, and you quit just because of that, chances are that you are, at least, to blind to think this through, to contemplate all the possibilities and choose wisely.

I once saw somebody saying "I quit" right in the spot of a performance review, not even letting the performance review finish, not even giving an hour to think about the big decision of leaving a job. Of course, that was just words and total regrets the following day, but still works as an example.

Mad? Make peace with yourself and with the company you're working on before taking a decision. Stop thinking of companies as "big evil corporations", and you'll probably find (as I did) that the company you work for is given everything they can, so allow them some mistakes.

If you are getting fearless and thinking about leaving your stable job, do it for the right reasons.

I'm hoping this personal post, my personal experiences that most likely is totally different to what you're going through, helps you think more deeply about the current situation you're living with your current job.

Do not forget about the emotions while selling something

I'm selling two iPhone X, Space Gray color, both with 256 GB of capacity. When I bought them I wasn't sure about getting the 64 GB version or the bigger one, but I made up my mind in favor of the 256 GB version and I'll tell you why it was a great decision.

Last year I went on a family trip with my mom and sister to a Brazilian beach where cellular signal wasn't available all the time, meaning LTE was a luxury, and also finding WiFi was a Tom Cruise's "Mission Impossible" remake possible plot.

In this scenario, the idea of today's about everything being in the cloud and not in the physical devices was a no go for me.

The trip was beyond great. I spent a lot of time in the water with my sister trying to record the best slow motion videos: sometimes trying with just the water, sometimes filming the sand to see if that improves the video, then letting my sister try some tricks in front of the iPhone camera over and over again until we get something good.

At the end of the day we ended up with many many GB of videos, and a job not done yet. Before dinner, all nights, and most of the times waiting for our mom to get ready, we selected the best shots in order to create a video, cinematic music included, to show to mom as if we were two Directors showing the final cut of a Hollywood movie to a film criticism.

The other phone, while exactly the same, it was just used for some work stuff. It's a great device for reading emails, writing emails, and taking notes.

The difference lies in the emotions

While both are the same technical speaking, they are not the same emotionally speaking. If I still need to prove my point I'll will continue telling you fake stories including a beach, a mom and a sister until your eyes get wet and you rip this phone out of my hand while letting me keep the one used for work... because that's the whole point.

I know it's very obvious I'm appealing to your emotions in the last story, but the true is that we're all victims of this trick in a regular basis.

Think about it. Think about the last time you bough something on Amazon, eBay or Mercado Libre, when you searched for a product you already knew, ended up with three or four browser tabs with similar publications of the same product, different price within a short range, and then you made a decision from where to buy based on not much logical data but confidence on the seller, the aspect of the website, the fact that one had a better description with a video of real people using the product, the fact that one had reviews from previous buyers.

Think in Coke showing a couple jumping of a cliff into a lake, McDonald's showing a single mom with his kid laughing while eating fries, a perfume showing a good looking guy with three Victoria's Secret angels.

I remember a local ad I often see on TV showing a divided screen where on the left you can see a cute lady getting ready to go out on a sunny day, and on the other side a big man wearing a hood and preparing his tools to break into the house of this lady the moment she step out. There you have the victim, the villain, the conflict... and the hero? A trustworthy armored door at an accessible price.

And Apple?, oh, boy, those guys really know everything about selling feelings instead of products. I remember during an Apple's Keynote somebody, probably Tim Cook, introduced "Live Photos" (you know, that feature that records a few seconds before and after an static photo) and said something like "This feature allows you to see a photo, gently press on the screen, and get a sneak peak of what was going on during the shot of that static image".

A time machine that shows you 3 seconds of video and audio around the static shot. Right in the feels.

What you're selling is a hero

Your product, service, software... whatever is the thing you're selling, it can be the hero of a story. A story where there's a problem your potential customer has.

The problem is the villain in the story you need to start telling. It can be pretty obvious like in the ad for the armored door, or very subtle like in the McDonald's ad where they tell that they know how hard it is to being a single mom but still you can come upon great moments with your son in their stores.

Spot the villain, disclose the problematic, then introduce the hero to your customer so they lived happily ever after.

A blank Ghost blog theme for development

This blogs runs on the Ghost platform built with Node.js, with a homemade theme that uses Handlebars, HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and if you are reading this article chances are that you're already a Ghost blog owner and that you're looking to develop your own theme.

The problem with the Ghost default theme named Casper, while it's extremely helpful to learn how to develop a custom Ghost theme, is that it is too complex or "it has too many things" you probably don't want for your blog.

For example, when creating the theme for this blog, I had to "deconstruct" Casper to start building on top of the ashes because I wanted a more simple theme, that has my own code wrote the way I wanted it.

Introducing the Pale Ghost blank theme

The Pale Ghost theme is a blank theme, developer ready, focused on the markup without styles, that already includes all the Ghost features for you to customize or remove in order to create your own theme.

I already searched for Ghost blank themes, and truth be told there are many out there, but none suits my desires. All the blank themes I encounter has too much JavaScript, or they are too much complex to the point they looses they purpose of being a blank theme.

This blank theme in particular is very simple, so you might be spending time in the styling part with CSS/SASS/LESS rather than working on the markup. And if you want to move stuff around, you'll find it's easy with the Pale Ghost theme as it is well deconstructed into different .hbs files for an easy development.

It also includes everything a Ghost theme can deliver, just as Casper, but with a simple implementation. The goal with this theme is to avoid the part where we as developers smack things down before actually building up.

For a more technical description of what this blank theme includes you can check the Pale Ghost theme's GitHub page.

Downloading...

You can download this blank Ghost theme from the Pale Ghost theme's GitHub page, where you'll find the "Releases" section.

Fun facts about the page speed of a website

Everybody, everywhere, all the time, is saying that page speed matters. We get it, we heard it a trillion times, and I'm not sure why we keep writing about it or discussing it.

Page speed matters as much as the sun is hot, period. If you are still in doubt then you're having a serious problem. Make your website faster, and do not argue this fact, as it will cost you money.

That disclaimer being made, you probably also read that Amazon run some test and found out that if their site become 1 second slower it could cost them 1.6 billions dollars a year. And that's 1.600.000.000 dollars.

How much is 1.600.000.000 dollars?

  • That's more than 133 millions dollars per month. An amount of money I probably never going to see in real life, at least not all together, whether you divide per months or even days (more than 4 millions a day).
  • In Argentina, that's 48 billions pesos considering the currency value by the time I'm writing this post.
  • That's 96 millions (just millions) kilograms of premium ice cream. That amount of ice cream means that you and your future generations can enjoy more than a kilo of ice cream per day starting today and for the following 200 thousands years.
  • If you buy an iPhone X, and iPad Pro, an Apple Watch Series 3... And then a MacBook Pro, an iMac Pro, an Apple TV... and finally an iPod Touch just because, you'll be spending around 20 thousands dollars meaning that for 200 years you can get yourself a brand new model of all this products everyday.
  • 320 millions Caramel Macchiato Venti from Starbucks.
  • A Magento Commerce licence could rise up to 125 thousands dollars per year based on expected annual gross sales revenue, meaning you can build 12800 new eCommerce websites using this platform.
  • The Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. legal battle you probably read on the Internet doesn't event get near this number. Wikipedia talks about 539 millions in favor of Apple for the first US trial, and then 120 millions for the second US trial. It was pointless to check the legal battles in the other countries.
  • And my home banking doesn't let me enter 1.600.000.000 in any form's input.

It was hard to find the real source of this 1.6 billions dollars proclamation, so I'm not sure about the veracity of such statement but for the end of this post it is not 100% relevant.

What I did find is that Greg Linder, best known as the inventor of Amazon's recommendations, made a presentation in 2006 saying the following:

Every 100ms delay costs 1% of sales.
Greg Linder

Probably somebody took that statement, and calculated it to be 1.6 billions dollars a year.