Tag Archives: Books

“Mastering AngularJS Directives” (Book Review)

Unlike many general introduction books, “Mastering AngularJS Directives” by Josh Kurz takes a much more specialized approach. It assumes you know AngularJS fairly well and explores just one (but arguably the most complex) of its corners: directives.

It’s not a thick book and the table of contents looks just right: Basic introduction to directives, a simple example, and then digging deeper into integration of third party libraries, compilation, communication between directives, writing directives to watch live data for changes, and finally some optimization and code quality notes.

Unfortunately, the book is rather poorly written. It is confusing even to someone who has been using AngularJS profesionally for over 1.5 years. The explanations tend to be short and often miss the point. You may see a difficult issue brought up, followed by a listing over 2 pages long, and finally left with unsatisfactory explanation of how it works or why you would do it this way. In some ways it just lacks focus.

There are some substantive errors too – calling JS objects “JSON notation”, mentioning singletons giving you a new instance every time etc.

That said, even though it is a difficult read, it is not without value. I learned quite a few things myself, some of them mentioned directly and some between the lines. It’s one of the first attempts at thorough introduction to directives and it still may come in handy at times.

The bottom line – I am not sure if I would recommend it to a friend. I liked “Mastering Web Application Development with AngularJS” by Paweł Kozłowski and Peter Darwin a lot better, and even though it’s not dedicated to directives it does better job at explaining them.

“Clojure Cookbook” by Luke VanderHart, Ryan Neufeld; O’Reilly Media

Clojure Cookbook

O’Reilly has just published a new book on Clojure, this time from the “cookbook” series. The book includes over 150 practical recipes on doing some common things in Clojure. Each recipe is self-contained and usually very small.

It starts with a detailed walkthrough of primitive and collection manipulations. Then it includes recipes on basic development tasks (REPL, using docs, running programs etc.), I/O, databases (two recipes on SQL, one for each of a handful of NoSQL databases, plus quite a few on Datomic), web applications with Ring, performance optimization, distributed computing (mostly Cascalog, some Storm) and testing.

In my opinion the book is very uneven. It’s very detailed about the primitives and basic collections, but at the same time it doesn’t do justice to state management (atoms, refs, agents) or concurrency. Yet it has two chapters on building a red-black tree. It is very detailed about Datomic, but barely scratches the surface of much more common tools like core.async, core.logic or core.match. It does not include anything about graphics or ClojureScript.

In short, it sometimes pays much attention to some uncommon problems or tools, while giving too little information on more popular pieces. I think the target audience is somewhere around intermediate. I don’t think it’s a good way to get started with the language, but it is a decent, handy survey of some areas of the landscape.

“Version Control with Git, 2nd Edition” by Jon Loeliger, Matthew McCullough; O’Reilly Media

Version Control with Git

There are reasons why Git has become so popular, but the first encounter with it can a bit overwhelming. Even if you kind of learn how to do basic things, it’s not uncommon to feel like we’re only scratching the surface. The typical reaction when something slightly less typical is needed often sounds like: “There be dragons!”

Here comes “Version Control with Git” by Jon Loeliger and Matthew McCullough.

It starts with a good explanation of the basic concepts of Git. It explains all the building blocks of Git and internal organization of repository. It slowly introduces the basic commands and every time explains very well how a change is reflected in the repository or what a command is really operating on.

The distribution, collaboration, merging etc. are introduced fairly late, but somehow by that time the reader will have understood the core so much that everything just falls into place and is immediately understandable. Finally, it also shows some more arcane features and commands that probably are rarely used, but knowing that they are there and having the book handy for when the time comes doesn’t hurt.

Last but not the least, it explains common usage patterns as well as things that can be done outside the typical path, with appropriate warnings about possible negative impact.

This book is a must-read for all Git users. It’s usable on all levels, from absolute newbie to someone who feels fairly proficient with Git. I’ve been using Git daily for quite a while, and it really helped me understand what is going on. Everything is very accessible, with plenty of examples as small and practical as possible, as well as some images.

“RESTful Java with JAX-RS 2.0, 2nd Edition” by Bill Burke; O’Reilly Media

RESTful Java with JAX-RS 2.0

REST is all the rage now (not without a reason), and in the Java world the standard API for that is JAX-RS (under the JEE umbrella). “RESTful Java with JAX-RS 2.0″ is the second edition of Bill Burke’s book on the JAX-RS API. Bill Burke is the creator of RESTEasy and a member of the committee that designed JAX-RS.

The book is divided into two parts, over a dozen short chapters in each. The first part includes a very nice introduction to REST, has a great systematic reference over the API and finally a few words on integration with various frameworks, security, caching etc. The second chapter is basically a workbook – there is downloadable code with a few examples for each chapter, and these chapters basically are a detailed walk through.

The author is careful not to get ahead of himself and starts quite slow, introducing the more advanced, automated and magical features step by step. As a result, the book is a great introduction for complete newcomers. But it doesn’t stop there – it discusses all the more advanced features as well (later), with the same depth and clarity. That makes it a great reference and a cookbook that you’re likely to get back to as use the API in your work.

Everything is well thought out and executed. It’s a very easy read, with each chapter stating the problem that it’s trying to solve, following up with presentation of the relevant part of the API and a number of practical examples. If for some reason you need more, you’re free to explore the workbook or complete running code.

Highly recommended.

Note on edition: I read it on Kindle, no issues at all.

“Mastering Web Application Development with AngularJS” (Book Review)

While the first demos and tutorials of AngularJS make very good impression, using it on your own in real life applications quickly leads to confusion and frustration. You soon discover that the documentation falls short of explaining what really is going on, especially in the more advanced areas. It does not do a very good job at showing idiomatic usage either – with proper separation of responsibilities, use of services and directives, etc.

“Mastering Web Application Development with AngularJS” by Paweł Kozłowski and Peter Darwin is really good resource to fill those gaps. It starts with a decent explanation of what AngularJS is all about. How DOM is some kind of a skeleton behind the application, or in other words how application state is directly reflected in DOM. Right after this introduction it introduces unit testing, and from this point on everything is demonstrated not only with the “production” code, but also with accompanying test suites.

Then it starts to dig a bit deeper – from filters, communcation with back-end and navigation through writing custom directives and performance. While the beginning seems to be a bit slow, the chapters on directives are really detailed, have plenty of great examples and do an outstanding job at explaining this difficult subject. Actually, I would say that the whole book may be a bit too advanced for beginners, but then even if you have some experience with Angular, it is well worth reading for the directives alone.

The entire book is organized as a systematic “reference”, with each chapter dedicated to one aspect of the framework: Binding and filters, communication with server, forms, navigation and routing, directives, internationalization, build/deployment, and so on. There also is a complete non-trivial application available on Github, and referenced throughout the book. Each and every aspect has a very accessible and complete explanation. Theory and rationale, working code as well as test suites.

In other words, the book is not a simplistic tutorial, but a detailed study that takes a reasonably complex application and dissects it one “dimension” at a time. You don’t need to study the entire application while reading the book, but it’s a great complementary material that demonstrates how the pieces fit together and is a ready-to-use cookbook of some sort.

If there is anything missing, I would say it’s information on idiomatic usage: How you are supposed to structure your application, divide it into modules and services, and so on. Not that it’s completely missing from the book, but a bit of a bird’s-eye view would be nice as well.

All in all, it’s definitely worth reading. Detailed, non-trivial, doing a great job at explaining the “why’ and demonstrating the “how”.

(I got the book directly from Packt and read it on Kindle – nothing to complain about in this edition, everything readable and comprehensible.)

“Spring Data. Modern Data Access for Enterprise Java” (Book Review)

Spring Data is a relatively young set of tools that seems to be quickly gaining popularity. I got introduced to it by Oliver Gierke at 33rd Degree Conference and immediately got really interested (not to say fell in love).

Spring Data is an elegant combination of tools for almost uniform access to various data stores (JDBC, JPA, MongoDB, Neo4j, Redis and others). It has a very slick way to generate queries automatically (even from method names on repository interfaces), with support for paging and sorting as well as auto-generated CRUD.

It makes it very easy to expose repositories on the web via a REST API (and I mean REST, with HATEOAS in the box). In fact, sometimes all you need is to provide entity mapping (e.g. JPA, but there are ways to do similar things with NoSQL stores) and write the repository interface with the right set of annotations. That can be all you need to get a basic REST data service up and running!

Of course you can mix and match or bring more power in. Write your own queries when you need it. Use the repository as data access layer for a “thicker” business layer. Use whatever other Spring tools you like.

The book itself is really well written. It quickly explains the basic ideas behind the data access API. It starts on familiar ground and shows a new way to solve old annoying problems, demonstrating new, streamlined ways to deal with JPA and JDBC repositories. It also offers a new way to write typesafe queries with all the benefits of IDE support: Querydsl.

Then it shows how you can use most of the same API for NoSQL stores, including MongoDB, Neo4j and Redis. Each of those chapters starts with an introduction to the store itself (what it is, what it’s good for). Then it shows how you can use the Spring Data API for, pardon me, Object-NoSQL mapping and writing repositories and queries. As it progresses it gradually dives deeper in the technical details.

Next section is devoted to rapid application development. It features Spring Roo (which I’m not much interested in, not being a fan of codegen) and the REST repository explorer. The latter is a true gem and worth attention on its own. This chapter is also a very good demonstration of (introduction to?) a complete REST API with hyperlinks, CRUD, search, relationships between resources etc.

Towards the end of the book there are also 3 chapters on Hadoop. The final chapter is devoted to GemFire, a distributed data grid.

Spring Data is definitely worth a close look, and this book is a perfect resource to get started. Authors had a very good plan on what they wanted to say and executed it perfectly. The language is fairly light, clear and easy to follow. The examples are interesting, simple and concise at the same time. Very easy to understand, but not simplistic – they demonstrate the underlying power and do a good job of exposing all the gory details. You get to see a fairly wide and reasonably deep view of the framework.

What else could you possibly want from a technical book? Oh yes, and it has a squirrel on the cover!

Many thanks to Oliver for a copy of the book.

“Cooking for Geeks” by Jeff Potter; O’Reilly Media

And now for something completely different… cooking!

Cooking for Geeks

I’ve always been intrigued by “Cooking for Geeks”. I came across it several times, and finally when I saw it in O’Reilly Blogger Reviews program I couldn’t resist.

This book is true to its title – it explains the principles of cooking in a slightly different way. It explains the tastes and some basic ideas of balancing and composition. It talks a lot about food consistency and “doneness” in terms of chemical reactions between various components and in response to temperature over time. It shows how the basic principles of cooking and baking work from such perspective. Finally, it has some great points on hardware and foot safety.

All this narrative is interleaved with recipes, placed right after related material. Sauces in taste composition, pizza, bread and cakes in chapters on baking, and so on. They are pretty exceptional – often discussing a few ways to approach a problem, or things to pay attention to, why they matter and what depends on them. Finally, there are some interviews with chefs, geeks and cooking passionates.

It’s very light language, though sometimes quite information-dense and a bit too abstract. I learned a ton from it. A lot of very basic stuff that every homegrown cook does intuitivelly, but you never know why it works this way. Some things may have been too advanced or too abstract, though. I wish there were more of those recipes, which really do a great job of explaining things on real examples. Sometimes I felt it’s a bit too abstract for me, and at the same time it was probably too basic for experts.

All in all, I think it was worth the read. Entertaining and enlightening at the same time, even if not all content is immediately interesting to everyone.

Paper edition could be a bit better. It looks beautiful, and you could keep it handy and even make annotations in it.

“Growing Object-Oriented Software, Guided by Tests” (Book Review)

“Growing Object-Oriented Software, Guided by Tests” by Steve Freeman and Nat Pryce has been on my to-read list ever since I saw Steve at 33rd Degree 2011. Even though I did not really like the presentations, somehow I became intrigued enough.

The first two parts of the book explain what object-oriented programming and test-driven-development are. It explains the “tell, don’t ask”, encapsulation and information hiding, some pieces of design and architecture (ports and adapters). It contains a short explanation of what TDD is (the basic 3-phase cycle known to everyone) and extends it beyond unit tests, up to blackbox integration tests.

The third part is a long case study – writing a real, nontrivial application with Swing GUI, XMPP and interesting domain. The study is pretty long, and even though I’m not a fan of them this one is just perfect. It’s very easy to follow, taking small well-explained steps. It’s a rich and very practical example of TDD walking hands in hands with elegant object-oriented design.

The fourth part is a long and interesting catalog of “test smells” – shows the links between test complexity and readability and quality of covered production code; tells how to write elegant, useful tests and assertions; gives advice on how to write tests that won’t be too constraining in future; and more. The last part explores some practical sides of testing in multithreaded environment and around persistence.

I loved the book! It’s an awesome piece of work that covers so many topics in such a clear, deep and interesting way that I would call it a must read for everyone. It’s a great book on testing, but not just that. It shows where testing fits in the software development process and explains the very important link to object-oriented design. It’s full of small, hidden gems (not only about software testing itself) that I will remember for a long time. At the same time it’s also very practical, pragmatic and concise.

I think it has much to offer to people of any skill level (perhaps except for novice). Even though I have been doing OOP and TDD for years, I really enjoyed it and I believe I learned much new stuff.

If you haven’t done so yet, do yourself a favor and go read it now!

“ClojureScript Up and Running” (Book Review)

I’ve recently finished the “ClojureScript Up and Running” book by Stuart Sierra and Luke VanderHart. Here’s a quick review of it.

It opens with a quick introduction which attempts to present ClojureScript as the alternative to (or a matured “version” of) JavaScript. Then it immediately dives into gory technical details:

  • It shows how to set up a Leiningen project with lein-cljsbuild and explains the compilation process in detail (with all the possible parameters and modes).
  • It explains the development process – getting ClojureScript, working with browser REPL, testing, packaging for use with CLJS and plain JS applications.
  • It gives a basic introduction to the language, which really is a head-first guide to Clojure (though I suspect it’s far from enough for people who don’t know Clojure, and for those who do know it it’s no use).
  • It explains integration with JavaScript, but mostly on the level of Google Closure – exporting functions and namespaces for the world outside, or using external libraries with Closure advanced compilation.
  • It explains integration with Clojure, especially using EDN as an alternative to JSON.
  • It also introduces a few CLJS libraries (little code, just an idea of what a library does). Among others it includes C2, jayq, enfocus, core.logic, domina. Google Closure is on the list as well.
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    There are many things I missed, though.

    First and foremost, it does not do enough to explain why we need ClojureScript. It does not really try to convince anyone, it’s pretty much a very technical “up and running” guide.

    It does not tell you how to write ClojureScript code. The explanation of setup, compilation and integration is great, but that’s all there is. Actually, there’s little about ClojureScript itself in the book. It’s like (unconvincingly) telling you that Java is the more robust and productive alternative to C++, showing how to use javac and Eclipse, “Hello World”, and a brief indication that there’s also JEE and Swing and this and that. I wish it had some case studies, chunks of actual ClojureScript code, some discussion of architecture, patterns, sample applications…

    One more thing I did not like is that it apparently ignores the JavaScript world (except for Google Closure). There are many rich and mature JavaScript libraries out there that solve many problems, and this book has not a word on the common ways to integrate them. I spent a good while experimenting with CLJS with Backbone, Knockout, Angular and jQuery, and it’s quite a difficult, frustrating task. I know I can write a CLJS library to do the same things that Knockout does, but I would prefer to learn how to integrate the existing library with my CLJS application to solve a real problem, or be introduced to a pure CLJS alternative that someone has already created.

    Perhaps it reflects the current state of ClojureScript – not yet very mature or stable, without mature and established libraries, patterns.

    All in all, I have mixed feelings. The book is very dense and concrete, and delivers much content on so few pages. It’s true to its title – gets you up and running, and does it very well. But then immediately leaves you alone in the woods. We are yet to see “The ClojureScript Book”.

“Release It!”

A while ago I wrote a post on Learning to Fail inspired largely by Michael T. Nygard’s book titled “Release It”. Now it’s time to review the book itself.

As the sub-title says, the book is all about designing and deploying production-ready software. It opens with a great introduction on why it really matters: Because software often is critical to business. Because its reliability and performance is really our job and matter of professionalism. Finally (if that’s not enough), because its behavior in production will have huge impact on our quality of life as well – matter of choosing between panic attacks and phone ringing at 4 AM, or software Just Working by itself, letting you enjoy healthy life and doing more fun stuff at work. That’s the center of mass here, by the way: More on development and operations, less on management and business.

The book is divided into four main areas. Each starts with a bit of theoretical introduction and/or an anecdote, followed by discussion of concrete phenomena, problems and solutions. Even though it might appear as a collection of patterns and antipatterns, it’s much more than that. Patterns and antipatterns are just a form, but it’s really about setting the focus for a few pages and naming the problem. Anyway, the “pattern” and “antipattern” concept is gone by the middle of the book.

The first part talks about stability, and how it’s impacted by error propagation, lack of timeouts, all kinds of poor error handling, weaker links etc. Then it shows solutions: How to stop errors from propagating. How to be paranoid, expect failure in each integration point (with 3rd party and not), and deal with them. How to fail fast. And so on.

The second part talks about capacity: Dealing with load, understanding constraints and making predictions. Impact from seasonal phenomena or ad campains. Strange and not obvious usage patterns – hitting “refresh” button, web scrapers etc. Finally, dealing with those issues with proper use of caching, pooling, precomputing content and tuning garbage collection.

The third part is a bag with all kinds of design issues: networking, security, availability (understanding and defining requirements, followed by load balancing and clustering), testing and administration.

The last part is all about operations: logging, monitoring, transparency, releasing, that kind of stuff. How to organize it so that routing maintenance will be less pain, monitor will let us detect issues early, and finally after or during an issue we will have enough information to diagnose it.

Some problems are discussed from bird’s eye view. Most problems are more down-to-earth, providing detailed discussion of an issue with a sketch for solution with its weak and strong points. Finally, when applicable, author rolls up his sleeves and is ready to talk about concrete code, SQL, heapdumps, scripting etc.

The book is actually full of real war stories, anecdotes, code samples, tool descriptions, case studies, and all kinds of concrete content. There are a few larger stories that go on like this: On this project the team did this, this and that in order to migate such and such risks. When marketing sent an advert, or when the system was launched, or during routine maintenance, this and this broke and started causing problems. We did heapdumps, monitored traffic and contents, read or decompiled the code etc. and discovered problems there and there. Finally, we solved them with this and that. And here comes the detailed list of trouble spots and ways to mitigate them. It’s really a complete view – from business perspective and needs, down to nitpicking about particular piece of code or discussing popular tools.

Apart from being a great collection of real problems and tricks, there is one longer lasting, recurring aspect that may be the most valuable lesson here. Michael T. Nygard regularly shows (and makes you feel it deep in your guts, especially if you did some maintenance in production) that you really should be expecting failure everywhere and every time. You should try and predict, and mitigate, as many issues as possible, as early as possible. You should be paranoid. More than that, embrace the fact that you will fail to predict everything, and design so that even random unpredictable failures won’t take you down and may be easier to solve.

All the time it’s very concrete and complete. It also feels very professional, genuine and even inspiring.

Highly recommended.