Review of Activiti in Action: Executable business processes in BPMN 2.0

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Business processes are not widely known but they are incredibly useful. Knowing how to implement them properly is a whole different story.

I recently stumbled onto Activiti in Action and decided to give it a try. This book covers the Activiti program, an open source platform for business process management and implementation.

The book assumes no prior knowledge of Activiti but it helps to know BPMN modeling, at least in a general sense. The writing is decent and I think the core topics are covered in depth.

I would only recommend this book to people interested in BPMN/Activiti who already know what they want to do but don’t know how. The book covers actionable steps and you really need to follow along to get the most from this title.

Book Contents

In 450 pages you get a full rundown of Activiti with live practical examples.

The book splits into four parts with 15 total chapters. The bigger sections cover the introduction, implementation, enhancements, and management of Activiti. Here’s a breakdown of all the chapters:

  1. Introducing the Activity framework
  2. BPMN 2.0: what’s in it for developers?
  3. Introducing the Activity tool stack
  4. Working with the Activiti process engine
  5. Implementing a BPMN 2.0 process
  6. Applying advanced BPMN 2.0 and extensions
  7. Dealing with error handling
  8. Deploying and configuring the Activiti Engine
  9. Exploring additional Activiti modules
  10. Implementing advanced workflow
  11. Integrating services with a BPMN 2.0 process
  12. Ruling the business rule engine
  13. Document management using Alfresco
  14. Business monitoring and Activiti
  15. Managing the Activiti Engine

You should realize that BPMN(Business Process Model and Notation) is at the core of this book. You can learn more on the wiki page to see what it’s all about if you haven’t studied this already.

You do not need an underlying knowledge of BPMN to read this book. However it does help you get through the material much easier.

The Activiti Designer program pushes out a BPMN model in XML which goes through Activiti for processing and customization. You don’t need to know a lot of technical mumbo jumbo to know that Activiti can save a lot of time.

I always like the Manning publications because they give you practical examples to help you learn by doing. The book’s author Tijs Rademakers teaches you many fundamentals like event handling, document creation & management, along with the main purpose for even using Activiti in the first place(hint: huge time saver).

activiti homepage

Creating processes and dealing with errors can be trivial and frankly terrifying. Especially to newcomers who don’t know much about the Activiti engine.

Tijs walks you through the process explaining the importance of each subject covered in each new chapter.

Yet for all the chapters, details, and practical examples, I really had trouble understanding the length of this book. The author seemed to pad it with fluff just to make it longer. Either that or I just wasn’t able to follow along properly.

Don’t get me wrong, the content is great. Each example makes you think about the best practices for BPMN and business processes management. There’s also a GitHub repo with the source code from each chapter.

Just be willing to put in some work because the book is lengthy and very detailed.

Pros & Cons

I really liked the examples used in more complicated chapters like custom form creation for client-side apps and multi instance processes. The author goes into painstaking detail with every single chapter reading like a combo of raw information + a tutorial.

While Activiti is the obvious focus you’ll be learning a lot about BPMN and working with different types of environments. Client-facing projects are different than business-facing projects. However the techniques used are generally the same, it’s just how you execute.

Also you don’t need much BPMN to get into this book. It will help a lot if you brush up on this beforehand. However the author coverS BPMN in great detail so you can pretty much learn everything you need from this book.

I found far too much repetition in the later chapters covering the Activiti process engine. It may be that the author wanted to clarify everything for new readers. I can’t say either way because I just had a hard time following his overall points.

But I think this style of verbose writing is more of an annoyance than a complete detriment.

All the information you need is in this book. The examples will guide you along and you will learn to use Activiti by the last chapter.

I just think there might be quicker options to follow if you’re in a hurry. The appendix is OK but not exactly useful(in my opinion) for a desk reference.

But on the plus side I think this book covers all the fundamentals you need to know about the Activiti workflow. You can be up and running with business processes using BPMN/Activiti in just a few days or weeks depending how quickly you move through the lessons.

Also since this is a Manning book you get a free ebook with the purchase.

Who Is This For?

Anyone who works on enterprise or business applications must read this book. Activiti is one of the best programs you can use and it’s very complicated when first getting started.

You do not need any prior experience with Activiti to dive into this book. It helps if you have some history with BPMN, but it’s not required. Most of the problems you face can be Googled and solved pretty quickly.

I will say this book is wordy. I think the author covers too many topics repeatedly without adding enough value to warrant the 400+ pages.

However the topics are explained in great detail that even a newbie can learn.

If you don’t have any interest in business processes or management software then I wouldn’t recommend this book.

If you have no idea what any of this is then you might want to start with a more basic intro. A nice alternative would be Real-Life BPMN since it’s much easier on the brain and doesn’t lock you into a single program.

But if you’re ready to dive into Activiti then I would absolutely recommend Activiti in Action. If you can look past the repetitive writing I think you’ll learn a lot of pragmatic real world solutions.

Final Summary

This would be a great book for project leaders, business consultants, or anyone working in a large enterprise environment.

BPMN is open source and it’s one of the best business process model structures to follow. Activiti in Action teaches BPMN from the ground-up and covers every single aspect of Activiti for business processes.

To this point I also think it’s a bit long, or at least too wordy for my taste. There’s a lot of great info but I feel like some of it gets repeated far too often.

However if you need an intro to Activiti/BPMN(or both) then I would certainly recommend this book. Just be prepared to put in some time reading and trying to understand how the system works.

Review Rating: 4/5


Alex is a fullstack developer with years of experience working in digital agencies and as a freelancer. He writes about educational resources and tools for programmers building the future of the web.