jarich (Jared Richardson) writes "Many people will remember Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas's The Pragmatic Programmer (Slashdot review) as one of the better books on real-world best practices. It was a watershed book for many developers. However, The Pragmatic Programmer assumed a certain level of familiarity with some of the basic tools of the trade. For many readers, this simply wasn't a valid assumption, so Andy and Dave have started on a set of prequels to PragProg, called Starter Kits." Richardson reviews below that series' introduction to the Concurrent Versioning System, better known as CVS.
What's the approach?The philosophy of this series is summed up on the Starter Kit website:
Software development is difficult enough; if you try to build on a shaky foundation it can make development almost impossible (which might account for the fact that about 50% of all software projects fail). You need a firm foundation: The Pragmatic Starter Kit is a set of basic, common-sense practices applicable in all software development environments. The techniques given in these three books are not expensive to implement and are not hard to learn, but can make the difference between being a success and being a statistic.
The first book in the series covers the what, why and how of software versioning, using CVS for the examples. It walks you through installing CVS clients, setting up your server, and using basic commands, then teaches advanced concepts. It is the new CVS handbook that can be used by both beginners and veterans.
Target AudienceThis book, like The Pragmatic Programmer, should have very broad appeal. It should be required reading for any junior developers or CVS administrators, and it should be a bookshelf reference book for mid-level to senior developers. It is slanted heavily towards CVS, but given that CVS is free and widely used, that shouldn't prevent anyone from using the book to learn the concepts, even if their company uses another versioning system for production work.
What's to like?As is usual for Thomas and Hunt's books, this one is a very easy read. The concepts are clearly laid out, with plenty of working examples throughout. There is a good coverage of the fundamentals as well as very advanced topics. Unlike most CVS books or tutorials, this text is clear and straightforward. It's easy to understand and follow. It's got the best coverage of CVS branching and merging that I've ever read!
What's to hate?Honestly, there is not a lot here that I don't like. The introductory chapters are little too basic, but since the book is (partly) aimed at beginners, that's okay.
Why bother reading this book?I've been using CVS for over six years now (including being the CVS admin at two companies) and this book covered a few very useful advanced topics that I had never even heard of. An example of this is the use of vendor tags (Chapter 10). Using this feature, you can have a local copy of your favorite open source project in your company's CVS server and make changes to it. You can then merge your local project with the new releases of the public project, and CVS will handle merging your changes with the public baseline. This feature is incredibly useful, but I didn't even know it existed until I read this book.
This book is a great introduction if you've never used a versioning system. By the time you've finished the book, you'll have installed CVS (client and server), created projects, created new files, merged changes, etc. If you already use versioning software, it can remind you about the features you've forgotten about (or never knew existed). This book is a great introduction and a great refresher too.
Where to buy?
Not so long ago in another Slashdot article, Andy and Dave suggested that in order to compete in the new global economy, we should all diversify our skill sets. To that end, this book is published under their new publishing company, The Pragmatic Bookshelf. You can buy copies from the Pragmatic Programmer's web site in both dead tree ($29.95) and PDF ($20.00) formats.
SummaryAs we have come to expect from Andy and Dave, this is another great book. The technical content is rich and clear but it won't put you to sleep. It has appeal to both newbies and veteran developers. I give it '10 out of 10 slashes.'
Richardson met Hunt while he and Thomas were finishing up The Pragmatic Programmer and has reviewed each book that they have written since -- he makes no bones about liking their work.