Puppet 3 Beginner’s Guide – Automate configuration management & become a better system admin – #programming #bookreview

Puppet 3 Beginner’s Guide
John Arundel
(Packt Publishing – paperback, Kindle)

If you administer a small network built around just a few servers, you may still be doing at least some of the configuration management by hand. You literally move from machine to machine, manually entering updates, changes, or fixes. And your small network may be running several different brands–and vintages–of hardware and software, which complicates the update and repair process.

However, infrastructure consultant John Arundel warns, once you get “[b]eyond ten or so servers, there simply isn’t a choice. You can’t manage an infrastructure like this by hand. If you’re using a cloud computing architecture, where servers are created and destroyed minute-by-minute in response to changing demand, the artisan approach to server crafting just won’t work.”

In his new book, Puppet 3 Beginner’s Guide, Arundel emphasizes: “Manual configuration management is tedious and repetitive, it’s error-prone, and it doesn’t scale well. Puppet is a tool for automating this process.”

Among “UNIX-like systems,” there are at least three major configuration management (CM) packages, including Puppet. The others are Chef and CFEngine, plus a few more competitors. Arundel calls them “all great solutions to the CM problem…it’s not very important which one you choose as long as you choose one.” But he hopes, of course, you will favor Puppet and his well-written how-to guide.

Puppet 3 Beginner’s Guide is structured to help system administrators “start from scratch…and learn how to fully utilize Puppet through simple, practical examples,” he writes.

He places important emphasis on the rapidly closing “divide between ‘devs,’ who wrangle code, and ‘ops,’ who wrangle configurations. Traditionally, the skills sets of the two groups haven’t overlapped much,” he notes. “It was common until recently for system administrators not to write complex programs, and for developers to have little or no experience of building and managing servers.”

Today, system admins are “facing the challenge of scaling systems to enormous size for the web, [and] have had to get smart about programming and automation.” Meanwhile, “[d]evelopers, who now often build applications, services, and businesses by themselves, couldn’t do what they do without knowing how to set up and fix servers,” he says.

Therefore, “[t]he term ‘devops’ has begun to be used to describe the growing overlap between these skill sets…Devops write code, herd servers, build apps, scale systems, analyze outages, and fix bugs. With the advent of CM systems, devs and ops are now all just people who work with code.”

Arundel’s 184-page Puppet 3 Beginner’s Guide offers 10 chapters smoothly structured with headings, short paragraphs, code examples, and other illustrations. He has generated his code examples using the Ubuntu 12.04 LTS “Precise” distribution of Linux. But he explains how to load the software using “Red Hat Linux, CentOS, or another Linux distribution that uses the Yum package system,” as well.

The chapters are:

  • Chapter 1, Introduction to Puppet
  • Chapter 2, First Steps with Puppet
  • Chapter 3, Packages, Files, and Services
  • Chapter 4, Managing Puppet with Git
  • Chapter 5, Managing Users
  • Chapter 6, Tasks and Templates
  • Chapter 7, Definitions and Classes
  • Chapter 8, Expressions and Logic
  • Chapter 9, Reporting and Troubleshooting
  • Chapter 10, Moving on Up

That final chapter covers a range of topics, including how to make Puppet code “more elegant, more readable, and more maintainable.” The author offers “links and suggestions for further reading.” And he describes several projects to help you “improve your skills and your infrastructure at the same time.” Those projects, he says, “provide a series of stepping-stones from your first use of Puppet to a completely automated environment.”

Besides Linux, Puppet will run on other several platforms, including Windows and Macs. But there is almost no help for those in Arundel’s book. Essentially, it’s Linux or bust. For other operating systems, you will need to refer to the Puppet Labs website.

It can take a bit of work to get Puppet installed and properly configured. But once you have Puppet running, the Puppet 3 Beginner’s Guide can help you become both a proficient Puppet user and a more efficient, knowledgeable, and versatile system administrator.

Si Dunn

Book Brief – Programming Grails – A new, solid guide for experienced developers – #programming #bookreview

Programming Grails
Burt Beckwith
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle )

Burt Beckwith is an experienced core developer on the Grails software team at SpringSource. His new book, Programming Grails, is written primarily for experienced Grails developers “who want to dig deeper into the architecture and understand more about how Grails works its magic and how it integrates with Groovy, Spring, Hibernate, and other technologies.”

Beckwith adds that “[d]evelopers with experience in similar frameworks such as Spring MVC, JEE, or Ruby on Rails should find this book useful in understanding how Grails implements features to which they are accustomed.”

He cautions that Programming Grails “should not be your first Grails book, since it presumes a good deal of previous experience and understanding, so be sure to read a more comprehensive Grails book first.”

The 12-chapter, 344-page book focuses on the inner workings of the Grails 2.0 feature set and emphasizes “best practices for building and deploying Grails applications,” including topics such as “performance, security, scaling, tuning, debugging, and monitoring.” It is written clearly, and its text is kept reasonably short between topic headings. Numerous short code samples and other illustrations are included.

Grails’ creator, Graeme Rocher, has given this book a solid thumb’s up, stating that “it goes much deeper than any other Grails book I have seen.”

The Modern Web: Multi-Device Web Development with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript – #bookreview

The Modern Web
Multi-Device Web Development with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript
Peter Gasston
(No Starch Press – Kindle, paperback)

After a quick first glance, you might look right past this book. You might assume its title, “The Modern Web,” simply introduces some kind of heavily footnoted, academic study of the Internet.

Not so, Web breath. In this case, it’s the subtitle that should grab your attention.

Whether you hope to go into web development, or you’re already there, Peter Gasston’s new book can help you get an improved grasp on three important, device-agnostic tools that will be essential to your work and career development. They are: HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript, that not-so-simple programming language that many new web specialists often try to avoid learning. (That’s because, typically, it’s easier, more fun and a bit less cryptic to work with HTML5 and CSS3.)

Also, Gasston notes, there have been big explosions in the number of libraries and frameworks that use JavaScript, further clouding a developer’s ability to know which ones he or she should learn next. (The author limits his coverage to four: jQuery, YepNope, Modernizr, and Mustache.)

Gasston’s well-written book zeroes in on the three “web technologies that can be used anywhere, from open websites to device-specific web apps.” And on all sorts of devices, ranging from tiny phones to tablet computers to wall-covering HDTVs.

And his teaching aim is to show you “modern coding methods and techniques that you can use to build websites across multiple devices or that are tailored to the single device class you’re targeting.”

By the way, “websites” is simply a shorthand term the author uses “to avoid repetition. The features you’ll learn from this book are relevant to websites, web applications, [and] packaged HTML hybrid applications–in short, anything that can use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.”

Gasston also wants you to learn that “fast” is the main thing that matters to those who will use your site. “Your site needs to be fast–and feel fast–regardless of the device it’s being displayed on,” he emphasizes. “And fast means not only technical performance (which is incredibly important) but also the responsiveness of the interface and how easily users can navigate the site and find what they need to complete the task that brought them to you in the first place.”

His 243-page book contains many short, useful code examples and illustrations, and is excellent for developers who have at least a little bit of experience with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript but aren’t sure where and how to focus their energies and attention for the rapidly changing career road ahead.

The Modern Web offers a well-organized introduction, plus 11 chapters:

  1. The Web Platform
  2. Structure and Semantics
  3. Device Responsive CSS
  4. New Approaches to CSS Layouts
  5. Modern JavaScript
  6. Device APIs
  7. Images and Graphics
  8. New Forms
  9. Multimedia
  10. Web Apps
  11. The Future

There also are two appendices: Browser Support as of March 2013 and Further Reading.

Peter Gasston has been a web developer for more than 12 years, and his previous book is The Book of CSS3.

He notes that “[t]he Web is constantly evolving, and book publishing means taking just a single snapshot of a moment. Some things will change; some will wither and be removed. I’ve tried to mitigate this by covering only technologies that are based on open standards rather than vendor-specific ones and that already have some level of implementation in browsers.”

He urges developers to stay alert to changing Web standards and to “be curious, be playful, keep on top of it all. He stresses: “There’s never been a more exciting time to work in web development, but you’ll need to put in an extra shift to really take advantage of it.”

Si Dunn

Four good books that can help boost your JavaScript skills – #programming #bookreview

Ready for some enlightenment that can boost your JavaScript programming skills?

O’Reilly recently has published four books that can help you move from basic JavaScript library user to confident, experienced developer. 

“JavaScript started out as a simple and approachable front-end scripting language,” the publisher notes. “It has matured into a true cross-platform environment targeted by the latest emerging languages, frameworks, and developer tools.” The four new JavaScript books can help you “[l]earn how you can get the ultimate in responsiveness and interactivity from JavaScript, whether you use it on the front-end or server-side.” 

The four books are: JavaScript Enlightenment and DOM Enlightenment, both by Cody Lindley; Learning from jQuery by Callum Macrae; and Testable JavaScript by Mark Ethan Trostler.


JavaScript Enlightenment
Cody Lindley
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

Short, clear code samples are the stars of this fine, informative book. And most of the code samples can be viewed, executed and modified online using file links provided for the jsFiddle.net website.

The book’s goal is “to give the reader an accurate JavaScript worldview through an examination of native JavaScript objects and supporting nuances: complex values, primitive values, scope, inheritance, the head object, etc.” Cody Lindley adds: “I intend this book to be a short and digestible summary of the ECMAScript 3 Edition specification, focused on the nature of objects in JavaScript.”

Lindley keeps that promise in his 147-page book. His code samples rarely span more than a half page, and his explanatory paragraphs also are taut and to the point.

For example: “In JavaScript, objects are king: Almost everything is an object or acts like an object. Understand objects and you will understand JavaScript. So let’s examine the creating of objects in JavaScript….An object is just a container for a collection of named values (a.k.a properties).” 

Lindley’s book covers six of the nine native object constructors that are pre-packaged with JavaScript. The six are: Number(); String(); Boolean(); Object(); Array(); and Function(). He skips Date(), Error(), and RegEx() “because, as useful as they are, grasping the details of these objects will not make or break your general understanding of objects in JavaScript.” But he does hope you will learn them later, on your own. 

“JavaScript,” he writes, is mostly constructed from just these nine objects (as well as string, number, and boolean primitive values.) Understanding these objects in detail is key to taking advantage of JavaScript’s unique programming power and language flexibility.”


DOM Enlightenment
Cody Lindley
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

If you work with JavaScript, you probably rely on a Document Object Model (DOM) library such as jQuery to help you handle HTML scripting. 

But you can script the DOM without a DOM library, using JavaScript. Cody Lindley shows how in this excellent guide aimed at two types of developers who have experience with JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.

“The first developer is someone who has a good handle on JavaScript or jQuery, but has really never taken the time to understand the purpose and value of a library like jQuery,” Lindley writes. “The second type of developer is an engineer who is tasked with scripting HTML documents that will only run in modern browsers or that will get ported to native code for multiple OSes and device distributions (e.g., PhoneGap) and needs to avoid the overhead (i.e., size or size versus use) of a library.”

He notes that “HTML documents get parsed by a browser and converted into a tree structure of node objects representing a live document. The purpose of the DOM is to provide a programmatic interface for scripting (removing, adding, replacing, eventing, and modifying) this live document.”

Much of his 161-page DOM Enlightenment  focuses on how to work in JavaScript with “the most common types of nodes…one encounters when working with HTML documents.” He purposefully has “left out any details pertaining to XML or XHTML.” And, to help keep the book small, he has “purposely excluded the form and table APIs,” but adds: “I can see these sections being added in the future.”

Lindley also imposes a key technical limitation on the “content and code in this book….” It was, he says, “written with modern browsers (IE9+, Firefox latest, Chrome latest, Safari latest, Opera latest) in mind.”  

In keeping with the goals of O’Reilly’s Enlightenment series, explanations are short and concise and code examples are kept small. Also, the code examples are available online and can be displayed, run, and modified at the jsFiddle.net website.

 Cody Lindley emphasizes that he is “not promoting the idea of only going native when it comes to DOM scripting….” He hopes, instead,  “that developers may realize that DOM libraries are not always required when scripting the DOM.”


Learning from jQuery
Callum Macrae
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

Some developers work comfortably with jQuery yet have only a modest understanding of JavaScript.

Callum Macrae’s concise, well-written new book is intended to help fill that gap. It is “targeted at developers who know jQuery, but who don’t feel comfortable in their JavaScript knowledge or would just like to know more.”

The 102-page book focuses on the JavaScript code that jQuery covers up. It offers five chapters and two appendixes, with many short code examples and other illustrations. Much of the code is available through a GitHub repo.

Chapter 1, “Event Handling,” explains how event handling works in JavaScript and notes that “[e]vents are the heart of pretty much all web applications….jQuery provides a suite of functions to make event handling considerably easier than in JavaScript alone.” But these functions “add overhead and remove control from you, the developer. For this reason, it is important to know how you can handle events without jQuery in pure JavaScript.”

Chapter 2 covers “Constructors and Prototypes.” Writes Macrae: “Constructors are a way of creating objects, and can be initiated via the new keyword. Prototypes are one of the more powerful features of JavaScript, and allow the developer to declare a method or property that all instances of an object will inherit.” The chapter also can “help you understand how jQuery works, as jQuery itself uses prototypes.” 

Chapter 3 deals with “DOM Traversal and Manipulation.” Macrae notes that “jQuery includes a number of functions that make working with the DOM a lot easier than with JavaScript alone, which can be pretty ugly. However, the functions provided by jQuery can be rather hefty (especially in older browsers), and it is often a lot faster to just use pure JavaScript. Therefore, it is important to know how to work both.”

Chapter 4, “AJAX,” covers jQuery’s AJAX functions and concedes that they “offer some significant improvements over the native JavaScript AJAX features, as they are a lot easier to use.” Macrae explains: “AJAX is the act of making an HTTP request from JavaScript without having to reload the page; you could think of it as an inline HTTP request.” The chapter shows some jQuery AJAX requests and how those AJAX requests are sent in JavaScript. The goal is to help you get better at debugging code and also realize that “it isn’t worth loading the entire jQuery library to send a few requests and nothing else….”

Chapter 5, “JavaScript Conventions,” explains some “common conventions that you can use to improve your JavaScript…such as making your code more readable by using comments and whitespace correctly, optimizing your code in order to improve performance, design patterns, and some common antipatterns (code that causes more problems than it solves.)”

 This book is not recommended for persons who have no jQuery or JavaScript experience. Still, Appendix A, “JavaScript Basics,” provides a 28-page introduction to JavaScript, starting at “Hello World!” Appendix B, meanwhile, describes several applications and websites that can help you improve your JavaScript knowledge.


Testable JavaScript
Mark Ethan Trostler
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

“You have to test your code,” Mark Ethan Trostler emphasizes, “so why not make the process as easy and painless as possible?”

That’s a very desirable goal. Yet, as he notes a few sentences later, “testing–especially JavaScript testing–is complicated.”

For example: “Client-side JavaScript is especially difficult to test properly, as we have very little control over the environment within which our code runs. Multiple operating systems, multiple versions of operating systems, multiple browsers, multiple versions of browsers, not to mention plug-ins, extensions, different languages, zoom levels, and who knows what else, all conspire to hinder the performance of our applications. These permutations slow down, break, crash, and eat our applications for lunch. It’s a jungle out there!”

Trostler, a software engineer who works in test at Google, says his book “attempts to bridge the gap between sane development practices and JavaScript. JavaScript is a weird little language.” And he has aimed his guide at “people who encounter JavaScript professionally. Beginning, intermediate, or guru-level developers are all welcome, as this book has something for everyone.”

His 250-page how-to guide is structured into eight chapters that “tackle testable code in several steps. First we will investigate complexity. Then we will look at an architecture choice that attempts to limit complexity and coupling. With that as our foundation,” Trostler continues, “we will move on to testing, both at the functional level and at the application level.” From there, he delves into: code coverage; integration, performance, and load testing; debugging; and using automation in tests.

 “Writing unit tests for client-side JavaScript can be daunting,” Trostler states. “That means too many people don’t do it. This is not OK…”

Testable JavaScript is well written and rich with code examples, screenshots, diagrams and other illustrations. Whether you write client-side or server-side JavaScript — or both — or you are trying to rework some legacy files, Mark Ethan Trostler’s text can help you learn how to better create and maintain testable code.

Si Dunn

Windows PowerShell 3.0: Step by Step – A huge guide to things you can do after you’ve found PowerShell – #bookreview

Windows PowerShell 3.0: Step by Step
Ed Wilson
(Microsoft Press – paperback, Kindle)


Wondering what the “Open Windows PowerShell” option does on your Windows 8 PC?

There’s a book for that: Windows PowerShell 3.0: Step by Step by Ed Wilson.

According to Wilson, “Windows PowerShell 3.0 is an essential management and automation tool that brings the simplicity of the command line to the next generation operating systems.” It is “included in Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, and portable to Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2” and “offers unprecedented power and flexibility to everyone from power users to enterprise network administrators and architects.”

Windows PowerShell is accessed as a command console that also offers a programming language. This means you can create files that will perform some automated actions using “cmdlets” (pronounced “command-lets”) at the PowerShell prompt. The cmdlets, Wilson writes, “are like executable programs, but they take advantage of the facilities built into Windows PowerShell, and therefore are easy to write.” cmdlets are not scripts, he adds, “because they are built using the services of a special .NET Framework namespace.”

In one basic, introductory example in Wilson’s book, you create a batch file — TroubleShoot.bat — that automatically enters four commands in sequence and pipes the results of each command to a text file:

ipconfig /all >C:\tshoot.txt
route print >>C:\tshoot.txt
hostname >>C:\tshoot.txt
net statistics workstation >>C:\tshoot.txt

Wilson’s book spans 666 pages, so there are many other features and uses for PowerShell that should please power users, technical staff, Windows network administrators, and Windows networking consultants. Some programmers also will relish its opportunities to write various types of PowerShell files and create functions, subroutines, modules, and other processes.

If you are studying to become a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) or Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), you may know this already: Windows PowerShell is considered “a key component of many Microsoft courses and certification exams.”

Windows PowerShell 3.0: Step by Step is well written, and it is solidly illustrated with code examples, screenshots, and other graphics. The author is a senior consultant at Microsoft and a well-known scripting expert. Readers are not expected to have “any background in programming, development, or scripting.” So, it is a good (albeit hefty)  how-to guide for PowerShell beginners and intermediate users.

Si Dunn

Jump Start CoffeeScript – A quick guide for experienced programmers – #programming #bookreview

Jump Start CoffeeScript
Earle Castledine
(SitePoint – paperback, Kindle)

CoffeeScript is a fun yet “serious” computer language. It is, declares the coffeescript.org website, “a little language that compiles into JavaScript. Underneath that awkward Java-esque patina, JavaScript has always had a gorgeous heart. CoffeeScript is an attempt to expose the good parts of JavaScript in a simple way.”

And therein rubs a lie, to re-coin a very old phrase. Many beginners somehow get the notion that they can take up CoffeeScript as a cool way to avoid learning JavaScript.

It is not. Your compiled code from CoffeeScript is in JavaScript, and how, exactly, do you plan to debug it if you don’t know JavaScript? (Also, a key goal of CoffeeScript is to help you learn to write better JavaScript.)

Which brings us to Jump Start CoffeeScript by Earle Castledine. This is an entertaining yet serious programming book that promises, on its cover, to show you how to “get up to speed with CoffeeScript in a weekend.”

Repeat after me: This is not a book for computer beginners, nor anyone seeking to skate around a requirement to learn JavaScript.

Castledine’s 151-page book quickly takes you, in just one chapter, from “Hello CoffeeScript!” to beginning the process of building a computer game. And, the author promises, it’s “[n]ot just the outer husk of a boring space-based shoot ‘em up, but a complete, extensible HTML5 game with tile maps, particle effects, AI, and (of course) Ninjas.”

Despite the “weekend” tagline on the cover, the book is written in part as a story in which you have one week to develop and deliver the HTML5 game as a software product. But (spoiler alert!), you will, miraculously, finish the process one day early. (This seldom happens in real-life software development.)

If you are comfortable with JavaScript, HTML and computers, Castledine’s book can provide you with an enjoyable, challenging, and useful way to learn CoffeeScript. (You will also need to have Node.js installed, so you can use npm, Node’s package manager for modules, to download and install the coffee-script module — the hyphen is required here.)

If you are not comfortable with the aforementioned qualifications, here’s another warning. To keep the book short, almost every code example is presented as an excerpt. The full pieces of code are contained within a downloadable code archive. While using the book, you are expected to open specific files and add specific lines of code. And exactly where in the file you are supposed to add them seldom is spelled out in good detail. Basically, you are supposed to know this stuff already.

For example, in Chapter 1, you are told to “Plop a canvas element into your web page using a unique ID….”

First, you have to realize that the presented excerpt is part of a particular index.html file that will become an introductory project’s web page. And as for precisely where to plop that piece of code, you just have to know. In the very next sentence, you are told: “Now we need to grab a reference to its drawing context via CoffeeScript….” This is followed by another code excerpt, and: “If you’re compiling this code with coffee, it needs to be in a separate file, compiled, then included in the web page.” And so forth.

If you don’t know what to do without further instruction, prepare to be confused.

The author is a well-known JavaScript expert who’s very good with CoffeeScript, too. And, the goal of this SitePoint book is to quickly get you up to speed with CoffeeScript.

You will get up to speed–if you possess some programming experience, know some JavaScript and HTML, and can follow the author’s instructions without needing basic 1-2-3, a-b-c steps.

Si Dunn

The Definitive ANTLR 4 Reference – You, too, can be a parsing guru – #programming #bookreview

The Definitive ANTLR 4 Reference
Terence Parr
(Pragmatic Bookshelf – paperback)

The self-described “maniac” behind ANTLR — “ANother Tool for Language Recognition” — is at it again. Terence Parr has rewritten ANTLR “from scratch” and celebrated by bringing out a new edition of his book, The Definitive ANTLR 4 Reference.

Parr, a professor of computer science and graduate program director at the University of San Francisco, says his book is “specifically targeted at any programmer interested in learning how to build data readers, language interpreters, and translators. This book is about how to build things with ANTLR specifically, of course, but you’ll learn a lot about lexers and parsers in general. Beginners and experts alike will need this book to use ANTLR 4 effectively. To get your head around the advanced topics in Part III, you’ll need some experience with ANTLR by working through the earlier chapters.”

Also: “Readers should know Java to get the most out of the book.” ( Java 1.6 or later is required.)

According to Parr: “ANTLR v4 is a powerful parser generator that you can use to read, process, execute, or translate structured text or binary files. It’s widely used in academia and industry to build all sorts of languages, tools, and frameworks. Twitter search uses ANTLR for query parsing, with more than 2 billion queries a day. The languages for Hive and Pig and the data warehouse and analysis systems for Hadoop all use ANTLR. Lex Machina uses ANTLR for information extraction from legal documents. Oracle uses ANTLR within the SQL Developer IDE and its migration tools. The NetBeans IDE parses C++ with ANTLR. The HQL language in the Hibernate object-relational mapping framework is built with ANTLR.”

So…it’s out there in many different and big ways. But ANTLR also can be used for smaller projects.

Notes Parr: “…you can build all sorts of useful tools such as configuration file readers, legacy code converters, wiki markup renderers, and JSON parsers. I’ve built little tools for creating object-relational database mappings, describing 3D visualizations, and injecting profiling code into Java source code, and I’ve even done a simple DNA pattern matching example for a lecture.”

Parr’s 305-page, 15-chapter book is divided into four major parts:

  1. Introducing ANTLR and Computer Languages
  2. Developing Language Applications with ANTLR Grammar
  3. Advanced Topics
  4. ANTLR Reference

This latest version of ANTLR “has some important new capabilities that reduce the learning curve and make developing grammars and language applications much easier. The most important new feature,” Parr adds, “is that ANTLR v4 gladly accepts every grammar you give it (with one exception regarding indirect left recursion….)”

To properly understand that exception and how it must be dealt with, you will need to read “Dealing with Precedence, Left Recursion, and Associativity” in Chapter 5.

This is not a book for programming beginners. But Terence Parr is a good writer who injects both clarity and occasional humor into his descriptions. And he provides numerous code examples and illustrations to help guide you along the way to becoming a parsing guru and mastering ANTLR v4.

Si Dunn

Jump Start Node.js – A well-written guide for learning Node.js quickly – #programming #bookreview

 Jump Start Node.js
Don Nguyen
(SitePoint – paperback, Kindle)

Don Nguyen’s well-written Node.js book has been in print for a few months and is an excellent text for learning how to put Node.js to work in fast, scalable real-time web applications.

You should have some experience with JavaScript before tackling Node.js. But Nguyen says a “server-side engineer who uses another language such as PHP, Python, Ruby, Java, or .NET” can pick up enough JavaScript from his book to get a good feel for its syntax and idiosyncratic features.

What I like most about the book is how it  jumps right into developing a dynamic working Node.js application that you deploy to a production server. The project is a real-time stock market trading engine that streams live prices into a web browser. Along the way, you learn how to set up and use a NoSQL database (with MongoDB), you learn some functional programming techniques, and you work with Ajax, Express, Mocha, Socket.io, Backbone.js, Twitter Bootstrap, GitHub and Heroku.

The author covers a lot of ground, with clear code examples and good explanations, in just 154 pages. “The main goal of this book,” he notes, “is to transfer the skill set rather than the actual project into the real world. There is a narrow domain of ‘hard’ real-time applications such as a stock exchange where specialized software and hardware are required because microseconds count. However, there is a much larger number of ‘soft’ real-time applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and eBay where microseconds are of small consequence. This is Node.js’s speciality, and you’ll understand how to build these types of applications by the end of this book.”

Note: If you are a Windows user, you will have to install Cygwin before you can start using the Mocha testing framework on page 23. If you use Mac OS X, you will need to have the Xcode Command Line Tools installed. More information related to the book can be found at this SitePoint forum.

Si Dunn

Hadoop is hot! Three new how-to books for riding the Big Data elephant – #programming #bookreview

In the world of Big Data, Hadoop has become the hard-charging elephant in the room.

Its big-name users now span the alphabet and include such notables as Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, the New York Times, and Yahoo. Not bad for software named after a child’s toy elephant.

Computer systems that run Hadoop can store, process, and analyze large amounts of data that have been gathered up in many different formats from many different sources.

According to the Apache Software Foundation’s Hadoop website: “The Apache Hadoop software library is a framework that allows for the distributed processing of large data sets across clusters of computers using simple programming models. It is designed to scale up from single servers to thousands of machines, each offering local computation and storage.”

The (well-trained) user defines the Big Data problem that Hadoop will tackle. Then the software handles all aspects of the job completion, including spreading out the problem in small pieces to many different computers, or nodes, in the distributed system for more efficient processing. Hadoop also handles individual node failures, and collects and combines the calculated results from each node.

But you don’t need a collection of hundreds or thousands of computers to run Hadoop. You can learn it, write programs, and do some testing and debugging on a single Linux machine, Windows PC or Mac. The Open Source software can be downloaded here. (Do some research first. You may have use web searches to find detailed installation instructions for your specific system.)

Hadoop is open-source software that is often described as “a Java-based framework for large-scale data processing.” It has a lengthy learning curve that includes getting familiar with Java, if you don’t already know it.

But if you are now ready and eager to take on Hadoop, Packt Publishing recently has unveiled three excellent how-to books that can help you begin and extend your mastery: Hadoop Beginner’s Guide, Hadoop MapReduce Cookbook, and Hadoop Real-World Solutions Cookbook.

Short reviews of each are presented below.

Hadoop Beginner’s Guide
Garry Turkington
(Packt Publishing – paperback, Kindle)

Garry Turkington’s new book is a detailed, well-structured introduction to Hadoop. It covers everything from the software’s three modes–local standalone mode, pseudo-distributed mode, and fully distributed mode–to running basic jobs, developing simple and advanced MapReduce programs, maintaining clusters of computers, and working with Hive, MySQL, and other tools.

“The developer focuses on expressing the transformation between source and result data sets, and the Hadoop framework manages all aspects of job execution, parallelization, and coordination,” the author writes.

He calls this capability “possibly the most important aspect of Hadoop. The platform takes responsibility for every aspect of executing the processing across the data. After the user defines the key criteria for the job, everything else becomes the responsibility of the system.”

The 374-page book is written well and provides numerous code samples and illustrations. But it  has one drawback for some beginners who want to install and  use Hadoop.  Turkington offers step-by-step instructions for how to perform a Linux installation, specifically Ubuntu. However, he refers Windows and Mac users to an Apache site where there is insufficient how-to information. Web searches become necessary to find more installation details.

Hadoop MapReduce Cookbook
Srinath Perera and Thilina Gunarathne
(Packt Publishing – paperback, Kindle)

MapReduce “jobs” are an essential part of  how Hadoop is able to crunch huge chunks of Big Data.  The Hadoop MapReduce Cookbook offers “recipes for analyzing large and complex data sets with Hadoop MapReduce.”

MapReduce is a well-known programming model for processing large sets of data. Typically, MapReduce is used within clusters of computers that are configured to perform distributed computing.

In the “Map” portion of the process, a problem is split into many subtasks that are then assigned by a master computer to individual computers known as nodes. (Nodes also can have sub-nodes). During the “Reduce” part of the task, the master computer gathers up the processed data from the nodes, combines it and outputs a response to the problem that was posed to be solved. (MapReduce libraries are now available for many different computer languages, including Hadoop.)

“Hadoop is the most widely known and widely used implementation of the MapReduce paradigm,” the two authors note.

Their 284-page book initially shows how to run Hadoop in local mode, which “does not start any servers but does all the work within the same JVM [Java Virtual Machine]” on a standalone computer. Then, as you gain more experience with MapReduce and the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS), they guide you into using Hadoop in more complex, distributed-computing environments.

Echoing the Hadoop Beginner’s Guide, the authors explain how to install Hadoop on Linux machines only.

Hadoop Real-World Solutions Cookbook
Jonathan R. Owens, Jon Lentz and Brian Femiano
(Packt Publishing – paperback, Kindle)

The Hadoop Real-World Solutions Cookbook assumes you already have some experience with Hadoop. So it jumps straight into helping “developers become more comfortable with, and proficient at solving problems in, the Hadoop space.”

Its goal is to “teach readers how to build solutions using tools such as Apache Hive, Pig, MapReduce, Mahout, Giraph, HDFS, Accumulo, Redis, and Ganglia.”

The 299-page book is packed with code examples and short explanations that help solve specific types of problems. A few randomly selected problem headings:

  • “Using Apache Pig to filter bot traffic from web server logs.”
  • “Using the distributed cache in MapReduce.”
  • “Trim Outliers from the Audioscrobbler dataset using Pig and datafu.” 
  • “Designing a row key to store geographic events in Accumulo.”
  • “Enabling MapReduce jobs to skip bad records.”

The authors use a simple but effective strategy for presenting problems and solutions. First, the problem is clearly described. Then, under a “Getting Ready” heading, they spell out what you need to  solve the problem. That is followed by a “How to do it…” heading where each step is presented and supported by code examples. Then, paragraphs beneath a “How it works…” heading sum up and explain how the problem was solved. Finally, a “There’s more…” heading highlights more explanations and links to additional details.

If you are a Hadoop beginner, consider the first two books reviewed above. If you have some Hadoop experience, you likely can find some useful tips in book number three

Si Dunn

Getting Started with Mule Cloud Connect – To help sort out the chaos of Internet services – #bookreview

Getting Started with Mule Cloud Connect
Ryan Carter
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

In a digital world increasingly cluttered with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms, Open APIs, and social networks, complexity quickly can get out of hand.

“It all starts,” Ryan Carter writes in his new book, “with a simple API that publishes somebody’s status to Facebook, sends a Tweet, or updates a contact in Salesforce. As you start to integrate more and more of these external services with your applications, trying to identify the tasks that one might want to perform when you’re surrounded by SOAP, REST, JSON, XML, GETs, PUTs, POSTs, and DELETEs, can be a real challenge.”

Indeed. But never fear, Mule ESB can ride to your rescue and connect you quickly and easily to the cloud. At least, that’s the marketing claim.

Some truly big-name users, it should be noted, are adding credibility to Mule’s claimed capabilities and usefulness as an Open Source integration platform. They include Adobe, eBay, Hewlett-Packard, J.P. Morgan, T-Mobile, Ericsson, Southwest Airlines, and Nestle, to mention just a few.

Meanwhile, riding Mule to the cloud is the central focus of this compact (105 pages), well-written get-started guide. Its author, Ryan Carter, is both a specialist in integration and APIs and “an appointed Mule champion” who contributes regularly to the MuleSoft community.

“Mule,” Carter points out, “is an integration platform that allows developers to connect applications together quickly and easily, enabling them to exchange data regardless of the different technologies that the applications use. It is also at the core of CloudHub, an Integration Platform as a Service(IPaas). CloudHub allows you to integrate cross-cloud services, create new APIs on top of existing data sources, and integrate on-premise applications with cloud services.”

The book is structured so you start off by building a simple Mule application that will serve “as the base of our examples and introduce some core concepts for those unfamiliar with Mule.” Then Carter shows and illustrates how to “start taking advantage of Mule Cloud Connectors.” He includes numerous code examples, plus some screenshots and diagrams.

The book’s six chapters are:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Cloud Connectors
  3. OAuth Connectivity
  4. Configuration Management
  5. Real-Time Connectivity
  6. Custom Connectivity

Carter emphasizes: “Mule Cloud Connect offers a more maintainable way to work with APIs. Built on top of the Mule and CloudHub integration platforms, Cloud Connectors are service-specific clients that abstract away the complexities of transports and protocols. Many complex but common processes such as authorization and session management work without you having to write a single line of code. Although service-specific, Cloud Connectors all share a common and consistent interface to configure typical API tasks such as OAuth, WebHooks, and connection management. They remove the pain from working with multiple, individual client libraries.”

If Mule does not have a connector for a resource that you need, the book shows you how to create your own.

Getting Started with Mule Cloud Connect can get you started on a beneficial ride of  discovery, and it can take you onto the trail that leads to solutions.

– Si Dunn