Simon P. Chappell writes "I'm not normally much of a one for reading and learning out of eBooks, but after a little gentle persuading from my regular contact at the publisher, I agreed to take a look at their Mongrel Shortcut eBook. Mongrel is a pure Ruby web server, and while it is normally associated in most people's minds with Ruby on Rails, it is actually possible to run it standalone, anywhere that you have Ruby. As one who is very firmly in the "dead tree" camp for my choice of reading media, I was surprised to find myself impressed with Addison Wesley's range of Shortcut ebooks; they really are close to the readability of regular books." Read the rest of Simon's review.
The obvious market segment for this book is the Ruby on Rails developer who wants to understand more about the server that their application is running on and who would like to take more responsibility for it's installation and ongoing maintenance. A second target audience would be those who are looking for a small, efficient and robust web server. Mongrel, through strict adherence to the HTTP 1.1 specification has stayed small and very resistant to many forms of Internet attacks. There is a demand for that kind of server and this book will help those who need it.
Interestingly, these shortcut books are not available through the normal online bookstores. They are currently only available through www.awprofessional.com/ruby or www.informit.com/shortcuts. I'm not sure of the logic behind this and I wonder if that isn't going to hamper sales efforts.
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this is an eBook and as such is supplied as a Portable Document Format (PDF) file. There are two big positives for me with this book. The first is that the file has no Digital Rights Management technology. This means that you are free to copy it to your computer, but you cannot share the file with anyone else. This is very reasonable approach for Addison Wesley to take and I applaud them for this. Now that they've shown their trust in us, I just hope that those who purchase this book will abide by those conditions. (Apparently, they don't trust me as much as they trust you, because my copy has "Review Copy Only" on the top of each page! :-)
The second positive with this book is that it's formatted with landscape orientation. This means that the long side of the page runs horizontally and thereby allows the whole page to fit nicely on a standard laptop screen with a very readable text size. Landscape orientation makes for very a clean page layout, a matter of vital importance if you're expecting folks to read it from a computer screen.
As far as the structure of the content, this book eschews chapters in favor of sections. Of course, with no section more than twenty pages long, calling them chapters would have been stretching a point. The nine sections cover about every aspect of using Mongrel that you could hope for in a short book.
The first section introduces the book and explains the formatting used as well as the special little sidebars called "Zed Sez". These are highly opinionated, but very insightful, asides on aspects of Mongrel; they cover reasons for writing it and why it was written the way it was. Section two is an introduction to Mongrel itself, the benefits of using it and the license that it is made available under. Section three works through everything you need to know to get started with Mongrel. Naturally, this includes installing it and basic usage.
Section four covers configuration and the array of command-line options available to the developer or administrator running Mongrel. Section five looks at production deployment and examines a typical deployment. Now, production deployments are an art in themselves, so not every aspect can be covered in a section like this, but it does get you started and presents a not unreasonable approach. Section six explores the options for extending Mongrel. Write your own commands, handlers and plugins; this section will show you how.
Section seven shows how to debug your Mongrel configuration and applications. Section eight looks at performance, another thing that's hard to generalize. Here the emphasis is mostly on gathering data so that you can make meaningful decisions for your own situation. Finally, there is a collection of resources; links for Mongrel, and frameworks that run on it.
In addition to the reasons to like the book that I mentioned back at the start of the review, the book is very authoritative. Having Zed Shaw, the primary author of Mongrel, as the co-author is a powerful help of course. Speaking of Zed, I very much enjoyed his little "Zed Sez" sidebars. To describe his style as "pithy" might be an understatement, but they are certainly very informative and they give interesting insight into the writing of a rising star open-source software package.
For all of the positives, there is no hiding the fact that this Shortcut eBook is only 106 pages long. One of the consequences of this is that there is reduced depth. The material that is in the book is very good, but I know that there were a couple of places where more material would have been very useful. So, if you normally look for vast tomes of ultimate completeness, this might not be a good selection for you.
In conclusion, this seems like a very useful guide for anyone who is starting out to configure and use the Mongrel web server for their Ruby projects.
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