Making Java Groovy – An excellent how-to guide for Java developers – #programming #bookreview

Making Java Groovy

Kenneth A. Kousen
(Manning, paperback)

I have looked at a lot of programming how-to texts in recent years, and this is one of the best I have encountered. Kenneth A. Kousen does not try to get readers to abandon aging and bloated Java in favor of a language that’s sleeker, shinier and newer. Instead, he seeks to show us how to use Groovy’s features and capabilities to help simplify Java, to make working with it easier, more efficient and–yes, even a bit more enjoyable. Indeed, Kousen proposes that we should gradually blend more and more Groovy into our Java code. Hence the title, Making Java Groovy.

(By the way, I lived through the hippie Sixties and remember how weary many of us grew of endlessly hearing the happy word “groovy”–as in “It’s groovy, man, groovy! Everything’s groovy!” I can say honestly that I resisted looking at Groovy, the programming language, for a long time, primarily because of that long-ago, wince-inspiring memory.)

Groovy is an object-oriented programming language that works on the Java platform, and it is intended to complement Java, not replace it. As Guillaume Laforge, the Groovy program manager, explains in his foreword to Kousen’s book: “The idea [behind Groovy] was to empower users to be more productive by removing the boilerplate of Java, and to simplify their programming lives by giving them compelling and straightforward APIs [application programming interfaces] to work with.”

Ken Kousen emphasizes that, among other things, Groovy “adds new capabilities to existing Java classes.” It uses Java libraries. And it makes it easier to work with XML and JSON. Kousen adds that “the Groovy version of a Java class is almost always simpler and cleaner. Groovy is far less verbose and generally easier to read.”

His book has ten chapters and two appendices and is structured into three parts. The first part, titled “Up to Speed with Groovy,” focuses on some long-time Java problems that Groovy addresses and simplifies, and it presents some ways you can use Groovy’s features in Java. The obligatory “Hello, World!” example is presented, but Kousen’s code accesses Google Chart Tools and generates a cool (okay, a groovy) “Hello, World!” 3D pie chart, to which you can add new slices and labels. (But, yes, you do first get the bland and obligatory Groovy shell command-line groovy:000>println ‘Hello, World!’ to verify that your Groovy installation works. Then you get to create the pie chart.)

Kousen is an independent consultant and technical trainer who specializes “in all areas related to Java.” He presents several Java code examples and shows how much shorter they can be made by integrating some Groovy into the mix. “Java historically hasn’t played well with others [other programming languages],” he cautions. But he demonstrates how Java and Groovy can be integrated smoothly to solve some nagging Java irritations and shortcomings.

The book’s second section highlights “Groovy Tools” and emphasizes build processes and testing, “two of the major ways Groovy is often introduced into an organization….”

The third section, “Groovy in the Real World,” describes “the sorts of challenges Java developers face on a regular basis” and how Groovy can help overcome them. The author starts with the Spring framework, “probably the most commonly used open source project in the Java world” and illustrates how “Spring and Groovy are old friends and work together beautifully.”  He also examines: (1) how Groovy interacts with persistent storage; (2) REST-ful web services, “with an emphasis on the JAX-RS 2.0 specification”; and (3) using Groovy in web application development.

The book’s instructions for downloading and installing Groovy are positioned near the back in Appendix A. and seem a bit sparse. But this is okay, since Making Java Groovy is not intended for programming beginners. And I can confirm that writers really don’t like to have to pause a well-written introduction long enough to explain how to download and install the right software for several operating systems.

Following Kousen’s instructions, I installed Groovy fairly easily on a Windows 7 PC, using a Windows EXE installer. He also mentions (too briefly) the Eclipse Marketplace. Since I have Eclipse (with Java and Scala) installed on a Linux machine, I used the Marketplace to get the Groovy and Grails plug-in, too. (My wife did not want Groovy anywhere on her precious Mac, so I did not test that installation.)

“Groovy generates Java bytecodes that are interpreted by a Java virtual machine,” Kousen states. “This means you have to have Java installed to install Groovy.”  Note also: “You need a full Java Development Kit (JDK) rather than a Java Runtime Environment (JRE).” And the Standard Edition (SE) is fine.

Appendix B, “Groovy by Feature,” expands upon Chapter 2’s “Groovy by Example,” and this one seems to be oddly placed. “While some people learn best through short, simple code examples illustrating each concept,” Kousen explains, “others prefer to see basic concepts combined to solve actual problems.” Appendix B “walks through most of the major features of Groovy and provides short snippets of code illustrating them.”

I would be happier if Appendix B had been positioned as Chapter 3, instead. Many people can learn both by feature and by example. And there should be nothing wrong with using one approach to reinforce the other.

But this is minor nitpicking. Making Java Groovy is an excellent how-to guide that I predict will go a long way to help popularize Groovy programming–even among us old guys who still shudder at the verbal excesses of our youth, when we proclaimed “everything” was “groovy.”

Si Dunn

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