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Book Reviews

Submission + - Core Python Applications Programming, 3rd Edition

thatpythonguy writes: "Prentice Hall publishers bring you a new book for the intermediate Python programmer, authored by a veteran engineer, author, and trainer. The book promises to answer the question "Now what?" of the budding programmer how has learned the language and is looking for avenues to apply that knowledge!

Review Text:
Core Python Application Programming is the latest addition to a growing corpus of literature serving a growing number of Python programmers and engineers. This Prentice Hall book of 800+ pages covers some traditional areas and touches upon some new ones.

I typically do not spend much time speaking about the author of the books that I review; however, this occasion warrants an exception! And it is not because Wesley Chun used Python over a decade ago to build the address book and spell-checker for Yahoo! Mail nor is it because he holds a minor degree in music from UC Berkeley in classical piano. Rather, it is because he is both an engineer and an instructor. In other words, he was not pulled from his geek duties and asked to become a pseudo-writer; he already does that for his consulting practice, authoring (or co-authoring) several books and articles on Python (including "Python Web Development with Django") as well as starring in his own training video (entitled "Python Fundamentals"). The result of that experience is a writing style that is technically sound, yet accessible.

The book followed the normal evolutionary path of other books in its class. It started out as the second part of "Core Python Programming" and ended up being split into its own volume in its third edition. The first part became "Core Python Language Fundamentals" which covers the core language. This volume covers the natural successor topics of "now what?" that the first raises: the use of Python in various applications. It is for this reason that the book recommends that the reader be an intermediate Python programmer. I think "intermediate" here refers to anyone who has read an introductory book or followed a tutorial on the core language.

The book covers the two main lines of python development: 2.x and 3.x. Despite the slow adoption of the 3.x line due to its backward incompatibility, there are already popular third-party libraries that have been ported to that line and that occurrence will only increase moving forward. Chun does a very good job balancing the two by providing concurrent examples (i.e., code snippets) in both flavours. He also has numerous references and side notes indicating that certain features/libraries are only available for certain versions of the language.

There are three parts to the book: General Application Topics, Web Development, Supplemental/Experimental. The first includes the usual dosage of general chapters including regular expressions (regex), network programming (including an intro to the Twisted framework), Internet client programming, threading and multi-processing, GUI, and databases (including a taste of NoSQL). It is peculiar that it also includes chapters on Microsoft Office programming and writing Python extensions which are not general in my opinion. It is probably because these two chapters do not fit anywhere else! The second part is probably the core of Chun's own experience as he is a self-described "web guy". He certainly goes into details in that domain covering web clients/servers (yes, he writes a small web server!), general web programming (i.e., CGI and WSGI), the Django framework, cloud computing (mostly Google App Engine; GAE), and web services. Finally, the last part has two chapters on text processing and miscellaneous topics (basically, Jython and Google+). I find the naming of the text processing chapter rather poor given that it is about processing comma-separated values (CSV), JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), and Extensible Markup Language (XML). Arguably, "text processing" is more descriptive of regex, transcoding, and Unicode! Two appendices at the end of the book provide some background and a guide to Python 3.x migration.

Chun spends some time delving into a problem domain in addition to providing the Python solution. For example, he describes the regular expression syntax in detail and spends time explaining the client-server architecture using real-life analogies to drive his points home. His code examples are well-structured, object-oriented solutions that range from the demonstrative to the practical. For example, in the Django chapter, he builds a practical Twitter application that uses third-party libraries and some advanced features. However, do not expect a cookbook-style coverage nor production-ready code from a book of this nature. Do expect many exercises with partial solutions at the end of the book.

I find Chun's approach to be pedagogically sound. His ideas flow logically from one to the next, incrementally building a story-like chain of problems and Python solutions. He highlights architectural patterns that are shared by disparate problem domains (e.g., the event-driven nature of SocketServer and Tkinter), leading to a better understanding of both. However, he does leave out many topics from his coverage for applications in compression, cryptography, and date handling (among others). Maybe he considers these to be ancillary or simple enough to be looked up in Python's own standard library documentation. Also, as a Developer Advocate for Google, it is not surprising to see him cover the GAE in depth. Specifically, I think for anyone who is interested in running Django on the GAE, he can be an excellent (and accessible, by his own admission) resource. Google him (no pun intended!) to see his presentation on "porting" Django applications to the GAE.

Finally, the book is aesthetically type-set and is well-structured. I think that it has a wealth of well-written information that cover key areas of Python application development that will be useful to a broad spectrum of readers.

Ahmed Al-Saadi is a software consultant based in Montreal, Canada. He mainly speaks Python, Erlang, and Objective-C these days."
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Core Python Applications Programming, 3rd Edition

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