Book review: Catalyst 5.8 The Perl MVC Framework

Book information
Title: Catalyst 5.8 The Perl MVC Framework.
Subtitle: Build Scalable and extendable web applications using the Agile MVC framework.
Author: Antano Solar John.
Publisher: Packt Publishing.
Country: UK/India.
Year: 2010.

This book is a follow up to the 2007 Catalyst book by Jonathan Rockway (member of Catalyst core developer team). I have no idea how much of the content is changed between the two.

About the review(er)
This is a review on the electronic (PDF) edition of the book. I am a Perl developer and a CPAN author, but have not used Catalyst (or most other recent web frameworks, for that matter) before.

About Catalyst
So far I've managed to avoid learning about web frameworks and continue to create web applications the old way (CGI/CGI::Fast, direct DBI/SQL, a homemade simple templating language, and recently lots of jQuery and CSS play). Part of this is due to laziness, and part due to lack of need. I've never needed to create complex web applications in Perl. And the apparently heavy learning curve and complexities of Catalyst, Mojo, Dancer, etc just make me say don't bother.

But, thanks to this book, I find out that Catalyst project is not unlike a Perl CPAN module, with files/subdirectories like Makefile.PL, Changes, README, lib/, t/, etc. You can now even manage your project with Dist::Zilla (not mentioned in the book though as the plugin for this is new).

The good
This book is only about 200 (instead of 500+) pages long, which I appreciate. The preface is concise, and the explanation in the chapters are straightforward enough. The author uses clear and simple English sentences instead of long complex ones. The organization of topics into chapters is quite appropriate.

Missing topics
I didn't find any mention of Strawberry Perl, only ActivePerl. The examples are all using SQLite and no other databases. I wish AJAX and integration with one/more JavaScript frameworks like jQuery (and thus, CSS) is discussed more, as this is now very popular and common. But that will add significantly to the length of the book.

The first chapter on MVC also deserves some more extension.

There is no comparison whatsoever with any other Perl web frameworks or other non-Perl frameworks like Django and Rails.

I would've liked a chapter/subchapter on performance tuning and benchmarking (there is a 'Performance considerations' section in the Deployment chapter but that only covers the choice of webserver).

Plack/PSGI is not yet covered on this edition, which is a pity.

The rather bad
The author gives CPAN links to pages of specific release versions, e.g. http://search.cpan.org/~ash/DBIx-Class-0.08013/lib/DBIx/Class/Schema/
Versioned.pm which tends to break as new releases added and old releases removed from CPAN. But this is understandable because currently CPAN only provides http://search.cpan.org/dist/DBIx-Class/ and not something like http://search.cpan.org/dist/DBIx-Class/current/pod/Foo/Bar.pm. search.cpan.org does provide a more stable URL: http://search.cpan.org/dist/DBIx-Class/lib/DBIx/Class/Manual/FAQ.pod

The author also uses 2-space indent instead of 4, which I suspect is because he also uses Ruby/Rails.

The really ugly
The general editing of the book, and especially the code/output formatting, is the deal breaker here. I have not found another book that fares equally poorly in this regard.

The first paragraph of the preface already contains two very off-putting typos: "Frednic Brooks" (of Mythical Man-Month fame) and "MOOSE". Boxes drawn with ASCII characters which should align become wrapped and misaligned. When the long lines of code/output are wrapped, it is not clear which lines are wrapped and which are just new lines (some visual indicator should've added like a + or \ sign, line number, or striped background/lines).

There is a plain error in YAML syntax in p67, plain wrong MySQL configuration in p69.

Code formatting/editing is atrocious, with __PACKAGE__ sometimes becomes PACKAGE, or __Package__. Blank lines (which are significant for POD) are removed. And there is some garbage/random characters added in a few places. Totally unacceptable.

Verdict
Unfortunately I cannot recommend this book due to the utterly poor code formatting. I have no major problem with the content though.

6 Comments

search.cpan.org has permalinks directly to the documentation for individual modules, they're linked from the top-right corner of each page and look like this: http://search.cpan.org/perldoc?DBIx::Class::Schema::Versioned

Thanks for the review. One tip though: you can have links to the most recent version of specific modules on CPAN like this: http://search.cpan.org/perldoc?DBIx::Class::Schema::Versioned

But this is understandable because currently CPAN only provides http://search.cpan.org/dist/DBIx-Class/ and not something like http://search.cpan.org/dist/DBIx-Class/current/pod/Foo/Bar.pm.

What are you talking about?

There's a reason the new edition has a different author. A lot of publishers just want to pump and dump, thinking by the time the bad reviews get around that everyone who is going to buy the book already has. When that's their goal, there's no sense wasting much time on editing, editors, compositors, and so on.

I was quite impressed with Apress' process as far as putting a book together goes. I think the editorial process is a lot of what goes into distinguishing the relative quality of the two Catalyst books. Packt don't seem to have nearly as good a process going for them, but I think they have to keep their margins really low in this very difficult part of the publishing market.

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About Steven Haryanto

user-pic A programmer (mostly Perl 5 nowadays).