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"Account" is the central concept of Smart Subscriptions component. Accounts define which content the site users will have access to and when they will have to renew their membership. When a user signs up for or upgrades to a subscription he will be automatically added to the user group associated with the account selected. Each account must be linked to a user group. If user groups and view levels are configured correctly the user will get access to all public content plus the content specific for the access level linked to his subscription. Read Configure user groups for Smart Subscription accounts for details.
You can also (and normally will) set expiration time for accounts, so that users will have to purchase a new subscription after their current one expires. Accounts with no expiration dates are also supported, so you can offer both limited-time and life-time memberships on your site.
Accounts can be free or paid. You can use a free account as an alias for the standard Joomla "registered" user status, giving users with a free subscription access to the same content a typical Joomla site would give to registered and logged in users. A free account cannot have expiration date, i.e. it never expires. This is a basic and logical limitation, simply keep it in mind. Only published accounts will be available for your site visitors / users when they sign up for / upgrade to a subscription. If a user already has an active subscription for an account and this account is later unpublished, this user will still be able to login until his current subscription expires. Of course if the user tries to edit and save his profile, he will be obliged to change his subscription to one of currently published ones (this is a "deprecated accounts" feature implementation). Site administrator can assign both published and unpublished accounts to users.
In addition to publish state accounts can use custom view levels. This is kind of advanced feature and will not be required for the majority of configurations, but it gives you more flexibility in account upgrade policy. Let's see an example: configure 2 accounts - "Bronze" and "Silver" with "public" view level. These accounts will be available for new registrations. Then add a "Gold" account with "registered" view level. It will make impossible to sign up for a "Gold" account but all registered users will be able to upgrade their accounts to "Gold". You can extend this basic example according to the logic of your site memberships, e.g. create accounts with "guest" view level, so that existing users will not be able to upgrade to these accounts.
It is recommended that you always add a free account in Smart Subscriptions even if you are not planning to allow free registration on your site - a free account can simply be unpublished and your site visitors will not be able to sign up for a free account directly. The role of a "hidden" free account comes into play in cases when a user logs in after his subscription has expired. If there is a free account available (even unpublished) the user's subscription will be automatically downgraded to this free account, so that the user will be able to login and purchase a new subscription. If no free accounts are found the user will lose access to his Joomla account (login attempts will be denied). The user will have to ask site administrator for a solution, which evidently doesn't provide the best user experience.
Another important role of a free account is that it helps you to deploy Smart Subscriptions on existing sites with hundreds of users. By default, only the users who register after the component is installed and enabled will be able to sign up for a Smart Subscriptions membership. There is a manual solution for this problem: site administrator who has access to Joomla User manager can edit a user and assign him a subscription (it can be any account, free or paid), but if there are hundreds of users already registered this task will be extremely time consuming.
That is why the component implements batch subscriptions assignment command. You will find it in "Subscriptions and Payments" view in Smart Subscriptions administration - "Auto-assign free subscriptions" toolbar button. If a free Smart Subscriptions account exists and there are users that belong to the user group associated with this free account, a free life-time subscription is automaticaly assigned to these users and they will be able to upgrade to a paid account in their user profiles. Users who belong to any other group or mutiple groups will not be affected.
Paid accounts are those that have a non-zero price. Paid accounts can have expiration time. Select value and time unit (hour, day, week, month or year) in account properties on the edit form to set up subscription expiration period. Select "never" as a value to set up a life-time subscription. Smart Subscriptions component supports currencies on per-account level, i.e. different accounts can be priced in different currencies. See Smart Subscriptions Global Options for details about setting up available currencies list. Please, keep in mind that not all payment plugins are compatible with all currencies. When a user selects a subscription to purchase, only compatible payment method buttons will appear on the registration / edit profile form.
Another limitation related to multi-currency feature concerns subscription upgrades. Only accounts with prices expressed in the same currency are qualified for upgrade (following upgrade rules and settings), otherwise subscription change will always be a new purchase (no discount will be applied even if set so in options).
Free accounts can be selected at any time, no payment buttons will be displayed. Signing up for a free account will not differ from core Joomla registration process.