Advanced Rails Recipes - Sort Of A Review

Like I mentioned a while back in this blog, I really like the books released by The Pragmatic Programmers. They're pretty easy to read and teach a lot in the process. Although Programming Ruby (known to many on as the 'Pickaxe' book) is getting some flak after Zed Shaw's take on it (which I agree on, although I'll give my own take on it in the near future), you can't deny their books are among the best in their specific topics.

I'm a big fan of the Rails Recipes book (and no, it's not because they actually put a pilón, a typical Puerto Rican food prep utensil, on the cover). When you learn a specific technology, be it a programming language, database engine, framework, or anything else, you'll want to find some real-world usage to apply what you've learned. Books like Rails Recipes give you an entire list of specific things you probably thought of doing for your own application, but didn't know how to exactly do it. It's a great tool when you're developing your own stuff.

Of course, thanks to the speed of Rails, that book is a bit outdated. So I was really psyched that a new version, named Advanced Rails Recipes, was going to be released in March 2008. So psyched, that I actually went over to their site and purchased the beta PDF (and, of course, I'll be getting the paper book wne it's released). I couldn't wait to read it and apply some recipes to my current projects.

First, I would like to discuss the current system that's used for beta PDF's in the Pragmatic Programmers site. The site is relatively easy to use, and really well done. Once I created an account and purchased the PDF and paper book, I received an E-Mail stating that my PDF was ready to be downloaded. That was it. Withing a few minutes, I already had my PDF, with "This book was prepared exclusively for Dennis Martinez" in the cover - neato! A couple of days passed by, and I received an E-Mail stating that the beta PDF was updated. All I needed to do was to go into my account on their site, and a link immediately appeared in the main page, which took me directly where to regenerate the PDF (which apparently is run by gerbils - no joke!). A few minutes passed, and the gerbils sent an E-Mail with a link to my updated PDF. Okay, so they might not really be gerbils who work on the PDF's, but I really like it when companies go with these informal jokes while still be very helpful. Kudos to these guys for making a very user-friendly site.

This book is filled with recipes from various Rails users all around the globe who have contributed their work to this book. One thing that took me by surprise is the fact that I expected this book to be pretty much incomplete, with tons of errors all around, but it really wasn't like that at all. I found one or two spelling errors, and the recipes I tried worked straight out of the box. That's a great thing, because this is why I went ahead and purchased the book three months in advance. I wanted to read up on the techniques used by people with much more real-world Rails experience than I.

In particular, I wanted to read up on the chapter about Capistrano and deployments. This, to me, is one of the most touchy issues in Rails nowadays. It's something that everyone seems to do differently with mixed results. The recipes included here aren't de-facto deployment strategies, but nice techniques, such as how to generate config files on the fly when deploying to a remote server, how to safeguard your database passwords so that they're not in your source code repository, and many other techniques.

Sure, most of these recipes are readily available on the Internet, if you search hard enough. But when you're developing a major web application, the last thing you want to do is to fire up Google and spend the next 15+ minutes searching and trying out pieces of code to see if they work for you. This book avoids all that. Not only does it show you how to do things, it also explains why and when you should use them.

Major kudos to the author, Mike Clark, for making such an awesome book. Even though it's still in beta, I really recommend this book to anyone who wants to expand their Rails knowledge with bits and pieces of information from major Rails players. Once the 'full release' of the book is out in March, I'll make sure to do a more informative review. For now, don't be afraid to get this book because it's tagged as 'Beta'. That's far from the truth, it seems.

Written by

Dennis Martinez

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