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Book Review: Automate with Grunt — The Build Tool for JavaScript

Automate with Grunt is an excellent book on how to automate your workflow using Grunt, JavaScript’s task runner. Brian P. Hogan has written a lightweight book that is heavy on the content you need, stripping away all of the unnecessary text, and getting right to the heart of the matter: ways to use Grunt.

I appreciate how he started the book with the basics of using Grunt – creating tasks, expanding tasks to accept inputs and have one or more outputs, chaining and multitasks, manipulating files on the file system – before moving on to more complex automation exercises. Brian then introduces how to utilize Grunt to execute a real-life workflow scenario, with all of the considerations that must be made when doing so. He finishes up with building Plug-ins with Grunt and, taking things a step further, creating project scaffolds to take care of the mundane setup associated with a new project.

All of the Examples Brian uses are practical and apply to things that developers face daily in their jobs and careers. I liked that he introduced Bower into the examples early on, as this is a commonly used package manager for web sites and applications. And though I am not a fan of CoffeeScript, it was easy to ignore that fact when it was introduced, as it did show the true power and potential of Grunt as an automation tool.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is new to Grunt and just starting to learn it, or anyone who wants to take their Grunt task runner to the next level in the automation needs of their web projects.

***** (5 stars)

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Book Review: Building the Realtime User Experience

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

The Web is moving ever faster towards sites that give users what they want, not when they load or refresh pages, but rather in real time. Understanding how this works and how to leverage it on your own site so that it is useful to the user is important knowledge any developer should have. In his book, Building the Realtime User Experience, Ted Roden does just that.

Building the Realtime User Experience breaks down the technologies that make the most sense for a developer to deliver to the user in realtime such as syndication and instant messaging, for instance. One thing the book does that I appreciate is it presents the examples found throughout using different languages, applying the most practical language for a give scenario or toolkit. Doing this does not make understanding the examples very difficult, however, and any developer with reasonable coding skills should be able to follow along in any language without difficulty.

The first chapter gives an introduction into what “realtime” means in terms of the Web and development and lays out the languages the examples will use. From Chapter 2 on, the book jumps right into the different technologies that present well in a realtime format starting with syndication. Roden focuses on two technologies for syndication, Simple Update Protocol (SUP) and PubSubHubbub, giving each protocol pretty much equal treatment, leaving it for the reader to decide which protocol to implement. Chapter 3 discusses how to implement widgets that will display realtime on a web page, using Twitter and FriendFeed as examples. What was of more use was the discussion in Chapter 4 on server-side “push” technologies, and the transition into Chapter 5, which introduces the reader to Tornado – an excellent chapter that shows through example how to get Tornado running and in use on a site.

The next three chapters deal with chat, instant messaging, and SMS respectively. In each chapter, Roden gives examples on how to build an application around these technologies, which a web environment can then utilize. The chat application built throughout Chapter 6 is quite robust, as is the instant messaging client/server created in Chapter 7. Chapter 8 then extends the instant messaging service by integrating SMS into it.

I found Chapter 9 to be an interesting chapter, but it differs from the rest of the book in that it focuses on what a developer can do with analytics to view a site from an administrative point of view in realtime, instead of focusing on delivering something realtime to the end user. The examples yielded some interesting concepts and left me considering all of the possibilities for back-end development that I more often than not neglect or even disregard in my own development. Of all the chapters in the book, I think this one is the one I am most thankful Roden took the time to write. Roden finishes the book with a “Putting It All Together” chapter that takes the different applications built throughout the preceding chapters and mashes them together into a realtime game that could be pretty fun with a group of friends.

Overall, Building the Realtime User Experience is a terrific introduction into the realtime Web, and shows the reader just some of the technologies that may work well on a site. The examples are thorough and yield robust applications that are tweakable and integrate into existing sites. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in developing applications or widgets for their site that work in a realtime manner.

***** (5 stars)

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Book Review: Even Faster Web Sites

August 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Today’s Web developer knows that the speed of one’s site is an important measure to its overall success, and Steve Souders’ previous book, High Performance Web Sites (O’Reilly), laid out what seemed to be every way to achieve good performance gains without the sacrifice of functionality or aesthetics. When I began reading Souders’ Even Faster Web Sites, I therefore wondered how he could possibly demonstrate fresh ways to achieve performance gains without regurgitating the content of his previous book. What I discovered as I read Even Faster Web Sites was it presented all new best practices for making your web sites “leaner and meaner” without repeating the content of his last book.

Even Faster Web Sites takes the latest techniques available to developers and organizes them into three performance areas: JavaScript, network, and browser. Though I believe Souder knows what he is talking about regarding web site performance, I found it refreshing this time around that he had the contributions of other experts in the field to give their ideas on performance gains in these areas.

I thought the chapters on JavaScript, especially those discussing Ajax and asynchronous techniques, were well written and gave good, new best practices to trim time off the loading of content on a site.  I also appreciated the chapter dealing with Comet, as these technologies are surely a driving force for future web applications, and having best practices early in their development will only help their progress.  Of the two chapters on browser performance, I found the honesty of the discussion on the downsides of using iframes most helpful, especially when their use was discussed as a viable technique for improving performance early in the book.  I did find the chapter on CSS selectors extremely useful for analyzing where slowdowns in styling may exist based on browser implementation.  The chapters on network performance gave a good background on common hindrances such as connection limits and poor image choices, but also walked through what I felt were performance gains that can be made through less utilized techniques like chunked encoding and better compression.

Souder finished this book with an Appendix on performance tools that can be used to help in the improvement of a web site, which I found to be immensely helpful.  While many tools he listed are well known to developers, there are some I was unaware of and began making use of immediately on my own sites.

Even Faster Web Sites is an excellent follow-up to High Performance Web Sites, giving new best practices for making your web sites even faster.  As I see it, even hundredths of a second begin to add up when you put all of these techniques together, and most of the techniques presented in this book are practical for any web site being developed.  I would recommend this book to any developer looking for ways to improve the performance of his web site, as Souder has certainly demonstrated his knowledge and expertise on improving the speed of a site.

***** (5 stars)

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