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Book Reviews Books Media

MySQL Cookbook 64

Michael J. Ross writes "Of all the technical challenges faced by the typical experienced computer programmer, questions about syntax form a relatively small portion. This is especially true now that current coding editors and IDEs offer statement expansion and syntax checking. Rather, the most common type of technical challenge is understanding how to solve a specific data access or manipulation problem. Hence the growing popularity of programming "cookbooks," which are filled with "recipes," each comprising a concise statement of a focused problem, followed by a solution, with plenty of sample code to show how to implement it. For developers using the MySQL database system, the gold standard of such books is MySQL Cookbook, by Paul DuBois." Read below for the rest of Michael's review
MySQL Cookbook
author Paul DuBois
pages 948
publisher O'Reilly Media
rating 8
reviewer Michael J. Ross
ISBN 059652708X
summary A great book for developers using the MySQL database system

Published by O'Reilly Media, the second edition appeared in November 2006. This new edition has been updated for MySQL version 5.0. The publishers have a Web page devoted to the book, where the visitor can find both brief and full descriptions of the book, an online table of contents and index, a sample chapter (number 5, "Working with Strings") in PDF format, errata (none reported as of this writing), and a way to post your own review on the O'Reilly Web site. There are also links for purchasing the book, or reading an online version, in the Safari Bookshelf program.

The bulk of the book's material is divided among 20 chapters, covering a wide range of topics: Using the mysql Client Program; Writing MySQL-Based Programs; Selecting Data from Tables; Table Management; Working with Strings; Working with Dates and Times; Sorting Query Results; Generating Summaries; Obtaining and Using Metadata; Importing and Exporting Data; Generating and Using Sequences; Using Multiple Tables; Statistical Techniques; Handling Duplicates; Performing Transactions; Using Stored Procedures, Triggers, and Events; Introduction to MySQL on the Web; Incorporating Query Results into Web Pages; Processing Web Input with MySQL; Using MySQL-Based Web Session Management.

Most of these chapters contain a generous number of sections, each serving as a recipe for a specific problem within MySQL. Two of the chapters have only four such recipes, but most have a dozen or more, with a few of them boasting more than three dozen recipes. Each recipe begins with a brief problem statement, and usually an equally brief solution statement, followed by a much more lengthy discussion, which contains the actual explanation of the solution, the sample code, and the expected output of that code. Some of the sections conclude with a mention of related recipes that could also be consulted.

This book, like so many other programming cookbooks, is weakened by the practice of offering a "Solution" subsection that consists of only one or two sentences — so terse and high-level that it provides, for all practical purposes, no solution to the reader. The actual solution is found in the "Discussion" subsection, which follows. This practice makes no sense. Because both subsections address the problem solution, they should be combined into a single subsection, naturally labeled "Solution." It appears that the purpose of the current Solution statements is to provide a terse summary. If so, then it should be labeled as such, yet still included within the new Solution subsection.

Despite this illogical division of each solution into two subsections, the content of the problem solutions found in MySQL Cookbook should be quite valuable, for several reasons: Firstly, the author has chosen the sorts of problems, within each category, that the MySQL programmer would typically encounter. No doubt this is a consequence of Paul DuBois being the author of a number of MySQL books, as well as one of the earliest contributors to the online MySQL Reference Manual. Secondly, the solutions work, and have been demonstrated to do so. Thirdly, the writing style is straightforward, which is characteristic of O'Reilly's titles. Fourthly, all of the problem solutions contain sample code and its output, which not only demonstrate the validity of each solution (as noted in my second point), but also allows the reader to see how the solution works simply by reading the material, and not having to type in the sample code to get the output within their own development environment — assuming one is even at hand, when reading the book.

The bulk of MySQL-related code in use today, was created not just to be accessed within a database client program, such as mysql, but instead from interpreted programming languages — especially those used heavily on Web sites. This is one area where MySQL Cookbook really shines, because it contains a large amount of sample code in Perl, PHP, Python, Java, and even Ruby. That is not to say that every code sample in one language has corresponding samples for all of the other languages; that would undoubtedly make the book much longer than it currently is, and probably unwieldy. But in cases where all of the languages are capable of expressing brief solutions, then they are included.

Regardless of whether the reader chooses the print or online versions, there are roughly two ways to make use of this book. If a programmer wishes to significantly increase their knowledge of what MySQL can do for them, and also increase their comfort level with utilizing those capabilities, then they might elect to read the book from stem to stern. Given that this would involve reading over 900 pages, it would certainly take some time for the average developer, but arguably could be time well spent. At the other end of the spectrum, the reader might elect to peruse individual sections that look interesting — particularly if they are relevant to a current project. This approach is certainly doable, because each of the recipes is self-contained, without the cross-referencing seen in many non-recipe style books. Admittedly, there are some "See Also" sections, but they are relatively few in number, with largely optional information, and tend to simply enrich the book's presentation, rather than frustrating the reader by pointing to other areas of the book.

This new edition of MySQL Cookbook concludes with four appendices, and an index. The first appendix explains where to obtain the software for MySQL, the five API programming languages used in the book, and the Apache Web server. The second appendix shows how to execute programs written in those five interface languages, on the command line. The third appendix is a fairly substantial primer on Java Server Pages (JSP) and Tomcat, providing an overview of servlets and JSP, as well as how to install and set up a Tomcat server, the Tomcat directory structure, the basics of JSP pages, and more. The last appendix lists resources outside the book for MySQL and the five aforementioned languages.

Unlike far too many programming books on the market now, this book's index is generally quite thorough, which is essential for a work of this size (975 pages). The recipe titles in the table of contents, are detailed enough to make it possible for the reader to locate the appropriate recipe in the book for their particular problem — assuming the book addresses that problem — and are grouped by subject, making it easier to find related recipes, which oftentimes can provide insight into other problems that they do not address directly.

Despite the obvious effort that has gone into both editions of this book, there are still some areas for improvement, and most of them are related to the readability of the sample code. Admittedly, there are different schools of thought as to optimal coding style, including use of whitespace, the placement of braces, and other matters. This assessment can only be my own opinion, based upon years of reading other people's code. The sample code in MySQL Cookbook would be more readable if more whitespace were utilized to separate function and variable names from open and close parentheses. This is especially true for the SQL code and MySQL extensions, for which all of the keywords are in all uppercase. The code fragments and full programs written in the API languages — such as Perl and PHP — are more readable, though they sometimes suffer from nondescriptive variable names. One might argue that the aforesaid choices are needed to cut down on the space consumed by the code on the book's pages. But if that were true, then the author likely would not have wasted an entire line for each open brace. Last, and certainly not least for the programmer who would like to try out the author's sample code in their own environment, it is unfortunate and inexplicable as to why the sample code is not offered on the O'Reilly Web site for downloading.

All in all, MySQL Cookbook is a well-organized and neatly written work, which should be of tremendous value to any software developer trying to find proven solutions to common database programming problems.

Michael J. Ross is a Web consultant, freelance writer, and the editor of PristinePlanet.com's free newsletter. He can be reached at www.ross.ws, hosted by SiteGround.

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MySQL Cookbook

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  • by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:59PM (#18211472)

    I noticed there was a recipe which I'd like to see which was not covered. Is there a recipe for don't treat my data as garbage by default?

    It was brought up in a reply [slashdot.org] to a comment here on Slashdot by Marten Mickos, CEO, MySQL AB. I've not heard if they managed to help out the people who are effectively forced into using MySQL but would rather not.

  • I'll give it a 3/5 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ikoma Andy ( 41693 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @09:35PM (#18214282)
    I love the Perl Cookbook, nearly the single most useful book I own. I recently started working on some Perl/MySQL stuff again about a month ago, so I bought this book. I have not found it as useful. Now, this may be because I'm not a MySQL power user, I poke at it about once a year, just infrequently enough that I have to relearn everything again-- but you'd think this would be exactly the book I need.

    There's very little on subselects-- in fact, in trying to provide a page count, I can't find subselect in the index, even under select. The JOIN information is scattered through a few related recipes and is okay, but just okay. I had a pretty complicated (for me) SELECT statement I was trying to do, a LEFT JOIN with some WHERE information and a subselect with some other stuff...I don't recall the specifics, but the book was only moderately helpful, I wound up just trial and erroring my way through until it did what I wanted. There is some general management info, but no password recovery? Everytime I have to touch MySQL, step number one for me is typically password recovery, as I've forgotten everything since the last time.

    It's a big book, and seems to cover a lot of ground (for example, about 70 pages of recipes relating to dates), so I'm sure there's some good in here. With the Perl Cookbook, I can't say that I've used the whole thing, but there are particular sections that I return to again and again (custom sorting on hash keys, etc...) The MySQL Cookbook just doesn't seem to be syncing up with my problems the way the Perl Cookbook does. I use more Perl than MySQL, though, so maybe it would do better if you knew MySQL in more depth than I do. It may be a problem with my limitations, but then again, I would have thought a Cookbook would be exactly the book to help.
  • Re:another "idea" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shados ( 741919 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @10:39PM (#18214618)
    Caching: different if we're dealing with a web application. If you're using a cluster, you have to share cache dependency to keep it in sync, and depending on clustering technology/tools, its different.

    Distributed applications: RMI in Java, C++, or .NET are different. Or are we using web services? Unless you're coding from scratch, different across environments. Do we make the WSDL manually, does the framework generate it on the fly? God forbid you're using Windows Communication Foundation, or Corba? Best practices and architecture are totally different.

    Clustering: In ASP.NET you'll need to switch over to a state server else sessions won't work. Most mainstream RDBMS will link almost transparently, but with those that don't, you'll need to get creative. This one is almost purely dependant on technology, and different environments will have different ways of dealing with the mass servers.

    BI: Data mining and such. SQL Server has a bunch of proprietary mechanics and ways of dealing with cubes and data models, and how to train them... Oracle of other ways, other third party tools have theirs. Or you can code from scratch. Depends on your needs, 100% different either way: the theorical concept is the same, the implementation, totally different.

    Reversal of Dependency: Different languages, different ways of loading an object from a configuration. .NET's objects are all introspectable by definition. Javas are not, so you need to do things differently. .NET's best practice would build around the Provider pattern, which can be done by inheriting objects made for that purpose entirely. In Java (last time I checked, might have changed), you have to go by the design pattern from scratch. Or use Spring, for example.

    Optimisation: totally different accross environments. For real RDBMS, you have to avoid cursors at all cost. For transactional engines with a relational API, you might need to use cursors like hell. .NET has constructs to ease async calls built in web service proxies and database calls without ever having to make a thread instance, in Java, its handled differently.

    Another example: the Observer Pattern. In Java its a standard design pattern, in .NET you use delegates. What about threads? I used to work on socket servers, handling concurrent connection. I had to do the same darn thing in .NET just today, and realised the best practices for locking and synchronising threads were completly different. Different constructs. Same logic, yes, but completly different ways of doing things cleanly.

    And the list go on. Im comparing Java and .NET here because they're so close, yet all the best practices are different. If you compare PHP and .NET, its so freagin different, when you look at forums, you keep seeing PHP programmers begging to know how you can easily make a table by looping and outputting HTML, but its horrible practice. And it goes the other way around in reverse.

    If we compared low level stuff, like string manipulation, pointer arithmetics, etc, yes, its the same across languages. But unless you're coding a driver, working on the Linux kernel, or coding in C, you're not going to do things that people have done 19274092174902 times over in the past. What you're more likely to do is make softwares that integrate one way or another with their environment. And thats never the same. It might LOOK the same. And thats the pitfall.

    Seeing someone implement the Observer pattern in .NET makes me feel sick everytime...

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll