Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book Review: JIRA Development Cookbook, by Jobin Kuruvilla


I just finished reading Jobin Kuruvilla's JIRA Development Cookbook and I'm pretty pleased with it. In my opinion, that's a book worth buying if you want to get serious about JIRA customization and plugin development. I admit there's plenty of information in the Internet about the subject, especially from Atlassian itself, and possibly no question of yours would remain unanswered. However, having a good book like this on your desk and using it as sort of a reference guide is a very good idea.

The Book's Structure

If you read about my first impressions, you'd realize that reading it took me more than a month. Beware: I read it in its entirety because I wanted to review it but this book, as many technical books out there, is not meant to be read from beginning to end as you'd do with a novel. Instead, you should read it diagonally to be aware of what it offers and to be able to quickly get the information you need.

The book is organized into 11 chapters, each of which is a walkthrough of the addressed subject. The typical chapter structure is "programmer friendly": it starts with a high level overview of the subject, analyzing JIRA architecture and internals when deemed necessary, after which it goes on exploring the subject making extensive use of task-lists and code examples. If you already master a subject, more often than not you will end up quickly scrolling the task list and jumping directly into the code. In the following screenshots you can see some excerpts of the book to familiarize with its structure.

A "Getting Ready" Task List

A Summary of What You're Going To Do

Explanatory Section

In Depth Discussion

The first two chapters, Plugin Development Process and Understanding Plugin Framework, offer an overview of the common tasks and procedures you'll undergo during your JIRA plugin development, including the installation of the development environment, the development, debugging and testing phases of your code and the deployment of your deliverable into a JIRA installation.

The third and the fourth chapters, Working with Custom Fields and Programming Workflows, explore some of the most important JIRA customizations you'll deal with when writing your plugins or even just extending the basic platform's functionality: custom fields and workflows.

The fifth chapter, Gadgets and Reporting in JIRA, is dedicated to gadget development and the extension of JIRA's reporting capabilities. The title is somewhat misleading, since this chapter also somewhat deals with JIRA's integration with other systems (at least from a gadget's standpoint), as a consumer of RESTful web services. Another chapter is entirely dedicated to this subject (Chapter 9) and the inclusion of this material in Chapter 5 could pass unnoticed, if not somewhat misleading.

The sixth chapter, The Power of JIRA Searching, examines the techniques you can use to deal with and extend the JIRA query language, JQL, and how to take advantage of it in your plugins.

The seventh chapter, Programming Issues, describes how issues can be managed programmatically. Issue management is extensively covered, discussing subjects such as issue creation and lifecycle management, issue operations, time tracking, issue linking and validation.

The eighth chapter, Customizing the UI, explores how the developer can customize the user interface of JIRA, including customizing and extending the default JIRA pages or creating your own web sections and items.

The ninth chapter, Remote Access to JIRA, is devoted to JIRA integration with external systems using SOAP web services, RESTful web services and, to a lesser extent, JAX-RPC web services. The first part of the chapter introduces the JIRA web service API and how to build a SOAP client. The second part describes how you develop your own web services and deploy them as part of your JIRA installation.

The tenth chapter, Dealing with a Database, instructs the developer in the available tools and how to use them to interact with the database JIRA is connected to. The chapter teaches developers how to programmatically retrieve important JIRA data from the database, such as issue, field and workflow information, and how to extend its schema to hold plugin-specific data.

The eleventh and last chapter, Useful Recipes, gathers interesting information and additional code samples to fulfill common tasks not strictly related with the content of the other chapters.

A Book for Programmers

I defined this book as "programmer friendly" because source code examples are often used as the mean to exemplify how JIRA works internally. Explanations are indeed placed after task lists and code samples, instead of before. In fact, to cite the very author, the book seems to be organized as a cookbook: every section is a recipe with ingredients (prerequisites and task lists), a quick procedure (the how-tos) and, only then, in depth discussions and explanations of the JIRA internals. I'm not a big fan of this kind of content organization but I do admit that, in such a case and for such a subject, it's an effective mean to organize and clarify the content, undoubtedly at the advantage of the reader himself.

Likewise, the book covers a great portion of a plugin development workflow. It's not, and probably cannot be, exhaustive, but rest assured that it will effectively guide you through your development of most, if not all, your plugins, since the vast majority of the APIs and the technologies that you're going to need are covered.

The contents are clearly exposed and are well detailed and I think it's a valuable addition to the official JIRA documentation that's worth having if you're developing on JIRA as a platform. Some subjects that are somewhat less covered in the official JIRA documentation (at least so far), such as UI customization and JQL function customizations, are extensively detailed and are, on their own, a valid reason to own this book.

The only thing I'm missing is a better typesetting: a book should be judged by its contents, and this is what I'm doing, but it's important to recognize that an effective presentation is a key factor to take into account. As a reader, I find the quality of the book typesetting (title formats, paragraph styles, etc.) to stand below the quality of its contents. Of course, it's better like this than the other way round, but I'd appreciate some redesign should this book be revised in the future.

Conclusion

I felt compelled to write a review of this book because I think it deserves it, it's a must-have for a JIRA plugin programmer. Before writing this, I thought I'd write a more in-depth review. Surprisingly, I discovered that enumerating each and every subject this book covers was not necessary: it's a homogeneous, extensive and well organized book.

From a developer standpoint, it's an effective and efficient mean to learn the subject and get the job done, much better than any tutorial I've seen so far. Together with the official Atlassian JIRA documentation, this book is pretty much all you need.

Title: JIRA Development Cookbook
Author: Jobin Kuruvilla

Pages: 476
Publisher: Packt Publishing
ISBN-10: 1849681805
ISBN-13: 978-1849681803


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