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The Ruby Way 81

Tim Hunter writes "Hal Fulton's The Ruby Way, Second Edition doesn't try to be the only book a Ruby programmer needs. It tries to be a book every serious Ruby programmer needs, and it succeeds. The Ruby Way is a book about programming with Ruby, the object-oriented programming language from Japan. Ruby is free software and runs on Linux, Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X, and other operating systems. It is available for download from its web site, www.ruby-lang.org or its companion site www.rubyforge.org. Read the rest of Tim's review.
The Ruby Way, Second Edition
author Hal Fulton
pages 839
publisher Addison-Wesley
rating 9
reviewer Tim Hunter
ISBN 0-672-32884-4
summary A task-oriented book about the Ruby programming language

I read the first edition of The Ruby Way when it was published in 2002, not long after I starting programming in Ruby. I was a member of the discussion group Fulton organized during the writing of this edition. I am also the author of RMagick, one of the libraries described in this book, and did the technical review of that section.

This is a review of the second edition of The Ruby Way. The first edition described the then-current Ruby syntax and libraries and showed novice Ruby programmers how to perform common programming tasks. In the past four years Ruby has evolved and its community has grown immensely. Consequently, the first edition was starting to look a little long in the tooth and the Ruby community has been eager for the appearance of a new edition. This edition is almost a complete rewrite. Saying that it's 260 pages longer minimizes the actual scope of the changes. There are a dozen new chapters. Some of the new material expands on topics that were present in the older work, like regular expressions and data structures. However, much of the new material covers topics that simply didn't exist 4 years ago, such as Ruby's XML and RSS libraries, RubyGems (Ruby's answer to CPAN), and Rake, the Ruby version of make.

The Ruby Way doesn't try to teach how to program in Ruby. For that, you need Dave Thomas' Programming Ruby: The Pragmatic Programmer's Guide or a similar book. The goal of The Ruby Way is nothing less than describing the universe around the Ruby programming language. In one 800+ page volume, it describes Ruby's design principles, history, syntax, built-in classes, standard libraries, 3rd-party add-on libraries, related development tools, and user community. The examples and Fulton's explanations emphasize Ruby programming best practices, hence the title.

Fulton describes The Ruby Way as an "inverted reference." A typical reference book for a programming language lists the libraries, classes and methods by name, which you can use to discover their purpose. The Ruby Way, on the other hand, groups Ruby's libraries, classes and methods by purpose, from which you can discover their names. Section titles tend to describe tasks, such as "Tokenizing a String" and "Interacting with an IMAP Server". The sections then describe the split method in the String class and the net/imap library, respectively. Several chapters group Ruby libraries by related tasks. For example, Chapter 15 describes Ruby libraries used to process specialized data formats such as XML, RSS, images, and PDF. In this chapter you will learn that XML processing in Ruby is typically done with REXML and that PDF files can be created with PDF::Writer, etc. Organizing topics by purpose or function instead of by name makes it easy to discover what parts of Ruby you need to complete a task.

Unlike many of the 2-inch thick books about programming for sale lately, there is no fat in The Ruby Way. It hits the ground running with an introduction to object oriented programming and a whirlwind tour of Ruby syntax. It covers Ruby's built-in classes in considerable depth. The String class gets an entire chapter, as do regular expressions. Array and Hash rate yet another chapter. Fulton continues with an in-depth survey of Ruby's extensive standard library. Interested in object persistence? Chapter 10 describes Ruby's YAML library. Wondering about unit testing? Go to Chapter 16 to read about the Test::Unit library. One of the most frequently asked questions to the ruby-lang mailing list is "what GUI libraries are there for Ruby?" Chapter 12 supplies sample applications that demonstrate graphical interface libraries such as Ruby/Tk, FXRuby, and QtRuby. Chapter 19 is dedicated to web application development tools ranging from the famous Ruby on Rails to the lesser-known but equally useful Nitro. Chapter 22, "The Ruby Community," tells where other Ruby programmers hang out. Catering to his programmer audience, Fulton peppers each section with code snippets and complete example programs. (The source code for the book can be downloaded from Fulton's web page.)

Although Ruby is thought to be a "Linux-centric" language it also has a large audience in the Microsoft Windows community. Fulton addresses these users' needs with a description of the "One-Click Ruby Installer" for Windows. This description is accompanied by a section about the Ruby libraries available for scripting on Windows. For example, Fulton shows how to open a file dialog box using the Win32OLE library.

Fulton says that he doesn't expect anybody to read his book from front-to-back. Nevertheless The Ruby Way is quite readable and (if not for its considerable weight) would make a good book for browsing while waiting for the bus, or between classes. Some sections contain a surprising amount of general background information, such as the remarkably in-depth description of Unicode in Chapter 4. Not content to simply educate the reader, Fulton continues his practice in the 1st edition of entertaining the reader with thoughtfully chosen quotes, geek humor, and personal observations.

Is there anything not to like about this book? Well, to be perfectly honest I occasionally found myself wondering if sometimes Fulton spread himself too thin. The amount of coverage for individual classes and libraries varies widely. Some of the standard libraries, like REXML, get several pages of description and an accompanying example while others, such as open-uri, get only a cursory introduction and a pointer to the on-line documentation. At 4 pages, the section on Rails is perfunctory and, given the number of very good books already available on the subject, redundant. (Fulton himself says the material is "cursory.") I have to wonder if it isn't there simply because "everybody" expects books about Ruby to say something about Rails. Similarly he devotes a single page to ActiveRecord, which, as a part of Ruby on Rails, is capably documented elsewhere. That page would've been better used to double the number of pages spent on Og, another Ruby ORM which is not so richly documented.

I recommend this book to any programmer who has already learned the basics of Ruby syntax and its built in classes and who wants to learn more about using Ruby to accomplish typical programming tasks. While it will be particularly useful to the novice Ruby programmer, it is a handy reference for Rubyists at any level of experience.

You can purchase The Ruby Way, Second 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.
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The Ruby Way

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  • by Zarniwoop_Editor ( 791568 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @02:11PM (#16771383) Homepage
    I only became aware of Ruby and Rails a few short weeks ago. Since then I have already built my first Ruby/Rails website http://www.f1newstoday.com/ [f1newstoday.com] and it was the most enjoyable experience I've had for some time. The site seems to perform well so far and developing it with Rails was very very quick and easy.

    Sure, It's a shameless plug for my site but I'm just so jazzed about Ruby and Rails lately I just had to share.

    • Sure, It's a shameless plug for my site but I'm just so jazzed about Ruby and Rails lately I just had to share.
      <b>F1:</b> Nakajima Jr. Lands Williams


    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Shohat ( 959481 )
      You just plugged an automated MFA(Made for adsense) site into Slashdot. Congratulations. Moreover J Mark, your hosting company,Superb Internet - doesn't offer Ruby, that is unless you get a dedicated server of course. I think you are a liar.
      • by rhizome ( 115711 )
        Moreover J Mark, your hosting company,Superb Internet - doesn't offer Ruby, that is unless you get a dedicated server of course. I think you are a liar.


        I think the best part is the logo with the shadow and reflection. It's like he can't decide between Web 1.0 bubble or Web 2.0 bubble! Use them both!
        • I think the best part is the logo with the shadow and reflection. It's like he can't decide between Web 1.0 bubble or Web 2.0 bubble! Use them both!

          Actually, it's the output from one of the GIMP's logo scripts - they're instantly recognisable after a while. ;-)

          The good news is that he doesn't have an index.php [f1newstoday.com], unlike certain other sites [rubyonrails.org]...
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by misleb ( 129952 )
            The good news is that he doesn't have an index.php [f1newstoday.com], unlike certain other sites [rubyonrails.org]...

            Please note that rails is a framework intended for web applications, not web sites with small bits of dynamic content. So it isn't necessarily damning that the Rails website is written in PHP. Use the right tool for the job. For simple, dynamic content PHP works just fine where Rail would be overkill.

      • by Zarniwoop_Editor ( 791568 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @03:31PM (#16773117) Homepage
        I assume you are accusing me of lying about the site being ruby/rails based?
        It's hosted on their cheapest dedicated server ($59), running freebsd, apache with fast-cgi and ruby / rails.
        Wasn't really interested in getting involved in a flame war.
        Best to be sure of your facts before calling someone a liar.
        You are however entitled to your opinion. Truth is I'm really enjoying playing with ruby/rails.
        • by Shohat ( 959481 )
          I sincerely apologize for calling you a liar. You know , I looked at the packages on the hosting company, haven't seen a .rb file, and it's MFA, so I (probably) made a bad call.
          • Fair enough. I know the site looks like crap so I can see why you might have come to the conclusion you did. Truth is I'm a coder not a designer, I can't build anything that looks good but the whole site took about 2 hours to build in rails and I'm just kinda impressed at how easy ruby/rails makes building a db driven website.
    • Here's our Rails site: getindi [getindi.com]. Even uses RJS for those thingies in the sidebar, good times. On the backend, Apache 2.2 + mongrel_cluster + PostgreSQL. Good times...
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by HeroreV ( 869368 )
        Good Times!
        Any time you meet a payment.
        Good Times!
        Any time you need a friend.
        Good Times!
        Any time you're out from under.

        Not getting hastled, not getting hustled.
        Keepin' your head above water,
        Making a wave when you can.

        Temporary lay offs.
        Good Times!
        Easy credit rip offs.
        Good Times!
        Scratchin' and surviving.
        Good Times!
        Hangin in a chow line
        Good Times!
        Ain't we lucky we got 'em
        Good Times!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @02:16PM (#16771477)
    My god do we love Ruby here in our company. We've been slowly dumping all of our old and messy Perl scripts and replacing them with Ruby versions.

    Such a nice clean feeling. There were a few Perl specific libraries that held up the process, but the Ruby libraries have rapidly come of age and I don't know of anything now that would keep someone from completely migrating from Perl to Ruby.

    I just cringe when I come across Perl code these days.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by archen ( 447353 )
      Ruby at it's core is a nice language. I started migrating from Perl (after deciding I didn't like Perl6) about 2 years ago. I just recently became serious about it within the last few months. I think at this point Ruby's main weakness is in it's libraries. I came up with some deficiencies in dbi, but mostly got it working.

      Then I started working with cgi.rb . Didn't have any problems until I tried uploading files. What kind of data do you get back? That sort of depends on if your script receives a GET
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by thejrwr ( 1024073 )
        it's new and needs more people onboard thats all
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by chromatic ( 9471 )

          A language that came out slightly before Java did is new?

        • Wulfram 2 -- Free Online 3D game

          I've never understood why this sort of game goes out of its way to use unreadable fonts just to acheive a "look."

      • by miletus ( 552448 )
        Reading stuff like this is why I'm still sticking with Perl. Sure, it has a syntax which is easy to abuse, but give up CPAN? Not yet.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by misleb ( 129952 )

        Ruby has a lot of work in the library department, and a HELL of a lot of work in the documentation department.

        I never really understood the documentation complaint about Ruby (I use Rails, mostly). Most everything I need to know about the core libs is in http://www.ruby-doc.org/ [ruby-doc.org] and http://api.rubyonrails.com/ [rubyonrails.com] is nearly complete. It is no worse than the PHP online documentation. Actually, it is better. I find RDoc much faster to search (CTRL-F). And you can get the first edition of the book, Programming R

        • by archen ( 447353 )
          And that's half the problem. Everything documentation-wise you dig up on the web is RAILS centric. And "no worse than PHP" does not make it good. Look at the cgi documentation again (as I'm WELL versed in that example now). You have "how to get a variable", and how to "upload a file". Notice how they don't present you with any examples of textfields AND a file at the same time? I don't need to know how ruby works, I already know that - but I'm finding myself digging through the source code of these li
    • by ShOOf ( 201960 )
      There were a few Perl specific libraries that held up the process, but the Ruby libraries have rapidly come of age and I don't know of anything now that would keep someone from completely migrating from Perl to Ruby.

      Ruby isn't thread aware, and for anyone trying to host several websites built in Ruby and having to spawn several FastCGI or Mongrels processes per website just so more than one person can access it at the same time. Then you will understand why Ruby still has a ways to go, untill Ruby becomes
  • Ruby Seems ALOT like Perl, Atlest to me, anyway lets hope this doesnt flop like other projects in the OSS wild
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sammy baby ( 14909 )
      Perl and Ruby have a lot in common, but they also have some extremely big differences. Probably the biggest is that Ruby is a real, honest to god Object Oriented Language. Perl ain't - it's object support is essentially bolted on. Good if you're not a big fan of objects, bad if you're not.

      For a better list of differences/similarities, try here [ruby-lang.org].
      • by Decaff ( 42676 )
        How is Ruby bad if you aren't a fan of objects? You don't have to use it in an OOP manner; you can code procedurally (although that would be a real waste of its capabilities).
        • Well... honestly, I don't know. I hadn't thought about it. I like objects. :)

          I guess what I meant was, "Good if you're a fan of objects, whatever if you're not."
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Cafe Alpha ( 891670 )
      I think of Ruby as being more like common-lisp, without the horrible, unreadable S-expression syntax (good as that is for automated code analysis, it's hell on humans). It does have regular expressions though, which I suppose seems familiar to Perl programmers.
      • ..it's hell on humans

        It's hell on some humans. And S-Expressions is not only for automated code analasys, it's syntax very easy (grammar has only few rules) and easy to understand for humans. When I come back to Lisp I never wonder how to write statemens, forms etc.

        Basically programmers gave up Lisp not because of syntax, but because they aren't eager to learn new ways of programming. Lisp introduces many concepts weird for avarage programmer used to imperative languages.

        • Sexp syntax is so dead simple that it is difficult to visually parse.

          (big-wad (of stuff (wibble (blargh foo) lambda (foghat) (baz bork bork) bork ))
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Procyon101 ( 61366 )
            (of stuff
            (wibble (blargh foo)
            (lambda (foghat)
            (baz bork bork)

            You were misleading by eliminating any
        • by Raenex ( 947668 )

          Basically programmers gave up Lisp not because of syntax, but because they aren't eager to learn new ways of programming.

          Don't discount the syntax issue. When your average programmer has been ingrained with years of Algol-like syntax, coming to Lisp is not easy. And yes, the overload of parenthesis can make the language harder to read, because there are fewer cues to pick up on. Consider that humans work by visually scanning and picking out noticable features: Preattentive Processing [ncsu.edu]

          Don't just ta

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by JerkBoB ( 7130 )
      Ruby Seems ALOT like Perl, Atlest to me, anyway lets hope this doesnt flop like other projects in the OSS wild

      Umm... Ruby has been around for a decade. It's huge in Japan, where it was created. It has gained prominence here in the West because of Rails, but it's a great general-purpose language.

      As for its similarities with Perl, I describe Ruby as the lovechild of Perl/Smalltalk. I've made some good money hacking in Perl, but after having discovered Ruby two years ago Perl is just painful to look at, mu
    • Re:Ruby! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Enahs ( 1606 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @02:51PM (#16772143) Journal
      I think once YARV is ready for general consumption, it'll take off like wildfire. They're doing a lot of cleanup, and it'll be considerably faster than the current Ruby.

      Once you look beyond Rails, you find it's a great language. Whether it'll overtake Perl and/or Python remains to be seen, but for what little scripting I do on a regular basis, I'd die if I had to use anything other than Ruby.
      • by misleb ( 129952 )
        I think once YARV is ready for general consumption, it'll take off like wildfire.

        Good luck on that. As far as I can tell, YARV has been all but dead the last few months. I've had the svn repo checked out and have seen very little activity. Very discouraging. I've had to give up using Ruby for a couple projects because of serious performance issues compared to, say, Python. And that is too bad because I can't say I care much for Python.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Cafe Alpha ( 891670 )
        There are alternatives.

        I'm starting a project adapting the strongtalk vm [strongtalk.org] to Ruby.

        The strongtalk vm is based a very sophisticated new technique called type-feedback, where statistics are taken on the program while it runs, and inlining, specialization and other optimization take placed based on what types are seen to be the common cases in running code.

        Probably the most exotic thing the VM does deoptimize running code (for debugging and when the definitions of classes change in a way that invalidates the opt
      • by Hao Wu ( 652581 )
        I pray that RUBY will take hold. I pray directly to God, swear blood in oath with my brothers and sons, we must try every thing capable to make it so.

        A man with out RUBY is like a teenage waste-land.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Ok I know no one is actually going to discuss the book and just discuss Ruby so I'll partake!

      I'm going to come out and say it. Ruby is a badass language. Forget Rails. Ruby isn't Rails. Ruby was badass way before Rails ever became popular. It's nice to see a usable, clean language that truly is 100% object oriented. So many other languages claim to be object oriented but are actually a hybrid language (Java, Python, C#). The fact that Ruby's creator had enough insight to weave regular expressions right i
  • by Peter Cooper ( 660482 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @02:53PM (#16772211) Homepage Journal
    The reviewer is right, it's a good book. It has a few inaccuracies (confusing a TIME server with an NTP server, for example) but generally it contains hundreds of code snippets that allow anyone experienced with OOP or other dynamic languages to pick up Ruby pretty easily. As he says, it's not a 'learn Ruby' book but it could be ideal for those who want to learn without being 'told' what to do.. it's just got hundreds of code examples that are written in the clean, most acceptable Ruby style, and if you can learn from code examples, it's the best book to buy right now.

    Be warned, however, it doesn't go into much detail about things like libraries or Ruby on Rails, so it's not a bible to the whole Ruby ecosystem, but for the Ruby language by itself, it's great.
  • "Documentation". Thus spake Doc Ruby, entirely in pun.
  • I am sticking with PHP.

    It's the language of the people.


    - PHP has a million free downloadable apps (and 10 good ones).
    - PHP has thousands of built-in functions (15 of which I can consistently remember).
    - The syntax is great (compared to Perl).
    - Fixing other people's PHP code keeps me well paid (if not well laid).

    What does Ruby have?

    - Good syntax
    - Sound principles
    - A terrific vision

    What has that ever gotten anyone except shot, hanged, or crucified?
    • Like most arguments over "whose programming language is bigger," comparisons between Ruby and PHP don't take into account that PHP is meant for the web, whereas Ruby is not (although it can certainly be applied to that platform, but then any language with an output stream and the ability to read environment variables can be used for web development). I'm actually surprised to see how often people use the word "Ruby" when they really should say "Rails." I've never tried Rails, but I use Ruby maybe 2 or 3 hou
  • It seems like Ruby was supposed to take over the world two years ago. Now, I just hear about Ruby once in a while.

    Maybe Ruby is a more established language now, so it doesn't get the same hype?
  • I found it on Amazon [amazon.com] for about $26.06 US, which came to just under $30.00 including shipping.

    Yes, the second edition. :)
  • I love rails, don't get me wrong... But I think it's about time for people to see that ruby has more to offer than a great web dev framework. There's just so much! Glancing at the table of contents for this book gives you an idea :)
  • From my blog today:

    I use Ruby a lot for small database tasks (love ActiveRecord!) and for using Rails for some web applications (not with scaffolding, mostly generating controllers and writing my own code).

    That said, for a lot of what I do, Ruby is much more than an order of magnitude slower that compiled Common Lisp. I find myself still using Ruby and Java when appropriate, but for most tasks, I am going back to using Common Lisp. Better language, and the learning curve is not so bad (I have been using Lis
  • Ok.... now time for reality. Red Hat 7.2, the last releases of NCR Unix, old versions of SCO Unix, old versions of Sun OS, United Linux 1.0. You know how much work it would be to get Ruby on these machines? You know what the reaction would be if I brought Ruby programs to the admins of these machines? They would look at me like a moron. And I would be a moron for assuming they'd be able to quickly and easily install Ruby on an 8 year old OS.
  • by misleb ( 129952 )
    *shrug* Whatever. I have done Ruby work outside of Rails and I really have not had any problems with documentation except for specific libraries (usually beta stage). Maybe the CGI libraries are a special case? I don't think the documenation situation is nearly as bas as you suggest. But I guess I'm coming from the Linux world where documentation is generally lacking. Perhaps I am just used to diving into code now and then.


No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham