hoodwink.d enhanced


Rails BetaBook Hits the Spot #

by why in inspect

Now that I’ve had a chance to go through the Rails BetaBook, I thought some of you might want a review of what’s inside. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that the book is a treat. I’m sure you know what Dave Thomas and DHH are capable of. And considering the scarcity of Ruby literature available, I’m sure you’ll have your own copy in short order. (Indications being what they are.)

The BetaBook itself is rather fascinating. Littered throughout the margins are editorial notes about changes which are foreseen in the final edition, including possible changes to Rails itself. I get the feeling that Dave is trying to solicit feedback from the reader, to get you to eyeball the topic closely, to get you searching for omissions and unanswered questions. Considering the beta readers’ familiarity with the Rails API at this point, I’ll bet this pays off big. (See how desperately Premshree wants one?)

The book is largely divided into two parts. An introductory Rails tutorial (a la Rolling with Ruby on Rails) occupies the first hundred pages while a verbose explanation of all the sundry Rails components fills the last three-hundred pages. This is all flanked by a sizeable introduction and terrifically handy appendices, including a very sly fifteen page Ruby crash course, focusing specifically on idioms common in Rails applications.

The tutorial follows creation of a shopping cart. While it isn’t an immediate jumpstart like Rolling, the tutorial covers a lot of ground, such as sketching a page flow or keeping sessions. The cart’s database model grows throughout the tutorial, demanding expression of relationships and validation of input. The testing section of the tutorial is the most elaborate section, comprising forty pages of scenarios with accompanying fixtures.

The component sections explore the capabilities of Active Record, the Action Pack, the Prototype library, as well as security and deployment. All of this is along the lines of the introductions you’ve seen in Rails API docs (such as the opening of the ActionController::Base documentation), but with the addition of diagrams and notes from experience.

Now, I’m sure you can live without the Rails book, given the material available in tutorials, videos, and blogs. But Dave has done the work piecing together the vast sea of snippets into something cohesive. And, of course, you get Dave’s over-arching paradigms alongside a lot of these fragments.

Just keep in mind that you aren’t dropping money for a reference book. It’s not the PickAxe, which picked up Ruby and shook it for everything it had. Agile Web Development with Rails is a guided tour along the tracks which wind over the hills and through the countryside of Ruby on Rails, frequently stopping to hand you the binoculars and break down the mythology behind a modern technological marvel.

said on 01 Jun 2005 at 12:35

In your opinion, would someone like me—who is fairly proficient in Ruby, but has almost no experience with Web applications programming—benefit from this book? Knowing who the authors are, I know that it’s going to be a well-written book; I’m just a little unclear on whether I’m part of the intended audience.

said on 01 Jun 2005 at 12:44

On an unrelated side note, I’m noticing that the name text box that appears to the left of the comments box is reporting the wrong date until I actually submit the comment. For example, right now, as I’m typing this, the text that appears under the text box reads “said on 03 June 2005…” instead of “said on 01 June 2005…”.

said on 01 Jun 2005 at 12:44

Yes, absolutely. Your practices for developing a web app aren’t in place yet. So, if you’re interested in seeing practical examples of Dave’s development process, then it’s worth getting.

This book has a pretty big target audience (developers of any walk who want to learn Rails), but I’d say folks like you will benefit the most. You’re already familiar with Ruby (which the book doesn’t really cover) and you’re ready to start working on the web afresh. I’d think the book’ll help you brainstorm approaches and get cozy with why and how rails works.

said on 01 Jun 2005 at 15:01

Thanks. It was almost an academic question, seeing as I’m such a fan of Dave’s writing anyways and I know that I’m bound to learn something whenever I read one of his books. But it’s good to get the confirmation that this book probably makes sense for me.

said on 02 Jun 2005 at 08:18

Gavri’s got his. I guess I should steal it from him… wait, I don’t know if he’s got the print one.

Heck, I guess I’ll get mine. With all the shipping it’s gonna cost me a lot, though. Well.

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