PostgreSQL: Up and Running – Get a well-guided grip on this powerful, free database software – #bookreview

PostgreSQL: Up and Running
 Regina Obe and Leo Hsu
(O’Reilly,
paperbackKindle)

PostgreSQL is both a powerful open source database system and a very flexible application platform.

“PostgreSQL allows you to write stored procedures and functions in several programming languages, and the architecture allows you the flexibility to support more languages,” this book’s two authors point out.

Indeed: “You can have functions written in several different languages participating in one query.”

Release 9.2 of PostgreSQL hit the web Sept. 10, 2012. Regina Obe’s and Leo Hsu’s fine, 145-page introduction to PostgreSQL focuses on Release 9.1, but describes major 9.2 features, too. And their book definitely can be used to get you up and running. It describes “the unique features of PostgreSQL that make it stand apart from other databases…”, and shows “how to use these features to solve real world problems.”

PostgreSQL is not for every database user, the writers emphasize. “PostgreSQL was designed from the ground up to be a server-side database. Many people do use it on the desktop similarly to how they use SQL Server Express or Oracle, but just like those, it cares about security management and doesn’t leave this up to the application connecting to it. As such, it’s not ideal as an imbeddable database, like SQLite or Firebird.”

It also “does a lot and a lot can be daunting,” they concede. “It’s not a dumb data store; it’s a smart elephant. If all you need is a key value store or you expect your database to just sit there and hold stuff, it’s probably overkill for your needs.”

But after years of using PostgreSQL, the two writers remain unabashed fans. “Each update,” they state in their book, “treats us to new features, eases usability, brings improvements in speed, and pushes the envelope of what is possible with a database. In the end, you will wonder why you ever used any other relational database, when PostgreSQL does everything you could hope for—and does it for free.”

By the way, users of PostgreSQL 8.3 or older need to upgrade ASAP, Regina Obe and Leo Hsu urge. Release 8.3 “will be reaching end-of-life in early 2013,” making support increasingly difficult and expensive.

Si Dunn

FileMaker Pro 12: The Missing Manual – A big but easy how-to guide by two experts – #bookreview #database

FileMaker Pro 12: The Missing Manual
Susan Prosser and Stuart Gripman
(O’Reilly,
paperbackKindle)

The good news is: “FileMaker Pro is the ease-of-use champion.” It avoids common database “jargon words like query, join, and alias.” Instead, the two authors state, it uses “simple concepts like find, sort, and connect.”

So, if it’s so simple, why does this book weigh three pounds and have 924 pages?

Two reasons, both good. The authors – each are FileMaker Pro Certified Developers — do a fine job of explaining the package, from the basics to the most advanced features. And they illustrate their points with a generous number of screen shots, lists of steps, and other learning aids.

“FileMaker Pro databases,” they point out, “can be as simple as a list of the things you need to pack when you’re camping (complete with pictures!) or as complex as a company-wide system for purchasing, sales, inventory, invoicing, shipping, and customer tracking. But all of them essentially work the same way.”

FileMaker Pro 12: The Missing Manual has six parts, and the first two parts (encompassing four chapters and 172 pages) explain and demonstrate how to get started with the software and use it to build and improve your first database.

In Part 3, you move past the beginner stage and into creating and maintaining a relational database, plus handling such choices as field options, layout mechanics, calculations, and using scripts. In Part 4, you learn how to start thinking like a relational database developer and using FileMaker Pro Advanced. Part 5 focuses on database security and integration issues, including managing accounts, sharing databases over the Internet and sharing data with other systems. Part 6 contains four useful appendices, including definitions of FileMaker error codes.

In a powerful package like FileMaker Pro 12, there are plenty of choices and capabilities to explain, and there are few ways to be reasonably “complete” without ending up holding a big pile of how-to pages.

Despite its heft and thickness, however, this excellent Missing Manual is structured to help you move forward at your own pace — whether you want to learn it all or just enough to scrape by at a new workplace.

Si Dunn

PHP & MySQL: Novice to Ninja, 5th Ed. – A popular how-to guide updated – #bookreview #in #php #programming

PHP & MySQL: Novice to Ninja, 5th Edition
Kevin Yank
(SitePoint,
paperback, list price $39.95; Kindle edition, list price $29.95)

A key measure of a programming book’s usefulness and popularity is how many times it has been revised and reprinted.

Kevin Yank’s book first was published in 2001 under a different title. Eleven years later, his newly revised fifth edition is now in print and providing up-to-date hands-on guidance for those who want to use PHP and MySQL to create database-driven websites.  (By some estimates, at least 20 million websites worldwide now use PHP.)

Yank points out that “PHP is a server-side scripting language that lets you insert instructions into your web pages that your web server software (in most cases, Apache) will execute before it sends those pages to browsers that request them.”

Meanwhile, “[a] database server (in our case MySQL) is a program that can store large amounts of information in an organized format that’s easily accessible through programming languages like PHP. For example, you could tell PHP to look in the database for a list of jokes that you’d like to appear on your website.”

Yank’s fifth edition shows you how to use PHP to create a working content management system (CMS) that accesses – no surprise here – an online joke database that’s managed with MySQL. (Of course, if you think a simple joke database is lame, you can always modify a few tables and labels and create something more substantial, such as a database of vegetables you hate or celebrities or politicians you consider utterly irrelevant to your life.) 

Building a joke database (or whatever) is a pleasant way to learn the basics of PHP coding and database design and then quickly start improving your knowledge and skills as the CMS project is expanded and given more capabilities.

Yank’s book has 12 chapters and four appendices. The how-to chapters are split into short paragraphs, with numerous short code examples. A link is provided where the book’s code examples can be downloaded in a ZIP archive. And the book’s text is written in a smooth, approachable style.

PHP & MySQL: Novice to Ninja, 5th Edition is “aimed at intermediate and advanced web designers looking to make the leap into server-side programming,” Yank says. He expects readers to be familiar with “simple HTML” but “[n]o knowledge of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) or JavaScript is assumed or required.”

He adds, however, “if you do know JavaScript, you’ll find it will make learning PHP a breeze, since these languages are quite similar.”

Si Dunn

MySQL Troubleshooting – Tools, steps & advice from an expert – #bookreview

MySQL Troubleshooting
By Sveta Smirnova
(O’Reilly,
paperback, list price $29.99; Kindle edition, list price $14.99)

Sveta Smirnova knows how to find and fix MySQL problems. She is a principal technical support engineer in Oracle’s Bug Analysis Support Group and works daily with MySQL support issues and bug fixes.

Her new book is structured to help both MySQL beginners and those with more advanced skills, and it has been reviewed, prior to publication, by several other MySQL experts.

This well-written how-to guide likely will become a must-have reference book for many MySQL database administrators and support staff, as well as those currently learning MySQL. It contains numerous code examples, log excerpts and other illustrations, plus tips gleaned from long experience at solving a wide array of MySQL issues.

MySQL Troubleshooting has seven chapters:

  • Chapter 1, Basics – Basic troubleshooting techniques
  • Chapter 2, You Are Not Alone: Concurrency Issues – Problems that can occur “when applications run in multiple threads or interfere with transactions in other applications.”
  • Chapter 3, Effects of Server Options – A two-part chapter: (1) How to find and fix problems caused by configuration options; and (2) recommendations on how to solve and test configuration issues.  
  • Chapter 4, MySQL’s Environment – Deals with hardware and server environments. Lists “some points a MySQL database administrator (DBA) must look into.”
  • Chapter 5, Troubleshooting Replication – When slaves lag far behind the master, and related issues.
  • Chapter 6, Troubleshooting Techniques and Tools – Describes “extra techniques and tools” not discussed in earlier chapters.
  • Chapter 7, Best Practices – Focuses on “good habits and behaviors for safe and effective troubleshooting.”

An appendix titled “Information Resources” offers a number of websites and books that the author deems “good sources of information that can help during troubleshooting.”

She notes that MySQL now has “many forks” and acknowledges that her book cannot cover everything, nor “describe servers I don’t work with daily.” For example, she skips over Percona server and MariaDB but says “most of the methods described here” can be used except when “dealing with a particular feature added in the fork,” which will require product-specific information.

She also does not cover MySQL Cluster problems. Issues “specific to MySQL Cluster need separate MySQL Cluster knowledge that I don’t describe here,” she writes.

“But I do devote a lot of space to MyISAM- and InnoDB-specific problems…because they are by far the most popular storage engines, and their installation base is huge.”

A few of her code examples use PHP. But the C API is used “to illustrate the functions discussed in this book. The choice wasn’t easy,” she notes, “because there are a lot of programming APIs for MySQL in various languages.” And covering them all is impossible, she adds.

For many who work with MySQL, MySQL Troubleshooting can help solve or prevent a wide range of  problems, from easily overlooked syntax glitches to complex issues involving configuration, replication or multiple threads. And even if she doesn’t specifically cover your “fork” of MySQL, many of her tips, techniques, and examples can be adapted and put to good use in your own support and troubleshooting efforts.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available now in paperback. He is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.