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I have recently been designing a site for a client which required a membership subscription component. By that I mean, I needed to be able to restrict access to parts of the site to paying subscribers only. As a result I took some time to look into the best way of doing this.

There are several contenders for this type of application.

 

Account Expiration Control (Com AEC) available from http://www.valanx.org.

This one has been around for a few years, and was originally designed for Joomla 1.0, and as a result does not conform to Joomla 1.5 coding standards, particularly the MVC component architecture. It does work with Joomla 1.5, provided you use the legacy plugin. This is something I prefer not to do: the legacy plugin does slow Joomla down, and makes it less secure, I really prefer to have an extension that is native to Joomla 1.5, and this was my reason for not using this particular extension.

It does have some major points in its favour though. It is Open Source and licensed under the GPL. It is free to download, although having said that, you do have to pay for support, and it is not particularly cheap. Installing it is not easy, and I think that many users would require the support, so this is basically a commercial extension.

Having used Com AEC in the past I can testify that it does work. This extension is worth a look if you don't mind using the legacy plugin.

 

Rating (out of 5): 3

 

Joobi jSubscription available from http://www.ijoobi.com/

I tried this one out on a 30 day free trial.

This also has good points and bad points.

 

Good Points. I like the system for creating user roles. The administrator creates a set of user roles, which carry permissions to view specified content. The user can buy a subscription for one of these roles. This system is quite well thought-out, and allows a good deal of flexibility.

I had an issue that required contacting customer support, and found the support response quite quick. I think that the support system is quite reasonable for this component.

Bad Points. There are two main weakness to this extension. The Paypal integration is quite poor – there is no support for the Paypal subscriptions system, which means that subscribers must manually renew their payments. I really can't understand this lack, it would seem to me to be a really important part of any subscription system that it supports Paypal subscriptions.

The other thing that I don't like is that the entire extension is encrypted, and the license is not GPL. I am not a fan of using encryption systems. It makes it impossible to modify the code oneself, and really I always need to do some customization myself, so this is a big negative for me.

Rating: 2

 

Mighty Extensions Member available from http://www.mightyextensions.com

Good Points: This extension works well (as you would expect from Mighty Extensions), and includes support for the Paypal subscription system. It allows for a good deal of flexibility: you can have overlapping subscriptions, and restrictions by component, category or menu item. There is a 14 day free tryout available.

This extension does what you want from a subscription system. It works with the Joomla core registration system as well as with the Mighty Extensions suite of programs.

Bad Points: Again it is encrypted. There are some files that are non-encrypted, mainly the template and plugin files, so some limited customization is possible. Also there is a limited API. But the main files are all encrypted, which is a major drawback.

Really this is such a shame, and spoils what would otherwise be a great extension. The Mighty Extension people are good programmers, and their work appears to conform closely to Joomla 1.5 coding standards, including the MVC component architecture. This may seem like an arcane point, but it is important. It makes it much easier for an experienced Joomla programmer to understand the component, and locate the right section of code if debugging or customization work is required. But this is all rendered null and void by the fact that most of the code is encrypted.

Rating: 4

 

 

Ambra Subscriptions from http://www.dioscouri.com

 

Good points. It is Open Source. I couldn't tell from their website whether it is actually GPL licensed or not though.

I did not actually try this one out on my own site. It is more geared towards selling subsciption downloads, which is somewhat different from the purposes for which I needed it, so it would not have made sense for me to buy it. However from the demo on their site it seems to be a useful extension, and I have heard elsewhere that it works well.

Rating:4

 

Which One Did I Use?

In the end I decided to go for Mighty Extensions Member, because it was closest to what I wanted. If I had not chosen that I would have tried out Ambra Subscriptions. The fact that it is open source would have made it possible to customize it for my needs.

Alternatively I did think about writing my own extension to do this work. You will notice that none of those listed above scored a perfect 5. I think that there is still a gap in the market for a good, open source subscriptions component for Joomla.