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Book Review: Drupal Web Services 63

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
Michael J. Ross writes "In the evolution of the Web, one of the most significant improvements was the general transition from static websites based only upon HTML, to dynamic websites based upon scripting languages. But even then, each website was much like a silo, with no publication of content beyond the pages provided on the site itself. That all began to change with content syndication through RSS, and the development of web application APIs. Nowadays, a growing number of organizations are publishing online content through web services, as well as consuming content published by others. These sites can be built using Drupal, an open-source content management system (CMS). Drupal Web Services, a book authored by Trevor James, aims to help web programmers do that sort of development." Read below for the rest of Michael's review.
Drupal Web Services
author Trevor James
pages 320 pages
publisher Packt Publishing
rating 8/10
reviewer Michael J. Ross
ISBN 978-1849510981
summary A guide to connecting a Drupal website to external services.
Released by Packt Publishing on 24 December 2010, under the ISBN 978-1849510981, this book is the only one currently on the market that focuses on how to "integrate social and multimedia web services and applications with your Drupal Web site" (to quote from the book's marketing copy). Its 320 pages are organized into a dozen chapters and one appendix. The publisher makes available a web page with a description of the book, its table of contents, and a sample chapter (Chapter 9, "Twitter and Drupal"). The page notes that readers do not have to have any programming expertise, but should be familiar with the use and administration of a Drupal site. The book covers Drupal 6, as version 7 had not been finalized and released until a couple weeks after the book's publication. Visitors can also read the reported errata (of which there are none, as of this writing), and download the example code used in nine of the chapters. (This review is based on a print copy the publisher kindly provided. An e-book version is also available.)

The first chapter serves as an introduction to web services at a high level, including remote procedure calls (RPC), as well as some of the most commonly used protocols, with some focus on Representational State Transfer (REST). The author then gives several examples of web services that can be consumed by a Drupal website, and others where the site provides the service. This material is a fine overview, although nonprogrammers may be scared away unnecessarily by the inclusion of coding details, such as the Mollom service requests. Also, the writing style is rather repetitious in some places, e.g., "it will cost you to sign up for it. It's not a free service" (page 16). More amusingly, on page 9, the author states, "The computer that contains the application [] can be anywhere in the world," and then adds, "It could be sitting on a server in the US, Europe, Asia, South America, or somewhere else" — as if any reader might be unfamiliar with the major regions of the world. On the other hand, some readers may appreciate a slower narrative pace. Yet most troubling of all is the claim (on page 12) that many of the popular web applications are based on PHP (as is Drupal), and thus we have the advantage of "a common programming language." That contradicts the whole point of web services, namely, sharing data and other resources among websites regardless of those sites' underlying technologies. A typical web service does not transmit source code, hence its language is irrelevant, as is the language of any other website with which it interacts. (This so-called advantage is never substantiated, or even explained, anywhere in the book.)

The next four chapters take a detailed look at how a Drupal website can consume third-party web services, beginning with the use of Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) in general, and two contributed modules in particular (the SOAP Client module, and the FedEx Shipping Quotes module — which depends upon the Ubercart shopping cart module). The discussion of the topics is complete and straightforward, with screenshots as needed to show what administrative forms need to be filled out by anyone following the instructions. This approach is followed in the subsequent three chapters, which show how to use the web services of Flickr, Amazon, CDN2, and Kaltura. Chapter 5 discusses video, and thus its coverage of the Media:Flickr module for turning photos into slideshows should have been placed in the third chapter, which was devoted to Flickr.

Chapter 6, which focuses on the use of the Services module, essentially begins the second part of the book, because the reader starts learning how to make a site provide web services, i.e., no longer acting solely as a client — although there are some cases where web services are consumed at the same time as they are offered to outside clients. The Services module works in conjunction with other Drupal modules that implement web service methods (SOAP, REST, JSON, etc.). All of the examples are helpful, but the photo_service_all() function on page 136 is odd, because the author states that it returns an array of nodes, but the code suggests instead that it returns the nodes' content, concatenated together as a string. Similar to the first part of the book, the remaining chapters in the second part focus on specific web services: CAPTCHA, reCAPTCHA, TypePad, Mollom, Google Docs, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Chapter 12 explores the authentication services OpenID and OAuth, but strangely ends by stating that it is time to test the OAuth connection, with no explanation as to how to do so. Incidentally, to Drupal administrators unfamiliar with the use of the Views module, the first sentence on page 205 will likely be quite confusing, because it conflates fields with filters. (The phrase "filters in" should be replaced by "includes" or "uses.") Also perplexing is that on pages 209-210, the author advises the use of "http://" instead of "www." in short URLs, but two pages later the results show the opposite. The phrase "FBML is now considered by Facebook" is baffling; considered what by Facebook? Lastly, the author states that OAuth will be tested with Digg (page 259), but that is not covered.

The book's sole appendix briefly presents each of the major contributed modules used, organized by chapter. For each module, there is a brief summary of its purpose, the current maintainers and version, and links to its project page and usage statistics. Two passages in Chapters 7 and 8 suggest that the book's appendix was not finished as intended: The author states (page 150), "I've attached the code for the recaptchalib.php file as an appendix in this book," but that does not appear to be the case — which is fortunate, because the book should not be made longer by including source code that is easily available to the reader. On page 177, we are told that the appendix explains how to install Acquia Drupal, but it does not.

The figures used in the book are, for the most part, quite handy, to see the results — especially for the reader following along who does not want to implement all of the instructions. However, the first screenshot on page 103 and the second screenshot on page 114, were incorrectly swapped for one another, and thus do not match the respective descriptions in the text.

Even though the writing quality of this title is a bit better than the typical programming book nowadays, there are some problems. Countless verbs are prefixed by the (useless) phrase "go ahead and" — to the extent that the reader will be sick of it by the time he reaches the end of the book. Occasionally the phrasing is rather puzzling. For instance, on page 131, the screenshot shows that a list of field names should be separated by commas, with no spaces. The author's explanation is "Make sure to not avoid spaces"

There are a couple instances in the book where critical configuration settings are not introduced or explained until after the reader is told that he will see results from following all of the earlier steps (which include most of the configuration settings). For example, in Chapter 4, the author instructs the reader to install the Amazon, CCK, and Features modules, and test everything using the Amazon Examples module. Pages later — possibly after the reader has been frustrated in trying to get the example scenario to work — he is told how to configure the Features module to enable the Amazon Examples features.

As with most Packt titles, the copyediting is quite poor, with inconsistent punctuation and plenty of errata that should have been caught in the production process: "and and" (on the "About the author" page), "at [the] time" (page 3), "try and access" (page 11; should read "try to access"), "a RPC" (page 15), "[a] server API" (18), "APress" (22), "is a not a" (25), "delivery Information" (43), "on how" (70), "to to" (89), "you [c]an" (94), "extention" (97), "the the" (106), "user Drupal user" (184), "se e" (198), "CMS(" (232), "both the methods" (252), "Try it both methods" (258), and "sign [in] to" (259). There are countless places where the term "the" is missing, e.g., twice on page 16. The menu path delimiter used is sometimes ">" (e.g., page 226), but usually "|," which makes each menu path look too much like page links in a footer.

However, the main problem with the narrative is that the author repeats information — in most cases not just once, but numerous times. For example, in the second chapter, we are told three times that the author will present the SOAP and FedEx shipping quotes modules. By the time the reader reaches page 33, he likely will already be tired of being told the same information. But on that page alone, the author goes over the same ground two more times. In fact, the beginning of the second paragraph sounds like a copy of the first. Compounding the problem, the author will frequently take some of the material from the main section where it is discussed, and add it to the tail end of the previous section — somewhat like a preview, but wholly unnecessary. Packt Publishing's content editors should have caught and weeded out this redundancy. Each chapter ends with a summary, which add no value and exacerbate the repetitiveness of the chapters' main content. One glaring example of redundancy, in the last chapter, is the second go-round of how to define a Twitter application, which had already been covered in Chapter 9.

Yet one advantage to repeating explanations, is that no reader will miss key instructions. This would be most advantageous to readers skimming the material at a fast pace, or anyone new to administering a Drupal website and consequently lacking in confidence. Anyone reading this book will likely be impressed by the way that the author patiently steps the reader through every process. Due to the detailed explanations, each chapter stands on its own, thereby making it possible for the reader to learn a particular topic without having to read any of the earlier chapters. This also makes the book valuable not just as the tutorial, but for reference purposes.

With clear and thorough explanations, Drupal Web Services would be an solid resource for anyone who wants to connect a Drupal-based site to any web service, including the major social media applications.

Michael J. Ross is a freelance website developer and writer.

You can purchase Drupal Web Services from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Book Review: Drupal Web Services

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  • Woot! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Woot! More Packt Publishing shill reviews! Once again receiving the standard 8/10 or 9/10 rating. Go samzenpus! *cha ching!*

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Moreover, this is third book review [slashdot.org] this year that is about drupal.

      What is this? News for Web Developers?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I was wondering why there was a lack of Drupal Book Reviews, was the person responsible for submitting them to Slashdot and bribing the editors sick or something?
  • But isn't the point of a book that you /read/ it? Instead of skimming over the pages? I, for one, know very well what I'd like to learn from a book, so why does the author decide for me?

    Not that I would read a book on Drupal, of course..
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Freelance web site developers are the used car salesmen of IT
    • by hawguy (1600213)

      But isn't the point of a book that you /read/ it? Instead of skimming over the pages? .

      I have many reference books where I read only a few selected chapters after skimming to find the information I'm interested in. I often skim through entire chapters to see if it's got the information I want. I almost never read a technical book cover to cover - it's not a novel and I don't treat it as one.

      I, for one, know very well what I'd like to learn from a book, so why does the author decide for me?

      Isn't that the whole point of skimming the book? I may not care about how to integrate Drupal and Myspace so I can quickly skim over or skip those chapters, and then concentrate on those areas that do int

  • lolwut? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @01:34PM (#36453514)

    As with most Packt titles, the copyediting is quite poor, with inconsistent punctuation and plenty of errata that should have been caught in the production process:

    So thus clearly worthy of the 8/10 rating. Is this a fucking joke? A book that has poor writing, poor copy editing and has "plenty of errata" and it's given an 8/10? And people still think these reviewers aren't being paid off?

    • You're overlooking the possibility that its an inverted logarithmic scale.

    • by vlm (69642)

      I think it's a symptom of inflated opinion about the topic. I don't care about Drupal, although obviously the review author cares. Sort of a halo effect from drupal to the book.

      Somebody into ancient religions would 8/10 that kind of stuff in ground breaking discoveries. For example:

      As with most dead sea scrolls, the copyediting is quite poor, with inconsistent punctuation and plenty of errata that should have been caught in the production process:

      However, this latest Packt book is not an ancient religious document worshiped by millions (as far as I know). Maybe if Packt would republish some Ayn Rand, after adding in some typos for authenticity.... Or maybe they could

      • by causality (777677)

        I think it's a symptom of inflated opinion about the topic. I don't care about Drupal, although obviously the review author cares. Sort of a halo effect from drupal to the book.

        Yes, there are people who are unaware of such tendencies as bias, favoritism, and the halo effect. It renders them unable to dispassionately apply objective criteria.

        Such people also have no business writing book reviews and submitting them to a large audience.

        Really, it's okay that someone isn't qualified to write a quality review.

    • A book that has poor writing, poor copy editing and has "plenty of errata" and it's given an 8/10?

      I don't know, seems like it fits in quite well with Drupal.

    • by idontgno (624372)
      It's possible they're grading in comparison to Slashdot editing. On that curve, my 5-year-old's assorted crayon scribbles rate 6/10 with a special mention for creative use of colors.
  • I read the summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pop69 (700500) <.billy. .at. .benarty.co.uk.> on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @01:46PM (#36453644) Homepage
    So, if the summary is correct, it's a six month old book that was out of date a couple of weeks after it was published and it scores 8/10 ?

    Wonder if they have a pile of stock gathering dust that they needed a slashvertisment for ?
    • Not only that but it is apparently also poorly written, poorly copy edited and has "plenty of errata".

      • by Pop69 (700500)
        Well shit, I missed that bit.

        Should have been a 10/10 with those extras included.
        • Yeah, exactly. It is actually far worse than you originally thought. It's an admittedly below average book yet it is given what seems to be an above average rating.

  • by unity100 (970058)
    every month at least one drupal story. why arent other open source cmses pimped in the same way here ? is one of the site administrators drupal contributor ?
    • I use SugarCRM extensively and would like to see some articles published about that. Granted, it's not a strict CMS in the Drupal/Joomla fashion, but it's OSS and used in much the same way.
      • Then you better get someone to whip out their checkbook like Packt does. They don't give out slashvertisements for free.

      • Well why don't you start submitting stories about SugarCRM to slashdot then?

        Personally, I can't wait for the people who bitch about Drupal's code quality to chime in on that trainwreck of a system.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Says the guy whoring his own framework in his sig with every single comment.

      Why not just ignore these threads? Seems to be a personal crusade of yours to sling mud at Drupal whenever it is mentioned. You don't like Drupal. We get it.

      • by unity100 (970058)
        at least, i am 'whoring' what i myself have produced, in my own signature. if my signature was a place which hundreds of thousands were beholding per day, i would start being just and equal in whoring out open source projects.

        yes, its a crusade of mine to point out such whoring out of a single cms as opposed to many out there. you call it mud slinging, i call it calling out.
  • Microsoft started it... at least that was my first exposure to it, in the context of application "consumers" of messages or services. But it's not correct, and I cringe every time I see it.

    For one thing, the reason it isn't proper in the current context is that "consuming" implies that the thing being consumed is being used up. Obviously, someone who "consumes" web content in the context given, isn't using it up. Therefore "consuming" is not the correct word.
    • by Fnord666 (889225)

      Obviously, someone who "consumes" web content in the context given, isn't using it up. Therefore "consuming" is not the correct word.

      Should we use "source" and "sink" instead?

    • by vlm (69642)

      Microsoft started it... at least that was my first exposure to it, in the context of application "consumers" of messages or services. But it's not correct, and I cringe every time I see it.

      For one thing, the reason it isn't proper in the current context is that "consuming" implies that the thing being consumed is being used up. Obviously, someone who "consumes" web content in the context given, isn't using it up. Therefore "consuming" is not the correct word.

      Probably the same gang of geniuses that confuse digital duplication with the era of swashbucklers, wooden ships, and iron men.

    • by lee1 (219161)
      Really? I consume novels, furniture, power tools, and ideas, and yet they're mostly still there.
    • by causality (777677)

      Microsoft started it... at least that was my first exposure to it, in the context of application "consumers" of messages or services. But it's not correct, and I cringe every time I see it.

      For one thing, the reason it isn't proper in the current context is that "consuming" implies that the thing being consumed is being used up. Obviously, someone who "consumes" web content in the context given, isn't using it up. Therefore "consuming" is not the correct word.

      Not only that, it's a straight-up insult.

      Ever notice how people parrot each other with no thought given whatsoever to what they are actually saying? If you're a self-aware individual who doesn't derive a phony sense of self-worth (the kind that won't be there when you really need it) from imitating others then there's no way you wouldn't notice. So while it may not be news to you personally, I will explain the origin of the term "consumer".

      It comes from the broadcasting industry. It comes from radio and

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday June 15, 2011 @02:02PM (#36453806) Homepage

    Requires a 320 page book to learn how to use it.....

    It's an epic fail.

    All of them are far harder to use than they need to be. Why the hell is there not a OSS version of what they use at Squarespace out there? any fool can create and maintain a web presence that looks great with their software. And that is what I want, I need to set up the customers site and hand it off to them to maintain the content. Let the receptionist do it... Just pay me my $50.00 a month maintenance fee for updating the software and rooting out the nasty...

    • If your Content Management software requires A book to learn how to use it, it's an epic fail.

      • by causality (777677)

        If your Content Management software requires A book to learn how to use it, it's an epic fail.

        Likewise, if your book review "Slashvertisements" backfire every single time, producing discussions where 80-90% of all comments are complaints about the questionable nature of the review, and you continue to do these Slashvertisements without ever changing anything, that's an epic fail. That's a real epic fail.

        That's a real "the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over, shocked and amazed it produces the same result" epic fail.

        I really like this site but here's a thought: when somethi

    • by Anonymous Coward
      First part of your comment: You are not learning how to use Drupal in this book. You are learning how to do webservices. It's software engineering if you like or not and that requires a lot of material. There are plenty of books about Perl or PHP. Doing advanced things Perl-way requires a lot of knowledge. Doing advanced things Drupal-way requires a lot of knowledge as well. Second part: There is http://drupalgardens.com/ [drupalgardens.com] which is an SaaS platform wher eyou can easily create a site in a Squarespace-style.
    • by nog_lorp (896553)
      Called "Wordpress". Head and shoulders above Joomla/Drupal in usability. No ridiculous "Oh, you want [basic functionality]? That's in a community-supported module. That is out of date and broken. Have fun!"
  • I don't know what Michael J. Ross thinks he is accomplishing with these reviews, but I do know that I will never buy a Packt title.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Because a review a web developer (Michael J. Ross) who earns a living making Drupal website is completely objective and unbiased.
    • by lee1 (219161)
      I probably shouldn't bother challenging an AC, but I just don't understand your objections. The only useful reviews of Drupal books are going to be written by people who use Drupal. That doesn't make them "biased" in any meaningful way. Packt publishes a lot of Drupal books, so the fact that a reviewer might publish through the same company is not surprising or automatically some kind of conspiracy. It's frankly ridiculous say that it's a "conflict of interest" to review a book if you happen to have publish
      • by causality (777677)

        I probably shouldn't bother challenging an AC, but I just don't understand your objections. The only useful reviews of Drupal books are going to be written by people who use Drupal. That doesn't make them "biased" in any meaningful way. Packt publishes a lot of Drupal books, so the fact that a reviewer might publish through the same company is not surprising or automatically some kind of conspiracy. It's frankly ridiculous say that it's a "conflict of interest" to review a book if you happen to have published a book with the same company.

        I'm not the AC but I'm tired of the useless book reviews myself.

        You sound like you want to see some kind of 3-story tall, crimson, illuminated, flashing red flag with blaring sirens and text stating "THIS REVIEW IS NOT LEGITIMATE" before you are willing to consider the idea. Problem is, biases and conflicts of interest tend to be subtle. It takes a bit of discernment to realize they are present.

        To cut to the quick of it, riddle me this: if not all books are excellent, and therefore some books are below av

      • Let me get this straight. You don't find anything weird with a book that the reviewer admits is poorly written, poorly edited and is apparently filled with "plenty of errata" yet they give it an 8/10? Any normal person would find something odd about that.

        • by causality (777677)

          Let me get this straight. You don't find anything weird with a book that the reviewer admits is poorly written, poorly edited and is apparently filled with "plenty of errata" yet they give it an 8/10? Any normal person would find something odd about that.

          The old saying is that there are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

        • by lee1 (219161)
          Three replies, yet they all argue against straw men and fail to address what I actually said. I read another book review [theatlantic.com] today, in the Atlantic, by Christopher Hitchens, reviewing Joseph Lelyveld's new book on M. Gandhi. The review was fascinating. The book happens to be published by Knopf. Should I check who published Prof. Hitchens' many books to make sure none of those were also published by Knopf or a company that owns Knopf or is owned by them? If it turns out that they were, should I worry about a "c
    • by dolmen.fr (583400)

      May be the real problem is that no other author still submit book reviews to Slashdot?

  • Good luck getting Drupal to as an RPC server using json. I spent days trying to get this working with my Python client and failed terribly.

    • Rails will do everything in JSON for you with just a few extra lines (you basically just enable an extension). There are Rails based CMS's as well, such as Refinery. We actually just switched a project from Drupal to Refinery and JSON interaction was one of the reasons... you know other than Drupal being slow as carpet, buggy as hell, and generally just a huge pile of terrible code. Yeah, call me flamebait there but f* it - I hate Drupal and I'm loving Rails/Refinery.

  • Is it really a 8 out of 10!? It looks like it's not well structured and how the hell can you rate it that high when it has so many mistakes in it? Well I guess compared to all the other shite out there on the Kindle for instance, I wouldn't be surprised if this might still be one of the best in it's niche. Standards are slipping. Too bad.

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