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Ruby on Rails: Up and Running

Bruce A. Tate and Curt Hibbs
Published by O'Reilly Media
182 pages
£ 20.99
Published: 5th September 2006
reviewed by Paul Waring
   in the December 2006 issue (pdf), (html)

As a programmer with several years of experience in various languages (primarily using C-style syntax), a book which describes itself as ``for experienced developers who are new to Rails and possibly to Ruby'' is just what I'm looking for. I'm already familiar with the general concepts of programming but would like to find out more about this `Ruby on Rails' thing that everyone seems to be raving about, and this new book from O'Reilly promises to bring me up to speed without being too patronising.

The first chapter of the book, perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, provides the reader with a very brief introduction to Ruby on Rails, followed by an explanation of the Model View Controller design pattern, which is a paradigm shift for many programmers. The coverage of how to set up a Ruby on Rails environment is somewhat sparse (though there is an appendix that covers this topic in more detail), but this is acceptable given that the goal of the book is to get experienced developers up and running quickly rather than holding their hands every step of the way. The first chapter also lacks a discussion of Ruby's weaknesses for the reader to weigh up against the list of its strengths, but it could be argued that readers of this book have already decided that Ruby is the right choice for them and just want to get to grips with it as quickly as possible.

After the introduction, the book wastes no time in getting stuck in with practical examples of what can be done with Ruby on Rails. The authors jump straight in with database access and manipulation and within just a few chapters they have already explained all the basics, including templates and scaffolding, and created a functional photo gallery. This mini-project is expanded on throughout the book with the introduction of advanced features such as drag and drop which, despite being complicated to implement from scratch, requires less than 100 lines of code when using Ruby on Rails.

The most pleasing part of the book for me though was the dedication of the final chapter to testing. Usually this is a topic which is either dragged out to form entire books (and therefore is so tedious that no one bothers to do it) or is skipped over as being something trivial which you can do at the end of a project if you finish before the deadline. This book manages to get the balance right between emphasing the importance of testing, whilst making it simple enough that there is the possibility of developers actually bothering to do it.

Overall, this is a good book to read if you match the target audience exactly, i.e. you are an experienced developer who can pick up new languages fairly easily and could find out for yourself how to setup a Rails environment on your development platform of choice. However, if this description doesn't sound like you at all I'd strongly recommend a more basic introduction to Ruby on Rails, because this book won't throw you a lifeline should you start to sink part way through reading it.

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