Banking

DIY: FrontAccounting is a free alternative to QuickBooks

If Intuit's QuickBooks is out of your price range, you should look into FrontAccounting, an open source, web-based accounting/ERP package that is a breeze to install.

As a certified QuickBooks engineer I have been on the lookout for a good, reliable alternative to QuickBooks that could cover budget-strapped companies' accounting needs. I finally found FrontAccounting, which offers tons of possibilities, is simple to install, is completely web-based, and best of all is free. The application might seem a bit overwhelming to anyone looking for a simple money management tool, but for those looking to take control of the company accounting and standard ERP, this tool has it all.

Features

  • Purchase Orders
  • Goods Receivable Notes
  • Supplier Invoices/Credit Notes
  • Payments
  • Allocations
  • Accounts Payable
  • Items and Inventory
  • Stock
  • Manufacturing
  • Sales Orders
  • Customer Invoices/Credit Notes
  • Deposits
  • Allocations
  • Accounts Receivable
  • Dimensions
  • General Ledger with Budget
  • Languages
  • Currencies
  • Multiple Companies

Installation

You can install FrontAccounting on any server that meets these requirements:

  • A working HTTP web server (e.g., Apache, IIS)
  • PHP installed on the web server
  • A working MySQL server with innodb tables enabled (see notes below)
  • PDF Viewer (for viewing the PDF reports)

Follow these steps to install FrontAccounting:

  1. Create a database called frontacc. (I like to use the MySQL Workbench tool for this.)
  2. Download the archive from Sourceforge.
  3. Move the archive into the document root of the web server.
  4. Unpack the archive in the document root.
  5. Give the newly created directory write permissions for user, group, and other. (You might want to revisit this step to tighten security after installation is complete.)
  6. Point your browser to http://ADDRESS_TO_SERVER/frontaccounting/ and begin the simple web-based installer.

Once you've reached the web-based installation, you are home free. Simply fill out the necessary sections, and FrontAccounting will do the rest. You should make note of the admin user/password because that will be the only way to enter the site.

The first task, upon authentication, will be to go to the Setup tab (Figure A) and walk through the setup of the company, users, taxes, and more. Figure A

This is where many users might be put off from FrontAccounting. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Although it might seem overwhelming at first, you should go through each section of the setup. When it's complete, you will have an incredibly powerful accounting tool that will work wonders for your small business and/or non-profit.

Usage

I won't get into accounting best practices, though I will point out that it is critical to the function of your accounting and your installation of FrontAccounting to make sure this tool is used properly with respect to accounting. But, unlike QuickBooks (or QuickBooks Point Of Sale), you won't be checking in inventory against a Purchase Order to update inventory quantities; this is handled through the Inventory Adjustments section. Although FrontAccounting is an outstanding accounting package, it should not be used as a point of sale system.

Before diving into FrontAccounting, I highly recommend reading the FrontAccounting ERP Wiki, so you can get up to speed on how to use the tool. Unless you get a proper start with the tool, you'll wind up having to make some possibly serious corrections down the road. Those corrections will take up precious time and potentially lead to data loss. You can avoid this altogether by making sure you know what you're doing before you start using the system.

Maintenance

FrontAccounting offers plenty of maintenance. The most important aspects of maintenance for the administrator will be these options, which you can find by going to Setup | Maintenance:

  • Backup and Restore
  • Create/Update Companies
  • Install/Update Languages
  • Install/Activate Extensions
  • Install/Activate Themes
  • Install/Activate Chart of Accounts
  • Software Upgrade

An automated backup cannot be created within the tool. Since the backup tool only does a dump of the database (which you will need to download), it will also be necessary to back up the frontaccounting directory (which can be automated). With the help of cron or the Windows Task Scheduler, it would be possible to create an automated backup of the system.

As you can see in Figure B, the backup system is fairly rudimentary. It does, at least, offer the simple means of uploading a database dump back. So if the site went belly up, the worst case scenario is you re-install the site and then upload your backed up database with this tool. Figure B

If you view the backup, it will download the backup as a php file called backups.php, which can be viewed through a browser or an editor. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Conclusion

FrontAccounting might seem too robust for a small business, but the more help that can be offered for accounting and ERP, the better. FrontAccounting is an incredible way to manage your business. Give it a try and up your DIY cred!

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

4 comments
cartspan
cartspan

www.CartSpan.com has extended eCommerce integration to support FrontAccounting ERP. Not being marketed heavily (as it is free and open-source) it is a 'sleeper' amongst the cloud-based accounting offerings today. FrontAccounting has been downloaded well-over 100,000 times and enjoys one of the highest ratings on Sourceforge of any enterprise-class system. CartSpan supports integration with over 20 popular shopping carts including Magento, CS-Cart, and OpenCart.

mkozielski
mkozielski

We implemented FA 2 years ago in our small startup company. It was a bit unpleasant in the beginning but slowly we got used to its user interface. It is fast and reliable. We have comparison to another package we use - vtiger - that is rather slow. No bugs in the software. It covers what we really need: we submit invoices, register purchases, do bookkeeping stuff and VAT reporting. It's really pretty good for small companies. I do recommend. PS. data import is not yet implemented but I know from developers it will appear in next version.

fblauer
fblauer

I agree that Front Accounting is good, depending on your needs. We have also had success with xtuple postbooks, which is a worthy alternative.

chrisbedford
chrisbedford

...but what of the established business with several years' data stored in an increasingly unwieldy (ancient version) QB "database"? Start from scratch, or can Front import all my data?

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