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Friday, March 07, 2008

Book Review- Ruby on Rails: Enterprise Application Development

I was just sent a copy of Ruby on Rails: Enterprise Application Development from Packt Publishing. I had never read a Packt book before, but I must say, this one impresses me. The tag line of this book states:

"Building a complete Ruby on Rails business application from start to finish"

This book delivers. One of the reasons I like this book so much is that it talks about using Rails in one of the best types of situations: internal-facing utility apps. These are the type of applications I first started building using Rails professionally and one of the places Rails shines brightest. Rails lets you quickly throw together utility applications that adds value to a business, yet maintain a clean codebase, and this book shows you how.

The book covers everything from source control, Rails basics, choosing a CGI implementation, choosing a database, AJAX development, and does a very good job of showing you both the OS X and Windows side of Rails development. It is centered around a story that is familiar to many small businesses: sharing a dynamic contact list within a sales team. It teaches you how to think about the problem in a structured way, including deciding on a database architecture and key format.

The thing I like best about this book is that it is terribly pragmatic. It steps you through a common situation and brings up the complexities just as they would show up in the real world and the best practices to handle those complexities.

I think the target audience for this book is anyone who is tired of spaghetti code but intimidated by seemingly scary terms like MVC. For years I have been begging some of my friends to try Rails instead of PHP, but for various reasons they don't get out of their comfort zone. If a friend has kept begging you to try Rails and it seems like too much effort, pick up this book.

As with most Rails books, this one does suffer from a few deprecations since publication and a few detail oversights. For example, pagination is now a plugin, so a newbie hitting that chapter could get confused quickly. In the book's coverage of various reverse proxies, it does not mention one of the key reverse proxies for Rails environments under high load: HAProxy, which can hide concurrent requests from Mongrel. A finer point is that in the example on uploading files, there is no note that when the file being uploaded is a certain small size, it is instantiated as a StringIO object, not a Tempfile object, which means that the File.basename will raise an error.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book for people new to Rails.

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