NODE.js IN PRACTICE – A well-focused guide to understanding & using this powerful web development platform – #programming #bookreview

 

Node.js in Practice

Alex Young and Marc Harter

Manning – paperback

I have had a long-term, love-ignore relationship with Node.js. I have taken Node classes, read Node books, and tinkered with Node programming both on Windows and Linux machines. Sometimes I have loved working with Node.js. Other times, I have ignored it for months at a stretch while I rush around trying out other choices and development distractions: Clojure, Erlang, Grails, Hadoop, and Ember.js, for example — the list goes on and on.

Node.js in Practice is aimed at intermediate Node.js programmers and even advanced Node.js programmers. There is some awareness that beginners also may be reading this book. So the authors start by explaining Node from the standpoint of “what it is, how it works, and why it’s something you can’t live without.” Then they quickly recommend that Node newcomers should stop for now and read another good, but more basic, how-to book first: Node.js in Action.

In Node.js in Practice, the learning curve can start getting steep fairly quickly, especially for those of us who have worked somewhat superficially with Node in web projects that also involve other software (such as the MEAN stack: MongoDB, Express and AngularJS, plus Node). Fortunately, the authors, Alex Young and Marc Harter, take a very focused, three-part approach that keeps Node.js centered in the spotlight and promotes deeper understanding.

Part One focuses on “Node’s core fundamentals” and “what’s possible using only Node’s core modules (no third-party modules).” Part Two moves into “real-world development recipes” and shows how to “master four highly applicable skills—testing, web development, debugging, and running Node in production.” Some third-party modules also are introduced. Part Three, meanwhile, emphasizes “creating your own Node modules in a straightforward manner that ties in all kinds of ways to use npm commands for packaging, running, testing, benchmarking, and sharing modules. It also includes helpful tips on versioning projects effectively.”

The book offers “115 techniques…each module covering a specific Node.js topic or task, and each divided into practical Problem/Solution/Discussion sections.” I really like this approach, and the illustrated discussions that accompany each short code example are especially helpful.

For me, it has been a pleasure to upgrade to the latest version of Node.js and reconnect with it using this new book. Despite my previous experience with Node.js, I see a lot to learn! My thanks to Manning for providing a review copy of Node.js in Practice.

 

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

Jump Start Sinatra – With this book and a little Ruby, you can make Sinatra sing – #programming #bookreview

Jump Start Sinatra
Get Up to Speed with Sinatra in a Weekend
Darren Jones
(SitePoint – Kindle, Paperback)

Many Ruby developers love Rails for its power and capabilities as a model-view-controller (MVC) framework. But some of them don’t like Rails’ size, complexity, and learning curve.

Meanwhile, many other Rubyists love Sinatra for its simplicity and ease of learning, plus its ability “to create a fully functional web app in just one file,” says Darren Jones in his new book, Jump Start Sinatra. “There are no complicated setup procedures or configuration to worry about. You can just open up a text editor and get started with minimal effort, leaving you to focus on the needs of your application.”

Jones does not temper his enthusiasm for Sinatra, adding that “there isn’t a single line of bloat anywhere in its source code, which weighs in at fewer than 2,000 lines!”

His 150-page book covers a lot of ground, from downloading and installing Sinatra to building websites, working with SQLite, Heroku, Rack, jQuery, and Git, and even using some CoffeeScript (to avoid “getting our hands dirty writing JavaScript…”). He also shows how to create modular Sinatra applications that use separate classes.

“Sinatra makes it easy–trivial almost–to build sites, services, and web apps using Ruby,” the author states. “A Sinatra application is basically made up of one or more Ruby files. You don’t need to be an expert Rubyist to use Sinatra, but the more Ruby you know, the better you’ll be at building Sinatra apps.”

Jones adds: “Unlike Ruby on Rails, Sinatra is definitely not a framework. It’s without conventions and imposes no file structure on you whatsoever. Sinatra apps are basically just Ruby programs; what Sinatra does is connect them to the Web. Rather than hide behind lots of magic, it exposes the way the Web works by making the key concepts of HTTP verbs and URLs an explicit part of it.”

Jump Start Sinatra is a well-written, appropriately illustrated guide to getting started with this popular free software. Ruby newcomers may wish for a few more how-to steps or code examples. But the counter argument is, if you’re brand-new to Ruby, save Sinatra for later; focus on getting learning Ruby first. 

Darren Jones does not buy into a common assessment that’s often heard when developers are asked their views of Rails vs. Sinatra. “Opinions abound that Sinatra can only be used for small applications or simple APIs, but this simply isn’t true,” he argues. “”While it is a perfect fit for these tasks, Sinatra also scales impressively, demonstrated by the fact that it’s been used to power some big production sites.”

Some of those “big production sites,” according to Wikipedia, include such notables as Apple, LinkedIn, the BBC, the British government, Heroku, and GitHub.

Si Dunn

Killer UX Design – How to create compelling, user-centered interfaces – #bookreview

Killer UX Design
Jodie Moule
(SitePoint – paperback, Kindle)

The overused term “killer app” tends to kill my curiosity about books with “killer” in the title.

Still,  “killer” title aside, Killer UX Design deserves some attention, particularly if you are struggling to create a better user experience (UX) for products, websites, services, processes, or systems. The eight chapters in this 266-page book provide a well-written “introduction to user experience design.”

The focus, in UX design, is on “understanding the behavior of the eventual users of a product, service, or system. It then seeks to explore the optimal interaction of these elements, in order to design experiences that are memorable, enjoyable, and a little bit ‘wow’,” the author says.

She is a psychologist who co-founded and directs Symplicit, an “experience design consultancy” in Australia. “With the digital and physical worlds merging more than ever before,” she says, “it is vital to understand how technology can enhance the human experience, and not cause frustration or angst at every touchpoint.”

You won’t find JavaScript functions, HTML 5 code, or other programming examples in this book, even though software engineering increasingly is a key factor in UX design. Instead, the tools of choice during initial design phases are: Post-It Notes, index cards, sheets of paper, tape, glue, hand-drawn diagrams and sketches, plus clippings from newspapers, magazines and other materials.

And, you likely will spend time talking with other members of your UX design team, plus potential users of your product, service, or system.

Some of the chapters also deal with prototyping, testing, re-testing and tweaking, and how to modify a design based on what you learn after a product, service, or system has been launched.

A key strength of Killer UX Design is how it  illustrates and explains the real-life — and seldom simple — processes and steps necessary to design an app that is both useful and easy to use.

Si Dunn

HTML5 and JavaScript Web Apps – With emphasis on the Mobile Web – #programming #bookreview

HTML5 and JavaScript Web Apps
Wesley Hales
(O’Reilly,
paperbackKindle)

Increasingly, the world of Web development is taking on a “mobile first” attitude. And for good reason. Sales of desktop and laptop computers are shrinking, while sales of mobile devices seem to be swelling into a flood.

“Consumers are on track to buy one billion HTML5-capable mobile devices in 2013,” Wesley Hales writes in his new book. “Today, half of US adults own smartphones. This comprises 150 million people, and 28% of those consider mobile their primary way of accessing the Web. The ground swell of support for HTML5 applications over native ones is here, and today’s developers are flipping their priorities to put mobile development first.”

Hales’ HTML5 and JavaScript Web Apps focuses on using HTML5, JavaScript, and the latest W3C specifications to create mobile and desktop web apps that can work on a wide range of browsers and devices.

Indeed, deciding what to support is a key point in this useful, well-focused how-to guide. Hales notes: “Unfortunately the Mobile Web isn’t write-once-run-anywhere yet. As specifications become final and features are implemented, interoperability will be achieved. In today’s world of mobile browsers, however, we don’t have a largely consistent implementation across all browsers. Even though new tablets and phones are constantly being released to achieve a consistent level of HTML5 implementation, we all know that we’re [also] stuck with supporting the older, fragmented devices for a set amount of time.”

The 156-page book straddles “the gap between the Web and the Mobile Web” but puts a lot of emphasis on developing mobile applications. Here are its nine chapters:

  1. Client-Side Architecture
  2. The Mobile Web
  3. Building for the Mobile Web
  4. The Desktop Web
  5. WebSockets
  6. Optimizing with Web Storage
  7. Geolocation
  8. Device Orientation API
  9. Web Workers

This is not a book for JavaScript, HTML, or CSS beginners. But if you have at least some basic experience with Web application development, Hales can help you get on track toward becoming a Mobile Web guru. Meanwhile, if you are already well-versed in the ways of the Web app world, you may still learn some new and useful things from HTML5 and JavaScript Web Apps.

Si Dunn

JavaScript as Compilation Target: ClojureScript and Dart – #programming #bookreview

Despite its widespread success, JavaScript has a reputation for being a computer language with many flaws. Still, it is now everywhere on the planet, so it is here to stay, very likely for a long, long time.

Not surprisingly, several new languages have emerged that jump over some of JavaScript’s hurdles, offer improved capabilities, and also compile to optimized JavaScript code.

Two of these languages are the focus of noteworthy new “Up and Running” books from O’Reilly: ClojureScript: Up and Running and Dart: Up and Running.

Here are short reviews of each book:

ClojureScript: Up and Running
Stuart Sierra and Luke VanderHart
(O’Reilly, paperback, Kindle)

ClojureScript, the authors contend, “provides developers with a language that is more powerful than JavaScript, which can reach all the same places JavaScript can, with fewer of JavaScript’s shortcomings.”

The primary targets of ClojureScript are “web browser applications, but it is also applicable to any environment where JavaScript is the only programmable technology available,” they add.

“ClojureScript is more than Clojure syntax layered on top of JavaScript: it supports the full semantics of the Clojure language, including immutable data structures, lazy sequences, first-class functions, and macros,” they emphasize.

Their 100-page book focuses on how to use ClojureScript’s features, starting at the “Hello world” level and gradually advancing to “Development Process and Workflow” and “Integrating with Clojure.” (ClojureScript is designed for building client-side applications, but it can be merged with Clojure on the JVM to create client-server applications.)

Early in the book, they also describe how to compile a ClojureScript file to JavaScript and emit code “that is fully compatible with the Advanced Optimizations mode of the Google Closure Compiler.”

The two writers are Clojure/ClojureScript developers with a previous book to their credit.

ClojureScript: Up and Running is written well and appropriately illustrated with code samples, flow charts, and other diagrams. The authors recommend using the Leiningen build system for Clojure, plus the lein-cljsbuild plug-in for ClojureScript.

Their book is a smooth introduction to ClojureScript that requires no prior knowledge of Clojure. But you do need a basic working knowledge of JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and the Document Object Model (DOM).

#

Dart: Up and Running
Kathy Walrath and Seth Ladd
(O’Reilly, paperback, Kindle)

Google created Dart to be “an open-source, batteries-included developer platform for building structured HTML5 web apps,” the two authors note.

Dart provides not only a new language, but libraries, an editor, a virtual machine (VM), a browser that can run Dart apps natively, and a compiler to JavaScript.”

Indeed, Dart looks very similar to JavaScript and is “easy to learn,” the two writers state. “A wide range of developers can learn Dart quickly. It’s an object-oriented language with classes, single inheritance, lexical scope, top-level functions, and a familiar syntax. Most developers are up and running with Dart in just a few hours.”

The authors work at Google and note that some of the software engineers who helped develop the V8 JavaScript engine that is “responsible for much of Chrome’s speed” are now “working on the Dart project.”

Dart has been designed to scale from simple scripts all the way up to complex apps, and it can run on both the client and the server.

Those who choose to code with Dart are urged to download the open-source Dart Editor tool, because it also comes with a “Dart-to-JavaScript compiler and a version of Chromium (nicknamed Dartium) that includes the Dart VM.”

Since Dart is new, the writers also urge readers to keep an eye periodically on the Dart website and on their book’s GitHub site, where code can be downloaded and errors and corrections noted.

Dart: Up and Running is a well-structured, well-written how-to book, nicely fortified with short code examples and other illustrations. While the book appears very approachable and simple, it is not for complete beginners. You should have a basic working knowledge of JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and the Document Object Model (DOM).

If you are looking for a web development language that matches JavaScript’s dynamic nature but also addresses JavaScript’s sometimes-aggravating shortcomings, consider trying Dart—with this book in hand.

Si Dunn