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

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