Book Review: Meteor in Action

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The open source Meteor.js framework is one of the most popular choices for building single-page applications. But it comes with a steep learning curve that seems almost impossible to overcome by yourself.

This is where Meteor in Action truly shines. If you want to learn Meteor.js from the bare basics to live deployment then this is the best book you can get.

It covers many 3rd party resources like the Blaze templating engine and the Node.js infrastructure. You can start this book with barely any knowledge of Meteor and finish it with enough confidence to build & launch your own app.

However it’s definitely not a book for absolute beginners. You should understand JavaScript fundamentals and be able to code your own basic webapps. But if you’re already comfortable with JavaScript and willing to try Meteor I think you’ll be pleased with Meteor in Action.

Book Contents

At 360 total pages I’m genuinely impressed at the quality of this book’s content. It’s not that thick but the content is superb. Aside from the online docs this is easily the best guide to Meteor.js.

The book contains a total of 12 chapters broken up into three sections for an introduction, technical guide, and a final wrapup for debugging & launching. Here’s a breakdown of the twelve chapters:

  1. A better way to build apps
  2. My fridge! A reactive game
  3. Working with templates
  4. Working with data
  5. Fully reactive editing
  6. Users, authentications, and permissions
  7. Exchanging data
  8. Routing using Iron.Router
  9. The package system
  10. Advanced server methods
  11. Building and debugging
  12. Going into production

It’s worth mentioning that both authors on this book have been contributing to the Meteor project for over 5 years. They know the framework well and they’re the perfect duo to write this book.

The early chapters introduce you to the Meteor framework and how it operates. This is powered by Node.js and it combines well with other tools in the MEAN stack.

Most of this book covers how to build single-page applications with Meteor. Getting into the 2nd chapter you build an in-browser game app with Meteor. The meaty chapters in the middle teach you all the fundamentals of Meteor development: templates, data transfer, and handling user input.

The routing chapter is especially interesting and I think the author made a good choice with Iron Router. Meteor’s online guide teaches FlowRouter but most online tutorials lean towards Iron Router. You’ll be safe either way because they’re both fantastic extensions.

In the final chapters you learn how to tinker with Node.js to improve the performance of your Meteor app. You also learn how to debug and run unit tests, then finally deploy the site live online.

meteor homepage

The authors don’t assume any prior knowledge of Meteor. However you should understand HTML/CSS and JavaScript enough to work with it comfortably. Some knowledge of Node.js is also a huge benefit.

But if you have the tenacity to dive right in you should be able to pick up Node+Meteor at the same time.

And if you need access to the source code from this book you can get it all for free on the Meteor in Action GitHub repo.

Pros & Cons

Starting from the very beginning you’ll learn everything you need to know about Meteor. This book spares no expense and assumes zero fundamental knowledge of the Meteor.js platform.

You’ll learn how to install a Meteor app from scratch, how to launch it online, how to customize features and routing, and dealing with 3rd party add-ons. This is truly the ultimate hands-on experience for learning Meteor.js from scratch.

One downside is that some of the code snippets are slightly outdated. Nothing critical, but some features are used that you might end up learning differently down the road.

For example Iron Router is from the Iron Meteor package which gets covered in this book. However Meteor suggests FlowRouter and has plans to introduce a native router in the framework’s core codebase, so 3rd party extensions may be useless in the future.

As technology books age they tend to fall behind the latest trends. This particular book is not very old so I did not notice much(if any) outdated content. But it is something that just happens with print material, so keep your eyes out for a 2nd edition release in the future.

I’m willing to overlook the minor details because all the core fundamentals are still completely accurate. The way the authors teach Meteor development is perfect for single page applications. And while the author does use Blaze you can always supplement this for another templating engine if you feel comfortable to do so.

The best thing about this book is that it’s all you need to learn Meteor. Even if you don’t know what Meteor does you can pick up this book and learn from scratch.

Plus since it’s a Manning publication you get a free ebook copy of the book too. This is one of the many reasons I constantly regard Manning as the best tech publisher in business today.

Who Is This For?

This book is for anyone that wants to learn more about Meteor.js and how it connects with MEAN technologies like Node and MongoDB.

There is so much information packed into this book that it’ll keep you busy for weeks. Experienced Node/Mongo developers may move through the tutorials a little quicker than others. But if you generally don’t know how to use Meteor this book will get you up to speed and build your confidence with the framework.

Even developers who have little knowledge of MEAN can still work through this book. You don’t need to master Node or Mongo in order to study Meteor.

But you do need to study JavaScript before you pick up this book. Everything in Meteor runs on JavaScript so it’s crucial that you understand the basics before moving onto a library.

For learning JavaScript I always recommend JavaScript: Novice to Ninja because it takes you from a complete beginner to a fairly competent JS programmer. If you can finish JS Novice to Ninja I think you’ll be able to move right into Meteor in Action without much trouble.

Also keep in mind this book is not strictly a MEAN book. It doesn’t cover Angular and it doesn’t explain much about the MEAN server stack.

Yes you can use Meteor in a MEAN setup. But this book isn’t your intro to the entire MEAN environment or any of the specific technologies. But this book is your intro to Meteor, both as a general platform and as a framework in the MEAN environment.

Final Summary

I hadn’t used much of Meteor before writing this review and I can say this book helped me a lot. This is by far the best Meteor book out there, and the fact that it was published in late 2015 shows how well it holds up.

The writing style is fantastic. It may be tough to follow for inexperienced developers, but this has more to do with the learning curve of Meteor rather than the author’s writing style.

Meteor in Action should be your manual to studying and mastering Meteor.js. It probably won’t make you an expert in a week or even a month. But it will lay the foundation to help you write quality code and guide you towards best practices for single page app development.

This is a book that offers a lot, but only if you put in the effort. There will be a learning curve and the less you already know the tougher it’ll be. But if you really want to learn Meteor this book can bring you from novice to competency given enough effort.

Review Rating: 4.5/5


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.