This book serves an important function by providing progressive, useful examples of Django's role in the development of realistic projects. During the course of the tutorial you build three basic apps: A simple brochureware-oriented CMS, a complete blogging system (with Akismet spam protection and RSS feeds, among other features), and a social code-sharing site similar to that found at djangosnippets.org (with account signups, syntax highlighting via pygments, and bookmarking features — the whole enchilada). You may or may not find these projects
immediately relevant to your work or goals, but the projects themselves are really just platforms for delving into Django's nooks and general philosophy. It's an important point to make about the book especially, because though Django itself provides potent facilities for creating reusable code while preserving a high degree of flexibility, "magic" is kept to a minimum compared to some other popular frameworks. It follows that maximizing your knowledge of Django's inner workings through familiar paradigms is critical to making the framework perform to your best advantage. The book excels at accomplishing this goal.
Along these lines, a lot of territory is covered in a short span. You're introduced to a couple of Django's contrib apps — code which comes with a normal Django installation and which cleanly plugs into your own application while remaining extremely customizable. After being ushered through a straightforward installation and database configuration, your first exposure to development is through the contrib app most frequently lauded in the Djangoverse, Django's deservedly well known admin system. But immediately, emphasis is shifted from the basic features of the system to the ways it can be customized. This approach of introducing a feature and then modifying or extending it is repeated immediately with Django's Flatpages contrib app, a very basic CMS which, again, comes with Django and installs with a single line of code and one command.
The strongest feature of the book, though, is not the speed or facility with which features are presented, but rather the way these features are always demonstrated with a mind to Django's strongest argument: how easy it is to create reusable code, once you understand the framework's approach. As you move through the next four chapters of building the blogging system, the establish-modify-extend technique of presentation does a good job of working you through various standard Django features — generic views (a very important concept which is illuminated nicely), code organization, ORM techniques, template inheritance, and so forth — and you're smoothly shown the ways by which you will be able to incorporate much of the code you write into your future work. As you begin your last project, the code-sharing app, you've gotten an overview of both coding and workflow techniques which work best with Django. The final chapters reinforce everything you've learned while still introducing new material on library integration, form handling and the newforms library, and code distribution.
The overall approach is very effective, though I found I had to trust the tutorial a little at first in order to get the most out of it. The projects initially seemed somewhat vanilla, so it wasn't until I really focused on the organization of the material that I discovered the book's strengths. Now I wish I'd had this book years ago.
Issues? I had only one, really. The material presents itself as a tutorial suitable for those who are just starting out with Python. For example, near the beginning of the material the def keywork is pointed out as the way Python functions are declared, and similar kinds of notes and comments pepper the tutorial, somewhat unevenly, as well. While I appreciate the impulse to make the material as accessible as possible, I'm skeptical of the book's role as truly introductory at that level, although I could see some experienced developers, especially those coming from other languages, benefiting from these quick notes. But my feeling in general would be that if you're so new to Python that the def keyword is a revelation, you might be better off starting elsewhere before you dive into Django.
This is a minor point, though, and if you're willing to give the material the time, you'll appreciate what Django has to offer more and more with every page. The book maintains a brisk pace which I truly appreciated. And if you've struggled with Django in the past, or you've wanted to learn more about what to do beyond getting the admin running, "Practical Django Projects" is an excellent foundation for your Django education. I absolutely recommend this as the Django book I've found to be, by far, the most useful.
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