Andre Carregal writes "In the second edition of Programming in Lua Roberto Ierusalimschy presents the Lua programming Language in a simple yet precise format for both novice and advanced programmers." Read the rest of Andre's review.
|Programming in Lua, 2nd Edition|
|publisher||Lua.Org; 2nd edition (March 5, 2006)|
|summary||Shows how Lua is the language of choice for anyone who needs a scripting language that is simple, efficient, extensible, portable, and free.|
The Lua programming language has been around for more than 10 years, but only recently has it started to appear on the mainstream radar screens. It has evolved from a simple scripting language to a full-fledged solution for scripting and embedding. Lua is portable, fast and small, and the language of choice for applications as diverse as games, Web sites and robot controllers as the Lua Users Wiki and LuaForge will confirm.
Lua portability can be shown by the long list of operating systems it runs on, which includes not only Windows and Linux, but also small systems and mobile devices. The memory and CPU requirements for the runtime are really low, and Lua has been used in environments that most other scripting options would not dare go into.
One of the milestones of the history of Lua has been the release of the book Programming in Lua (a.k.a "PiL"), by Roberto Ierusalimschy, in 2003. This review is about the second edition of Programming in Lua, a.k.a. the "Blue PiL" due to the color of its cover.
Lua is free software and can be obtained from its site (www.lua.org). There you will also find the reference manual of the language and the full contents of the first edition of Programming in Lua.
As a disclaimer, let me say that I'm one of the technical reviewers of the book and I have been working with Lua since 1993, most of the time interacting with Roberto Ierusalimschy, even when not working in the same projects as him.
The second edition manages to surpass an already good book in various aspects. The "Blue PiL" presents not only the language itself, but also gives an excellent view of how one could see Lua as the foundation of solid scripting techniques. The original Programming in Lua was focused on Lua 5.0, while the second edition focuses on Lua 5.1. While the differences between Lua 5.0 and 5.1 are not radical, the newer version has a lot more to offer, both in terms of the modularity aspect and of language features. The second edition of Programming in Lua indicates clearly when some concept or detail relates only to a specific version of Lua, but most of the contents can be applied to both Lua versions.
Programming in Lua is oriented to both the novice programmer who wants to get a first feeling for Lua, and to the advanced Lua or C programmer who wants to use the full potential of the language. The book clearly separates the two aspects and indicates the sections that can be skipped for each reader profile. The author manages to keep a light and easily readable style during the whole book and the examples are simple and direct, making the flow of the reading quite pleasant. I can say that, even having some reasonable experience with Lua, I was surprised by a lot of details in the book. The "Blue PiL" is one of those books that you can read many times over, and each time you learn something new.
The "Blue PiL" starts with an overview of the Lua language and slowly evolves through the more advanced concepts and the features that make Lua such a unique language. Even though it's a relatively thin book, it goes from the starting concepts to the more sophisticated ones with a grace that is really rare to find. The one other book that comes to mind with an effect like this is the classical Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman, which says a lot.
The first part of the book presents the language and the basic features. In particular, concepts such as iterators, coroutines and closures are presented in a clear way, which is no small feat considering that many readers will be having contact with such concepts for the first time.
One of the strong points of Lua is its simplicity, but don't assume that this implies lack of power. An example of this balance is the table data structure, in fact the only data structure for Lua. Tables allow the construction of every other data structure (arrays, sets, bags etc) but also allows the use of sophisticated techniques such as metamethods, function environments, modules and object orientation.
In fact, instead of providing every feature one might want to use, Lua provides the meta mechanisms so you can create your own features, or use them as modules created by third parties. In order to explain the full power of these meta mechanisms the second part of the book takes the reader from the basic steps of creating a table and shows how each of the mechanisms can add features or help the usage of some advanced concepts.
As an example, the chapter on object-oriented programming not only shows how to use objects in Lua, but also how to think of objects as prototypes for other objects, and how to implement inheritance on such a model without using anything too fancy.
There are also chapters on the use of metatables (basically tables that define the behavior of other tables), the use of tables as function environments (a really powerful mechanism once understood), modules and finally weak tables. Weak tables allow the advanced use of memory resources in an automatic way, providing mechanisms for data structures that tend to be hard to implement in other languages, if even possible at all.
This slow but efficient presentation of concepts that, though complex, can be easily assimilated by the reader is a predominant aspect of Roberto's work. He is not only a skilled author but also knows how to present things in a way that a novice can grasp and an expert can master.
The third part of Programming in Lua covers all the language libraries (math, table, string, system, debug and I/O) in clear prose and shows that even with a small set of libraries Lua can pack a lot of power on a very small footprint.
Finally, the last part of the book is directed to programmers that want to use Lua to its full potential. Lua can be used as an extension language or as an embedded language, and knowing how to interact with the host language (C, C++, Java, Delphi etc.) is mandatory for that. The book presents the C API for Lua in the same progressive pace, but also manages to cover every ground needed so one can add Lua to a project without much pain, if any.
One important thing to note about the book is that it follows the same philosophy that guides the language, showing that simplicity and lightness has nothing to do with lack of power or coverage.
I really recommend this book to anyone interested in learning Lua, and also for those who already know how to use Lua but would like to fully master its way of thinking, the so called "Lua way" of doing things. The book has been considered by many as an excellent guide on programming, even if one is not interested in Lua in particular."
You can purchase Programming in Lua, 2nd Edition from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.