Book Review: Rails 4 in Action Revised 2nd Edition

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The RoR community moves faster than most open source projects. It has a growing userbase and new features are constantly being pushed through. This book covers the Rails 4 library even though Rails 5 was released in June 2016 after publication.

So is it worth picking up a Rails 4 book at this point? Depends on your goals.

I personally would go with a newer book on the subject. But Manning actually released Rails 4 in Action as a revision of the Rails 3 book. This includes major updates and it’s possible that Manning will put out a newer Rails 5 update in the future.

As for this one I’d say it’s not too shabby. For the price it may be asking too much. But the content is great and it does cover Rails 4 in great detail.

Book Contents

The book spans 576 pages full of Rails examples and live tutorials for building custom applications.

It packs a whopping 15 full chapters into these 576 pages listed below:

  1. Ruby on Rails, the framework
  2. Testing saves your bacon
  3. Developing a real Rails application
  4. Oh, CRUD!
  5. Nested resources
  6. Authentication
  7. Basic access control
  8. Fine-grained access control
  9. File uploading
  10. Tracking state
  11. Tagging
  12. Sending email
  13. Deployment
  14. Designing an API
  15. Rack-based applications

Because this book is slightly outdated I tried to consider content from an evergreen perspective. In this regard I do think Rails 4 in Action delivers quality code that works.

General concepts like authentication, CRUD, emailing, and file uploading are all universal. You can build apps in Rails 3, 4, or 5 that support all these features.

I also think the authors’ examples are fantastic with each tutorial walking you through the best ways to implement the functionality. This book can work as a primer on Rails as a whole regardless of being specific to Rails 4.

The authors covers both TDD and BDD which are development styles that also supercede the language you’re using. The API tutorial in chapter 14 was especially interesting because I haven’t done much of this on my own.

By the end you create a full ticket application system named Ticketee. The source code for the book is available on GitHub if you want to download it and try running locally.

Each chapter covers important features that you need to know. These all tie together in the end with a fully functioning Rails application.

My biggest gripe is the actual name of the book which may put off readers. The current version of Rails is v5.0 and you can bet there will be many more releases in the future.

All of the primary concepts in this book can be repeated for Rails 5+ development. A few bits of syntax may be different, but the core concepts remain the same.

Overall I like the writing style and the authors definitely know what they’re doing.

Pros & Cons

I’ll start with the obvious con: this book is slightly outdated. The first edition covered Rails 3 and this second edition covers Rails 4.

But I did not have much trouble running the code in my own Rails environment on Rails 5. I’m also familiar with jQuery so those code samples worked great no problems.

I think complete beginners may actually struggle with some of these concepts unless they have some background in programming. This means the book isn’t super beginner-friendly and it’s fairly outdated. Bummer.

I’m really hoping the folks at Manning will release a revised 3rd edition with new features included.

On the positive side I think the authors do a great job covering the Rails environment in detail. Each feature is tested and filtered through a TDD workflow. In fact, this book can teach a programmer how to perform test-driven development using Rails as the structured language.

For this I would praise the content quite a bit. The actual writing style and lessons are phenomenal at what they teach. I just think with the advanced barrier to entry and the outdated book title this will be a hard sell.

Who Is This For?

Sadly I don’t think this book will be for too many people. It doesn’t work great as a Rails 4 reference guide because the material is too basic. It also doesn’t work great as an intro to Rails because it has a slight barrier to entry, not to mention that many new features have been added/updated in Rails 5.

For the money I’d actually suggest Learning Rails 5: Rails from the Outside In which will be newer and just as comprehensive.

Sadly it’s not the author’s fault that Rails moves so quickly. Programming books are so valuable because they compile information together into one place. But they’re also archaic in the sense that technology moves much quicker than the publishing business.

If you’re looking at Rails 4 in Action I would only recommend this as a basic intro to Rails 4. If you’re working on a legacy app this would be quite valuable. Or if you can get this book dirt cheap it may be worth picking up.

But if you want to spend money on a Rails book you have so many better options that are much more up to date.

Beginners might start with something like Rails: Novice to Ninja and more intermediate developers moving to v5 could enjoy Practical Rails 5.

Final Summary

Overall I would not recommend buying this book with so many better alternatives out there.

The actual content is phenomenal. Writing style is great, contents are accurate, and the writer definitely knows their RoR. But with technology moving so fast it’s hard to keep published formats in line with the rapid growth of modern web frameworks.

Rails 4 in Action packs a lot into 570+ pages. But until Manning releases a newer 3rd edition for Rails 5 I’m going to have to say pass on this one.

Unfortunately I do have to give it a mid-tier rating just because of the dated content. Again this is not the author’s fault by any means. But at the time of my writing this review I just honestly can’t recommend this title when you have so many other Rails 5 books to choose from.

Review Rating: 3.5/5


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.