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Book:   Ajax on Rails
Subject:   Sharpens your Ajax and Rails skills
Date:   2007-01-24 06:26:28
From:   Brian DeLacey
Rating:  StarStarStarStarStar

Scott Raymond’s book “Ajax on Rails” (published Jan 2007) serves as an introduction, tutorial, and reference for web development using Ajax and Rails. It is roughly 1/3 introductory and intermediate level text; 1/3 more advanced material for developing “Ajax on Rails” applications; and 1/3 sample - life-sized - applications. (The sample applications can be downloaded from the O'Reilly site.)

The author writes that Ajax is "a really simple idea: web pages, already loaded in a browser, can talk with the server and potentially change themselves as a result." [p. 2] Along with its simplicity and elegance, there has been a bit of mystery surrounding Ajax and how it works. The author does a great job exploring the basics. You will quickly get all the motivation needed to realize why this simple idea is so powerful in practice. You’ll also soon see why “Ajax on Rails” is a productive approach for developing next generation applications on the web.

One of the real strengths of this book is its many working examples. I found even tricky techniques described in ways that were easy to understand. As I read the book, I entered sample code described on each page. (Having a working Rails installation is key for getting the most out of the book. The author provides a quick installation introduction which is supplemented with URLs for added help.) It was easy to apply “Ajax on Rails” techniques to my own project, which I worked on in parallel as I read the book.

The centerpiece of the book is Chapter 5, which covers RJS (also known as Ruby-generated Javascript.) Here is where Ajax and Rails work especially closely together. I expected to learn about Ajax, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned about the magic of Rails and Ruby development! The author's coverage of Prototype and shows how to create visually appealing Rails applications with Ajax. A number of critical technical topics, often overlooked, are also covered - including ‘Usability’, 'Testing and Debugging', 'Performance' and 'Security'.

The author does a great job taking the reader from simple working examples to more complex applications. I certainly felt more comfortable with advanced aspects of Ajax and Rails by the end of the book. It seems to me this is the definitive text on the topic.

“Ajax on Rails" has been a joy to read and work through. Once I got started with this book, I didn't want to put it down because it was so easy to see the results and mark your learning progress along the way. The material is organized clearly. The writing moves at a great pace. Sample code explores how everything works. (I expect I’ll be referring back to the extensive examples in the future.) This book is a great tool to sharpen your skills around two of the most exciting aspects of the evolving web - Ajax and Rails.