Monday, December 9, 2013

Book Review: "Instant Flask Web Development" by Ron DuPlain

"Instant Flask Web Development" by Ron DuPlain (Packt Publishing is intended to be an introduction to Flask, a lightweight web application framework written in Python and based on the Werkzeug WSGI toolkit and Jinja2 template engine.

The book takes a tutorial style approach, building up an example appointment-management web application using Flask and introducing various features of the framework on the way. As the example application becomes more complicated, additional Python packages are covered which are not part of the Flask framework (for example SQLAlchemy for managing interactions with a database backend, and WTForm for handling form generation and validation) along with various Flask extensions that can be used for more complicated tasks (for example managing user logins and sessions). The final section of the book gives an overview of how to deploy the application in a production environment, using gunicorn (a Python WSGI server) and nginx.

Given its length (just short of 70 pages) the book is quite ambitious in the amount of ground that it attempts to cover, and it's quite impressive how much the author has managed to pack in whilst maintaining a light touch with the material. So while inevitably there is a limit to the level of detail that can be fitted in, there are some excellent and concise overviews of many of the topics that could act as excellent starting points for more experienced developers (for me the section on SQLAlchemy is a particular highlight). Overall the pacing of the book is also quite sprightly and conveys a sense of how quickly and easily Flask could be used to build a web application from scratch.

The flipside of the book's brevity is that it cannot possibly contain everything that a developer needs to know (although this is mitigated to some extent by extensive references to online documentation and resources). In this regard it is really more a showcase for Flask, and is best viewed as a good starting point for someone wishing to quickly get up to speed with the framework's potential. I'd also question how suitable this is for newcomers to either Python, or to web programming in general - I felt that some of the concepts and example code (for example the sudden appearance of a feature implemented using Ajax) might be a bit of a stretch for a novice. Also there are some occasional frustrating glitches in the text and example code which meant it took a bit of additional reading and debugging in places to get the example application working in practice.

In summary then: I'd recommend this book as a good starting point for developers who already have some familiarity with web application development, and who are interested in a quick introduction to the key components of Flask and how they're used - with the caveat that you will most likely have to refer to other resources to get the most out of it.

Disclosure: a free e-copy of this book was received from the publisher for review purposes; this review has also been submitted to Amazon. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

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