IronPython in Action

I received my copy of IronPython in Action (henceforth IPiA) in the middle of the week, and I’ve spent the last few days going through it on the Tube. What that means, in practice, is that I’ve simply skimmed sections which are code-heavy: I’ve not had my laptop with me and trying to read even a modest one-page explanation of a Windows Form app I find daunting unless I can tap the code in as I go. But I’ve gone through everything else. And I like what I see.

By way of disclosure, I’m given a couple of blushingly generous footnote credits by Michael which naturally leave me feeling well-disposed towards the book as a whole. But even without those, I’d be giving it the thumbs-up. As the authors note early on, a book of this sort is trying to fulfil two expectations: to inform existing .NET users about Python; and to inform existing Python users about .NET. With a very few exceptions I believe it manages at least the second of those two. (I’m not competent to judge the first).

As I noted in my review of Tarek Ziade’s Expert Python Programming, people want different things from their programming books. What suits me in IPiA might not suit someone else. But I find the style to be lightweight enough to avoid pomposity (my own cardinal fault in writing) while not descending into jokey asides so often as to distract. It also keeps the code examples fairly short. Altho’ I personally do prefer self-contained examples every time, I recognise that this isn’t always easy or even possible. And that some people like one growing example app to run through a book.

But the most important win, I think, is managing to write a book about IronPython, not about Python or .NET. Naturally there is an element of explanation involved in both directions when some feature is being introduced or compared. But for the most part you can refer to the appendices which give summaries of Python/.NET if an unfamiliar term arises. For me, this achievement is key to the success of a book like this. If I want to learn Python or .NET I’ll turn to another book or website. Here I want to know what IronPython can do which Python can’t (or better, or faster, or worse) and what IronPython can do which C# can’t (or better etc.). I don’t want to know what .NET can offer as such, altho’ real-word examples are obviously great illustrations. The one place I believe IPiA falls down just a little in this regard is in the chapter on Databases and Web Services. The problem is that IronPython doesn’t seem to bring enough to the table here to distinguish it from the equivalent C# code.

As a long-time user of Python on a Windows platform, I’ve obviously been umming-and-ahing about IronPython for a while. I’m happy with CPython, familiar with it; I’ve written no few lines of code around the Win32 API, all of which disappears when you enter the world of IronPython/.NET. That said, it’s clear that .NET is the future of Windows. As it happens, it looks like we’re about to undertake a project at work based around the Juggernaut Sharepoint and I hope this will provide the incentive for me to have a go with IronPython and see what it can do.