How do I learn and master Sinatra?

Welcome to the first installment on the RL blog, of a mini series – “How do I learn and master Sinatra?” – by top Rubyists using Sinatra. The interview series will provide insight and commentary from these notable Sinatra developers, with the goal of facilitating and providing answers to the questions Ruby beginners face on how to learn and master Sinatra.

Satish>> Corey Donohoe, could you tell us something about yourself – your background, where you are based?

Donohoe Corey Donohoe>> I’m Corey Donohoe. I’m based out of Boulder, Colorado – USA. My background is in computer science and system administration though I prefer hacking to either of those labels. I’m a pretty normal dude, I enjoy cycling, music, coffee, micro brews, and all the other awesomeness that my home state has to offer. I’ve been working for Engine Yard since March of ’07 doing everything from app support to internal development. I’m currently 12 of our internal integrations team.

Sinatra’s greatest strength is its flexibility

Satish>> Are there any pre-requisites for a person to start learning Sinatra

Corey>> There aren’t any hardcore prerequisites per se; Ruby and experience in a Ruby web framework is a plus. HTTP verbs play a huge role in Sinatra, as well as things like query and post params. If you get those concepts you can hit the ground running.

Satish>> How should one start learning Sinatra?

Corey>> Learn Sinatra incrementally. If you have new business requirements try to think about things like “how would i implement this in Sinatra?” Take the time to figure that requirement out in Sinatra then throw the solution out! When the time comes to use Sinatra for something you’ll have a much more broad understanding of the framework and you’ll hit fewer blockers.

Satish>> Which area of Sinatra should a beginner pay particular attention to?

Corey>> Understanding the difference between Sinatra::Base and Sinatra::Default is definitely something a Sinatra beginner should focus on early. Sinatra::Base is for writing Rack middleware, and Sinatra::Default is normally for writing Rack applications. Learning the modular style app development is really useful as well as using the register method to include pieces of functionality. Getting a handle on those concepts will expose you to the rest of Sinatra, which is relatively intuitive.


Satish>> Is the official documentation on Sinatra good enough for a beginner? Are there areas which need improvement or need to be re-written

Corey>> The Sinatra documentation is well done and I can generally find answers to my questions just by referencing the docs. There’s always #sinatra on freenode or the Sinatra book on github if you need additional help too. There’s plenty of pretty well tested examples on github using Sinatra, hancock and integrity come to mind.

Satish>> Sequel, DataMapper, ActiveRecord – which one would you recommend to use with Sinatra and why?

Corey>> I use DataMapper exclusively. It was a bumpy ride a year ago but these days it’s acceptable for production use. We interface with more than just relational databases and the ability to keep a consistent model syntax across various data sources is really attractive to us. Realistically I feel like I spend less time fighting my framework when I’m using DataMapper so it’s the clear choice. The one place I wouldn’t use dm in would be a join heavy relational environment; ActiveRecord is way better at that.

Satish>> Is an understanding of Rack important while learning Sinatra? Why? Which area of Rack should one be really comfortable with?

Corey>> You don’t need a solid understanding of Rack to get a Sinatra up and running, but you’ll be missing out on a lot of the power. It’s extremely beneficial to take the time to learn how the Rack::Builder works as well as the usage of the use/map/run commands in that context. The modularity of Rack really becomes apparent and you’ll find yourself using Sinatra more effectively.

Satish>> How should one hone one’s skills in Sinatra?

Corey>> Read code, write test code, write code. All of the awesome testing frameworks available for Ruby are available to Sinatra. If you don’t write tests it might be a good way to familiarize yourself with testing best practices without the overheard of a larger framework.

Satish>> What type of projects should a beginner work on to gain more expertise in Sinatra?

Corey>> A beginner would benefit from writing something completely API driven as a first project. So many people couple databases with dynamic web applications but it’s kind of liberating to just be an intermediary service. Twitter apps are pretty trivial to implement and can teach you a lot. They also expose you to a pretty large userbase to solicit feedback.

Satish>> Could you suggest some web services that a Sinatra beginner could develop himself / herself?

Corey>> Web services are great targets for introducing Sinatra into your workplace. Identify a pain point in your organization and put a small app in front of it. It doesn’t have to replace something overnight but it’s a great way to sneak functionality in at work. Once you have a few of these built you start to reap the benefits of microapps and web services.

Satish>> Anything else you would like to add?

Corey>> Learning Sinatra is the best thing you can do while we all wait for Rails 3 to land. The middleware you write will be able to be dropped right into your Rails 3 applications so it’s not like you’re wasting time. We’re starting to build really modular systems using Sinatra by building APIs into those systems. I think a lot of people would benefit from breaking their monolith apps down into microapps and Sinatra is a great way to do it.

People looking for a template might want to investigate the singem gem. It has basic templates for twitter apps or regular webservices. All of them are bootstrapped for testing with cucumber+rspec.

Thank you Corey. In case you have any queries and/or questions, kindly post your questions here (as comments to this blog post) and Corey would be glad to answer.

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