Book Review: Practical Rails Social Networking Sites

Taking readers step-by-step through the creation of the website, Practical Rails Social Networking Sites is a well paced guide to building web applications that tick many of the boxes of the moment.

The book starts with basics, giving simple instructions for installing Rails on a variety of platforms, and then steps through simple content management, adding users and groups, building a blogging engine, adding a discussion forum and photo gallery, integrating with Google Maps and Flickr, and deployment. Along the way the various aspects of rails’ testing framework are introduced as they’re used. The style isn’t test-driven, and it would have been nice to see that style introduced, but tests are written after each piece of functionality, demonstrating some of their use and importance.

Judicious use is made of plugins with a number of recommendations made throughout the book. restful_authentication is referred to, but its functionality is largely duplicated in the code. That’s probably a sensible move so early in the book as it’s important that developers understand what the code is doing even if they’re going to employ a plugin for the implementation. YM4R/GM is used to implement the Google Maps functionality and it’s good to see that getting some attention in print.

Readers who have already built a couple of rails apps may well find themselves skipping large chunks of content as a lot of the code will be familiar. As Stephen pointed out in his summary, it is a little curious that “The Apress Roadmap” suggests this as a more advanced title when it would probably work better for an engaged beginner than an experienced developer.

Of course, the great problem with publishing any rails title right now is that version 2.0 is just around the corner, and with its release we’ll see the end of built-in pagination and a few changes to the routes. As a consequence there are likely to be a number of readers who find that the examples in the book fail to run on the latest stable rails by the time they come to try them. Hopefully Apress will be able to offer a brief supplement with the book or online to help readers update the code for the new features.

Practical Rails Social Networking Sites is a solid introduction illustrating how simple it can be to build useful web applications with Ruby on Rails. I’d hesitate to recommend it to anyone with rails experience, but it will be high on my list of recommendations for beginners who are wanting to dive straight in.

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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