Book Review: Pro ActiveRecord

Right at the start of Pro Active Record the authors address a possible problem some may have with it: that there’s not enough in Active Record to warrant a full book. They point out that the basics are well covered as sections elsewhere but that this is the first book to really dig into working with legacy schema and other ‘advanced’ uses. That’s fair enough, but after reading the book I am still left with the question of why, then, they dedicate the first half to covering ActiveRecord’s most basic concepts?

Judging from postings on the rails email list, there’s certainly a lot of confusion about ActiveRecord, associations, observers, how to work with legacy table names and primary keys, and so on. But in a book with a title prefix of “Pro” I was expecting to jump straight into the nitty gritty of topics like compound/composite primary keys and performance tuning, probably with some real world examples, and maybe with a serious exploration of AR’s internals. As it is, such topics only get a quick treatment in the final chapter (the compound/composite primary keys section is a paragraph referring users to

It’s almost always instructive reading other developers’ code and it would be unfair to claim that I didn’t spot a couple of tips that may prove useful, but they were passing things. And sometimes I found myself wondering what happened to the tech review process, particularly in the coverage of the has_one association, where not only is the variable naming confusing, but they seem to be calling the each method on a single ActiveRecord instance.

I’m left wondering what the audience is for this book. The title and blurbs suggest it’s pitched at people who want to go deeper into ActiveRecord than they have before, but the content is better suited for someone with some database experience who wants to pick up ActiveRecord to write some scripts. As it is, if you’ve worked with ActiveRecord before your time will be better spent writing plugins and exploring the internals for yourself, and if you’ve not you’ll get most of the same material from a decent Rails book and some time exploring.

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book for review by the publisher. You can find it at apress, amazon US, amazon UK and all sorts of other places.

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  1. Hey even though you hated the book come on over to

    and try win a free copy!

  2. Having written a review, I really don’t need another copy, but if anyone else feels like wading through it…