O’Reilly Short Cuts: Mongrel

Posted on November 27, 2006

I just bought my first O’Reilly Short Cuts on Mongrel. At Joyent I spend a lot of time working with Mongrel so I thought maybe I’d learn something new… besides, I was curious whether or not these Short Cuts were worth it.

The document is only available in PDF, weighs in at 53 pages and costs $9.99. The PDF is dense, so dense that its hard to distinguish section headings from captions. Only two pages are “wasted”, the title page and the final page with acknowledgements, everything else is pure content.

The content itself is brief and to the point. It cuts through topics one after another and moves along. The upshot is that there is no fluff. The flip side is, however, if you’ve been looking for questions to your general Mongrel questions like “Should I run 2 Mongrels or 20?” you won’t find your answers here. You get the how but not the why. And frankly, this is probly what a lot of readers want. If your currently playing with Ruby on Rails but can’t wrap your brain around how to start using Mongrel or how to start making sense of Mongrel Cluster then this is a great starting place for you. Several load balancing techniques are covered including how to setup and use TCP balancers like Pen and Balance, HTTP balancers like Pound, Web Servers like Apache 1.3, Apache 2.2, Litespeed, and Lighttpd, and even a word about hardware load balancers (none mentioned by name). Both Windows and UNIX use are included with several scripts included such as startup scripts for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux/UNIX.

All in all, a really great little paper. I wish there was a bit more general detail provided such as “Why do I really need 20 Mongrels?” and “If FastCGI is old and crufty why hasn’t any bothered to pick up development again?” but these are topics that just spawn other questions and discussion and ultimately become a book.

Which brings me to an important point. While dozens of Ruby and Rails books are being churned out every month, I’ve not yet seen one that addresses Mongrel, which is, from my vantage point, the most popular Rails deployment server that there is. We’ve got (not telling) customers at Joyent running Rails and only a small handful are using Lighttpd FastCGI or other options. This paper really helps fill in that gap so that when you buy your new shiny Rails book you can grab this paper and just cram it into the book.

All that said, I’ll come back to the price of these Short Cuts from O’Reilly. In no way is this a reflection on the author of this paper, but in general I think $9.99 is too much for these. $5 seems to me a much better price. I saw some other Short Cuts that caught my eye, namely Getting Started with Hibernate 3, but I think I’ll save the $10 and just use the online manuals available and search Google for the rest.