Peter Wayner writes: "There are 1693 books for sale at Amazon.com with the word "java" in the title and almost all of them are earnest, chipper books that promise real programmers, dummies , and nuts that learning Java is easy. Bruce Tate's, Bitter Java , is not one these books." Read on to see if you'd like to experience Bruce Tate's bitterness first hand.
Writing and reading technical books is both a pleasure and a chore. Programming computers can be great fun, but doing the job well requires almost impossible amounts of discipline, attention to detail, and pure drive. The machines churn through billions of operations per second and a mistake in just one can send everything tumbling out of control. Most authors tend to gloss over the difficulty by tossing in a spoonful of Mary Poppins because it does little good to grouse. It's just so simple and straight-forward to toss in optimistic words like "simple" and "straight-forward."
Tate's approach is looks a bit different. He wants to follow in the tradition of Frederick Brook's Mythical Man Month and talk about software development with an honest voice. Microsoft executives, Objective C devotees, and assembler lovers will be disappointed because the title is a bit misleading. He's not really bitter about Java in the way that Princess Diana was bitter about the British Royalty, he's just had a few bad experiences and he wants to help us learn from them.
In fact, he's not even writing about Java in the general sense. The book concentrates on the problems that often arise with most popular and complicated applications for the technology like servlets and enterprise Java beans. If you're building a web site based on Java, then you might want to read through this book.
The structure itself is devoted to uncovering antipatterns , a term Tate uses because it plays off the way that Sun offered Java patterns to help programmers use the new tools efficiently. Most of the chapters show the wrong way to build something and then show how to correct it.
Chapter 8, for instance, demonstrates a bulletin board that seems to be well-designed on the surface. The parts of the data structure are broken up into suitable objects and every object comes with a collection of methods that act as gatekeepers for the data inside the object. It all looks elegant, but it performs badly especially on large installations when the objects live on different servers. Suddenly, all of the extra well-meaning object-oriented engineering starts jamming the flow. Wrapping every object with so much glue code is like hiring more workers to speed up a bureaucracy. Tate shows how to aggregate the calls and speed things up dramatically by cutting through the misapplied object-oriented concepts.
If you step back a bit and think about the book from a distance, the right title starts to look like "Bitter Object-Oriented Programming". Most of the problems in the book emerge when seemingly good uses of OOP turn out to be terribly slow when implemented. While all of the problems are practical hurdles awaiting Java programmers, they must have cousins in the world of C++ and the other OOP languages. Splitting things up into many objects is plenty of fun at the beginning, but when the messages start flowing, the code becomes a swamp.
After a few chapters it becomes clear that object-oriented programming is starting to reach practical limits. The theory may be elegant, but programmers can only make it work if they use guidebooks like Tate's. The object-oriented toolkits are too easy to use dangerously. So what is the solution?
This kind of guidebook filled with antipatterns may be the best we can do for now. Tate himself says that the book is filled with "merc talk", the kind of chatter about hair raising experiences he says that mercenaries trade when they're sitting around the fire. This is an apt description. If you're a hired codeslinger creating J2EE applications or servlets, then this is a good book for your shelf.
Peter Wayner's latest two books are Translucent Databases , an exploration of how to create ultra-secure databases, and Disappearing Cryptography: Information Hiding, Steganography and Watermarking , a book about mathematical parlour tricks, sleights-of-hand, and subversive things you can do with bits. You can purchase Bitter Java at bn.com, and you can join Peter in reviewing books by submitting reviews after reading the book review guidelines.