Recently I read “Dart in Action” by Chris Buckett. I know Chris from the early days of the Dart language. We both joined the community almost instantly. At the day of Darts arrival, he founded Dartwatch.com and blogs on all aspects of the language. Chris is definitely one of these guys who knows what he writes. After one year, a lot of blog posts, countless e-mails to the Dart mailing lists and doing a lot of other community related things, he finished a book on Dart.
A book? This alone is impressive. Dart is a kind of moving target. There is a lot of man-power behind its development and every day there are a lots of changes to Darts codebase. Dart arrived as a technical preview and as such it was allowed to have breaking changes. Chris was not only confronted with learning a language by looking at its specification and find out about hidden features in the bug trackers; he also had to rewrite whole sections over and over again just because the language changed. A simple example: suddenly the + operator for string concatenations was removed. A more complicated example: the whole library/import thing changed.
Still Chris kept on writing. Finally Dart became more stable in its core, and the book was released. What I got was a book from a dedicated and passionate Dart-developer, who knows the language, its ecosystem and the community from day 1.
The book itself reads like that. It’s a fantastic book which takes you by hand and leads you through the whole world of Dart. With that I mean it doesn’t stop at just explaining some grammar or how to use API $x. Dart is not “only a language”. Dart is a whole ecosystem consisting of language, APIs AND tools. Chris shows from the beginning where you need to look at, like using the Dart Editor or how to deal with third party dependencies.
You almost do not recognize how you get into all these new technologies. While he explains how to write code, he also shows how to debug it or what you can do with it in practice. It is far from boring grammar descriptions or rephrased API docs as one can often find in books. You can work on your program while reading this book. It’s for people like me, who do not want to read through 500 pages with boring examples just to make up something cool after the memorized all of the thousand keywords. This book shows you what you can do, how you do it, and what you should be aware of. It’s easy to connect the books content with your real-life-problems.
The writing style is clear, precise and well balanced. An easy read. The tune is one of a colleague who did find some great new toy to play with and now explains it to you. It is a motivating and inspiring text and very enjoyable. There was not a single chapter which made me bored or drifting away.
The content is a great mix of everything important in Dart.
You will learn about running Dart from the Browser but also how to run it from the shell, maybe when building your backend with Dart. You learn how you can write test driven code. Unit testing with Dart is especially something which I did not know much about before. In the early days of Dart it was not so much a topic, and due to work I did not follow it to closely later. Chris sent me back on track. Now I even know how to do browser testing, which is big win for me.
He explains on how properly to use classes, interfaces and constructors. Also he looks into libraries and shows possibilities here. What I like much is the fact he is also explaining best practices. Not only Darts best practice, but general ones. These are experiences he made maybe from his time as GWT developer. They are very helpful if you just start with your programming career.
In general, the core part of this book feels complete and balanced. There is even a part describing Futures and Completers. Both are heavily used async concepts in todays browser programming world, and with “Dart in Action” it is easy to get into them. Another bonus point is he is explaining how you can test asynchronous code. As this is a very difficult matter, I have not expected that.
The book closes with looking at server side Dart. It’s shown how to interact with Apache CouchDB as data store and how one can serve HTTP requests with Dart. Everybody who is into Node.js knows that it is a great feeling to just use the same language for frontend and backend. Finally he looks into Isolates, one of my favorite topics. Even when I know a lot on Isolates (some kind of multithreading in Dart), I found this is a very competent introduction into it and I did not regret to have it read.
My conclusion is this a great book. Usually I do not read books on programming languages anymore. They tend to be boring and quickly out of date. But this book is different. It shows you more than just grammar and APIs. It shows you how to move in the Dart world. How you solve things. It’s an enjoyable read from a very competent Dart programmer. If you want to learn Dart you already have the great docs on the website. But if you would like to get even more quickly into Dartlang, then you should definitely look at this book. Despite the language is still evolving, most of its content will be true for a long time. If not, then the author can be found in one of the Dart communities.
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