Build Your Own Ruby on Rails Web Applications (Book review)

After hearing so much talk about Ruby on Rails during the past couple of years I wanted to find out what all the hype was about. A book aimed at Ruby on Rails beginners seemed like a good place to start, so I decided to read Build Your Own Ruby on Rails Web Applications by Patrick Lenz.

I like the way this book is really hands on, though that also makes it more or less a requirement to have a computer right next to you while reading it. No big deal of course. It is a book about computer programming after all, so it's hard to avoid using a computer to practice what you've just learned.

On to the book then. It starts off with an introduction to Ruby on Rails (RoR) and quickly moves on to explain exactly how you install everything you need to develop RoR applications on your computer, regardless of whether you are a Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux user. That's a great start since it can be a little complicated (it took me a couple of hours to get everything going).

After that, a chapter is devoted to explaining Ruby, the scripting language used in RoR. From what I have heard, Ruby's syntax is one of the things that make people love RoR. I'm not one of them. I find Ruby weird, and it gives me flashbacks from the nineties when I did some dabbling in Lingo programming. To each his own though.

Regardless of what you think of Ruby's syntax, the book does explain it very well as far as I can tell – I am a RoR beginner, so I can't judge if everything in this book is in fact correct.

As the book progresses, each new concept is put to use in an application called Shovell, which is a Digg clone. I think building a real application is an excellent way of taking the theory and immediately putting it into practice. It is also great to see that the author takes the time to explain the importance of graceful degradation (though I would have preferred him to use and explain progressive enhancement) in the chapter on Ajax.

I don't know if it is my general scepticism towards frameworks that automagically create code for you that makes me feel that RoR may not be right for me. I want to know what is going on, and I get the feeling that RoR hides lots of stuff from the developer. It may be me – an absolute beginner at RoR – misunderstanding something, but that is the feeling I get.

Whether RoR is right for you or not is completely unrelated to this book though. As an introduction to RoR, Build Your Own Ruby on Rails Web Applications works very well, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the framework everyone is talking about.

As with all SitePoint books, there are sample chapters you can download to find out if the book is right for you.

Build Your Own Ruby on Rails Web Applications
Author: Patrick Lenz
ISBN-10: 0975841955
ISBN-13: 978-0975841952

Update: People have pointed out that Rails does not force you to use certain markup - you are free to create your own and change any markup that it creates by default. Good!

Please disregard the paragraph where I say that RoR automagically creates code for you.

Posted on June 28, 2007 in Reviews