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Adrian Hara Working through the .NET maze
Last year I had the pleasure of receiving a copy of the book Entity Framework Tutorial by Joydip Kanjilal from Packt Publishing and I recently got the time to read it so I thought I'd share my impressions on it.

I have to confess to having great expectations from the book: it was from Packt, the publishers of the excellent Programming Windows Workflow Foundation by K Scott Allen and it was on Entity Framework, a topic which I had been meaning to read up on for a while.

Like the WF book, EF Tutorial takes a very hands-on approach to the problem. In fact, since the book itself is quite small (some 200 pages), there's clearly no space to waste with marketing talk. Also like the WF book, EF Tutorial comes loaded with a lot of screenshots and code examples and is nicely structured so it progressively  but steadily goes from light topics to some more advanced ones. Unfortunately, the similarities with Programming WWF stop here.

In all honesty, I was quite dissapointed with the book. While the WWF book (no hidden advertising here, honest! :)) was also short, it was incredibly focused and, to me, made it seem like every word counted: there were no rants, no superfluous information, just facts, hints, tips, code (and some insights a la K. Scott Allen ;)). Straight up quality! In EF Tutorial, on the other hand, a lot of the time I got the feeling that either a) stuff was written just to fill the chapter or b) the author had no knowledge of the "inner workings" of something so instead he just wrote some generic stuff, without really explaining the "how"s and "why"s and moved on.

  • the edmx schema is glossed over very briefly - there are no explanations as to what each element means or why it was designed this way. Instead, we get the whole triplet thing (CSDL, SSDL, MSL) several times over, presented as a big thing. I'm sure it really is, but I'd like to know why ;)
  • there's lots and lots and *lots* of xml mapping code - I'm not quite sure if anyone wanting to try to practice what's presented in the book will write all that code by hand in visual studio... reading it from the book. Also, as far as I'm concerned, presenting xml mapping code over several pages doesn't exactly help improve its readability. I would've certainly liked some highlights and some words instead of the same complete mapping code over and over.
  • there's lots of screenshots - that could actually be a good thing, and in several places it is. But having screenshots of how to install the Entity Framework or .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 (yea, I mean screenshots of the actual install wizard!) is a bit overdoing it. Still, although annoying and pointless at times, there are quite a few helpful ones, like the EF designer and mapping details.
  • there was more than one place in the book where the topics presented ended quite abruptly, without any real explanation - chapter 7, attaching entities or implementing complex types in the edm (where I found out that "a complex type is actually a structures property" and that's it) come off the top of my head.
Another negative point of the book is that, at least to me, it seems it never got a serious review (or reviews) before getting published: there are a lot of English language mistakes, which I can live with, but also a lot of code (or xml) mistakes. The latter part is especially bad as the book's target is someone who's completely new to EF and he or she might be put off or sent on the wrong track by these mistakes. It's too bad, because more often than not, they are not reasoning mistakes but probably just copy/pasting or late night working and, in my opinion, could have easily been corrected. Also, there are some rather dubious claims here and there, like mapping of stored procedures which return a scalar value (and thus don't have an entity set), for which the author's solution is (warning! wtf moment coming up!) to create a dummy table in the db and an entity type for it ;)

So, after all this, you might be wondering if the book's ANY good: it is. It's just that you have to know how to take it: for me it was reading through it and whenever I felt that a topic was not explained enough or contained dubious information I read about it on the net. So the book was more like an overview, a pointer towards the right directions to read and help to structure learning EF. And maybe this was its purpose. BUT, if you plan on reading this on a plane trip of a few hours, with no connection to the internet to look stuff up (and are the type of person who doesn't take things for granted but wants to knows the reasoning behind and inner workings of them), maybe you should look elsewhere. Posted on Sunday, January 25, 2009 4:53 PM | Back to top

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