Init System

How Zen Cart bootstraps itself

The initSystem refers to all of those files that are automatically included/initialised before any command scripts can be run.

Zen Cart v1.x uses a (non Object Oriented) page controller pattern to decide the scripts to run, based on HTTP_GET parameters. The most important of these is the main_page parameter. Depending on that parameter, a command script is then run. Each commmand script resides in a directory in /includes/modules/pages.

For example if main_page=login the command script would be taken from the /includes/modules/pages/login/ directory.

However the first thing every command script always does is require() the /includes/application_top.php file. This is the heart of the initSystem.

It is application_top.php that is responsible for initialising basic subsystems (database abstraction/sessions/languages etc.) and loading global configuration data.

Zen Cart uses a control array to decide which functions/classes/data files are to be included and initialised. This allows contribution authors and third party developers to gain access to and extend the initSystem without compromising upgradeability.

The following sections describe how the Zen Cart engine uses application_top.php to bootstrap itself and initialise core systems.

application_top.php - Breakpoints

The focus of application_top.php is primarily to set up some core requirements, and then process the auto_loader breakpoints as described below.

Breakpoints can simply be described as points of importance.

At each breakpoint something important happens: we may load a function or class, initialise a class, load a script fragment, and so on. The important point is to recognise that at each breakpoint, third party code can, by adding to the control array, also load functions, load classes, initialise classes, run a class method or load (require) a script fragment.

The Control Array

Control arrays are automatically loaded from the directory /includes/auto_loaders. Every *.php file within that directory is expected to have a certain structure.

The master config.core.php is the main file for governing application_top.php, and should not be altered.

Third party developers can add their own control array files.

The structure of each file should look like this:

$autoLoadConfig[0] = array(); 

The value after $autoLoadConfig (in this case [0]) represents the order in which the actions happen (e.g. the Breakpoint), such that $autoLoadConfig[0] will occur before $autoLoadConfig[1].

Note also that any two entries where the breakpoint is the same will occur in the order they appear within the file.

The actual contents of the array() part depends upon what effect is needed.

Let’s consider a number of different scenarios.


First the case of just wanting to require a file to be loaded. For this, the control array entry would be:

$autoLoadConfig[0][] = array('autoType'=>'require', 'loadFile'=> DIR_WS_INCLUDES . 'somefile.php'); 

The autotype parameter tells us that we just want to require a file

The loadFile parameter tells us which file we want to load.

Loading function files can also obviously be done using the above. (Alternatively they could just be placed in the extra_functions directory.)


Similarly if we want to include a file:

$autoLoadConfig[0][] = array('autoType'=>'include', 'loadFile'=> DIR_WS_INCLUDES . 'somefile.php'); 

init scripts

The initSystem introduces a special class of .php files called init scripts.

These are stored in the includes/init_includes directory.

Each of these contains a small amount of procedural code that can be run as part of the initSystem process.

The reason for separating them out into a special directory is to allow for those init_scripts to be overridden, more of which will be discussed later.

To load an init_script we use the following control array structure:

$autoLoadConfig[] = array('autoType'=>'init_script', 'loadFile'=>'init_database.php');


Classes often require special handling. With a class file we want to load the class file definition, then instantiate the class, and finally possibly run a class method (all running thus within the scope of application_top.php)

In terms of the control array we have the following entries to help us.

  $autoLoadConfig[0][] = array('autoType'=>'class',
 $autoLoadConfig[30][] = array('autoType'=>'classInstantiate',
 $autoLoadConfig[80][] = array('autoType'=>'classInstantiate',
 $autoLoadConfig[120][] = array('autoType'=>'objectMethod',
                                'methodName' => 'add_current_page',

Taking these options one by one


Where autotype=>'class' all we are really doing here is ‘including’ the ’loadFile’. However, in this case we draw the file from the includes/classes (DIR_WS_CLASS) directory.


If autotype=>'classInstantiate' is specified it instantiates the class as: objectName = new className();

An example based on the code above is

$zc_cache = new cache();


One corollary to this is that we may need to instantiate a class that is bound to a session, like the shopping_cart class. In this case as from the example above we get

$_SESSION['cart'] = new shoppingCart();

and in fact we take that one step further:


Normally we only want to instantiate a session object if it is not already a session object. In this case we take advantage of the checkInstantiated property, which would generate code:

if (!$_SESSION['cart']) {
   $_SESSION['cart'] = new shoppingCart();  


To call a class method in the scope of application_top.php, use autotype='objectMethod'

The code generated would be (based on the example above):



Unless otherwise specified, the path where a class file is expected to be found is the catalog classes directory. To override that you can pass a classPath of DIR_WS_CLASSES or a specific directory path.

For example:

 $autoLoadConfig[0][] = array('autoType'=>'class',

Extending the system autoloader

To add additional loading/instantiation actions, add a new file to the /includes/auto_loader/ directory.

The file you add here should have start with config and have a .php extension (ie: config.yourapp_name.php), and should contain one or more control array definitions.

This is the recommended method to use for adding code to be executed within application_top.php, and allows contribution authors to customise the code here in a way that will be generally unaffected by system upgrades.


The init_scripts allow us to run some procedural core code.

And also allows 3rd party plugins to override that procedural code.

core init_scripts

There are several default init_scripts in core code, located in the includes/init_includes directory. Similar files exist also in the Admin directory structure.

*   init_add_crumbs.php (Responsible for initialising the Breadcrumb)
*   init_cart_handler.php (Responsible for handling Cart actions)
*   init_category_path.php (Responsible for initialising Category Paths)
*   init_currencies.php (Responsible for initialising the Currencies Sub-System)
*   init_customer_auth.php (Responsible for checking customer status, either thru Down for Maintenance or the Approval level)
*   init_database.php (Responsible for initialising the DB layer)
*   init_db_config_read.php (Responsible for reading configuration data from database)
*   init_file_db_names.php (Responsible for loading File and Database tablename Defines)
*   init_general_funcs.php (Responsible for loading general functions from the includes/functions directory as well as the extra_functions folder)
*   init_gzip.php (Responsible for loading Gzip output-buffering functions)
*   init_header.php (Responsible for running page-header procedures)
*   init_languages.php (Responsible for loading multiple-language support sub-system)
*   init_sanitize.php (Responsible for loading input-sanitising code)
*   init_sefu.php (Responsible for loading code to provide search-engine-friendly URLs)
*   init_sessions.php (Responsible for loading Session code)
*   init_special_funcs.php (Responsible for loading specialized but necessary functions)
*   init_templates.php (Responsible for initialising the template System and activating template-specific language-content defines)
*   init_tlds.php (Responsible for setting Top Level Domain Variables)

Overriding init_scripts

It is very simple to override a core init_script. The directory includes/init_includes contains a directory called overrides.

If I wanted to override the includes/init_includes/init_sessions.php script then I would simply create a file called init_sessions.php in the includes/init_includes/overrides directory.

Still have questions? Use the Search box in the upper right, or try the full list of FAQs. If you can't find it there, head over to the Zen Cart support forum and ask there in the appropriate subforum. In your post, please include your Zen Cart and PHP versions, and a link to your site.

Is there an error or omission on this page? Please post to General Questions on the support forum. Or, if you'd like to open a pull request, just review the guidelines and get started. You can even PR right here.
Last modified March 24, 2023 by simon1066 (24e28fe).