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Ruby On Rails: Up and Running, Bruce Tate

O’Reilly seems to be suffering from more typos and code errors than they used to (in the distant past, before perfect bindings). This book suffers from a few that jarred on me.

If pressed, I’d describe this book as a reasonable taster for Rails. The authors assume that you are already familiar with the basic concepts (HTML, AJAX, and so on), and forgoes any serious coverage of Ruby. There is a basic, half page, description of MVC, and an awareness of object oriented programming is also assumed.

Other criticisms: unit testing is only covered in the last chapter. Come on! It’s a fundamental principle of Rails that you should develop your tests as you write, and leaving it all to last makes a mockery of that.

I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the programming style; it relies on use of primary keys, when I would be happier with passing the ActiveRecord model object that owns that key to methods that accept it; it also often uses quoted strings where symbols are now preferred.

The writing style was also cookbook style – do this, do that, and it will work; but with very little explanation of underlying principles. In an introductory book like this, coverage of principles is far more important than in thicker reference books.

My biggest objection, and why the title “Up and Running” is inappropriate, is that deployment isn’t covered at all. At least a cookbook version of deploying the example photos application using Capistrano and Mongrel should have been included to make the book meet its title.

This book is 167 pages long, including appendices and index. But 28 of those pages are in Appendix B, which is the (good) InVisible Ruby On Rails Reference (freely downloadable elsewhere). It’s a short book.

I have to sum up by saying that, despite its flaws, this gives a good, quick, preview of Rails development, and I can’t think of a better one on the market at the moment; it is also better, I believe, than any of the web site based introductions, but stops far short of the comprehensive reference that is ‘Agile Web Development with Ruby on Rails’ (Dave Thomas and DHH).

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