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Book Review: Ruby on Rails for Dummies

Posted in Book Reviews, Ruby on Rails, Technology by engtech on November 26, 2007

Ruby on Rails for DummiesI don’t have anything against the for Dummies series (one of my friends is an author), but they’re only good when you want a very general understanding of a concept. I wouldn’t recommend the series for technical books. But my local library happened to have a copy of Ruby on Rails for Dummies, so I gave it a try.Here’s the good news: if you’ve ever used a programming language or used any HTML then you can skip the first 150 pages.

The 26 pages of how to install the software can be skipped by using InstantRails and then downloading RadRails. You’ll want to pay attention to pages 104 to 112 where the author delves into some of the ways Ruby is different than other programming languages (blocks, yielding, symbols, 0 is true).

The book uses RadRails for all of its examples; which is fine except that it takes so much longer to explain how to do something with a GUI than it does to type rails myproject or script/generate controllers ShoppingCart show. I really hate that they don’t show the one line console command as well as the four pages of GUI operations and screenshots. They don’t specifically mention which version of Rails they’re using, but the installation screenshot shows rails-1.1.2, which is a little on the old side (although the only errata I’ve seen is that require_gem doesn’t work anymore).

Thankfully once you’ve skipped ahead to chapter 8 and they start dealing with Rails in all its glory the book gets a lot better.

What The Book Covers

  • Stuff to skip
  • Chapter 8: view, controller, partials, helpers
  • Chapter 9: model, migration
  • Chapter 10: linking with image_tag, link_to, h, how ERb rolls out to HTML
  • Chapter 11: uploading a file, storing binary data in database
  • Chapter 12: validating input, belongs_to/has_many/many-to-many
  • Chapter 13: AJAX, sending email, XML, SOAP web service
  • Chapter 14: web sites (most are still alive)
  • Chapter 15: lots of ruby-specific tricks with no details
  • Chapter 16: Rails concepts aka “I have a job interview in 10 minutes!”
  • Chapter 17: using Rails on legacy databases

What could be discussed more

  • debug helper
  • CSS
  • RJS
  • Layouts
  • Testing
  • Fixtures
  • REST
  • Rdoc
  • routing

One thing that’s pretty dang neat is that the author provides his email address and his phone number. That’s an impressive level of service. He tries a little too hard to be funny in the book, but there were some parts that made me chuckle (like when he talks about sending email reminders to his wife, but using instant messaging when he needs her urgent attention).

Unfortunately I’d recommend picking up a copy of Agile Web Development with Rails (AWDWR) instead of Ruby on Rails for Dummy (RORFD). RORFD is split into many small unrelated examples while AWDWR has more extensive example code that you could use as a skeleton for a professional site. AWDWR is much clearer to read than RORFD, which always interrupts the flow with a new figure and screenshot. One page of text may cross-reference up to ten other figures/screenshots/chapters. It feels like RORFD has ADD and it doesn’t make for an easily digestible read.

You can find a more favorable review here.

3 Responses

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  1. umunion said, on November 26, 2007 at 8:49 am

    Thanks for the review of Ruby on Rails for Dummy book. The remark about skipping the first 150 pages was very helpful.

    I’m comfortable with CSS/XHTML, can follow JavaScript/DOM, and have written PHP code and small applications, though I don’t consider myself a programmer. Given my background, would you still recommend the Agile Web Development book? Every time I see the word “Agile” in a web title, I immediately feel the book is for programmers, not for coder/designers.

    Also, I’m assuming your reference to ADD is Attention Deficit Disorder, is that correct?

  2. engtech said, on November 26, 2007 at 12:05 pm


    I’d still recommend Agile Web Development. The first 220 pages are an indepth example of how to build a web app and goes into all of the nooks and crannies, including testing. After that there’s another 430 pages of information that explains the details on everything you’d ever need about rails.

    It’s a great book.

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