Book Review: Practical Rails Social Networking Sites


Rails Social Networking Sites walks you through the process of building a Web 2.0 social networking site (something like MySpace), called Rails Coders that includes the features you would expect in that sort of site:

  • User signup and management (based on restful_authentication)
  • Content management
  • Blogging (with web services)
  • Markup languages like Textile and Liquid
  • Mashups using Google Maps and Flickr
  • photo management (attachment_fu and RMagick)
  • Tagging

This book is not, of course, about building social networking sites, though that does serve as the exercise in the book. It’s about going beyond the basics with Ruby on Rails, and building something useful.

Rails Social Networking Sites is targeted at developers who have some experience with developing Rails applications. That said, you don’t need much. If you have read one of the other books on Rails or developed a couple of play applications, you’ll be fine.


There’s a lot to like about this book. It’s well written, and covers a broad range of useful topics. Here’s the things I really liked:

  • It covers useful topics in the context of a real-world application. Most of the Rails books out there (at least the ones I own or have looked through) cover the basics of Rails, and maybe a few additional plugins. Anyone building a real-world application will need to scour the internet for help with the other plugins available to do things like handle file uploads, user authentication, and the like. While this book doesn’t cover everything you could possible want to do, it covers a lot.

  • There is a very big emphasis on testing. It’s not TDD (see my note in the cons below), but in every chapter you will be shown how to build something, and then how to test what you built.

  • It’s current. The application is built in a RESTful style, and there is frequent mention of the changes/deprecations coming in the Rails 2.0 release.


There’s really very little wrong with this book. It appears to have been technical reviewed thoroughly, and as a result I didn’t find any glaring technical errors. That said, there are a few things about the book that I took some issue with:

  • The book frequently references blog posts as resources. This seems like a bad practice to me, as these urls tend to have a short lifespan. It’s very likely that many of these urls will be dead links within a year or so. To be fair, this is a book covering a rapidly moving technology, and it’s likely to be largely out of date in 18-24 months. Therefore, this may not be much of an issue. Still, it might be a better idea to link to the book’s website instead.

  • While the book does give ample coverage to testing (more than most books), it would have been nice if the testing was done Test First, rather than bolted on after the fact.

All in all, these are really minor points.


Overall, I really liked this book, and I believe it will be very useful to anyone developing with Ruby on Rails. Whether you’re on your first application or you’ve been developing for a while, you will find useful information in Rails Social Networking Sites.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. There were no conditions other than that, but in the interest of full disclosure, now you know.