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Building Scalable Web Sites [Paperback]

Cal Henderson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 May 2006 0596102356 978-0596102357 1

Learn the tricks of the trade so you can build and architect applications that scale quickly--without all the high-priced headaches and service-level agreements associated with enterprise app servers and proprietary programming and database products. Culled from the experience of the Flickr.com lead developer, Building Scalable Web Sites offers techniques for creating fast sites that your visitors will find a pleasure to use.

Creating popular sites requires much more than fast hardware with lots of memory and hard drive space. It requires thinking about how to grow over time, how to make the same resources accessible to audiences with different expectations, and how to have a team of developers work on a site without creating new problems for visitors and for each other.

Presenting information to visitors from all over the world

Integrating email with your web applications

Planning hardware purchases and hosting options to have as much as you need without breaking your wallet

Partitioning and distributing databases to support large datasets and simultaneous transactions

Monitoring your applications to find and clear bottlenecks

* Providing services APIs and using services from other providers to increase your site's reach and capabilities

Whether you're starting a small web site with hopes of growing big or you already have a large system that needs maintenance, you'll find Building Scalable Web Sites to be a library of ideas for making things work.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (26 May 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0596102356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0596102357
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 1.8 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 109,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"What this book gives, possibly uniquely, is both a look at the whole spectrum of building a service and some details of all the major stages. It's ideal to give to someone who has a tight focus or experience on a particular area, e.g. writing lines and lines of PHP code which kills the database or filer because the author has little appreciation of what happens at other levels of the system structure. This book would make an ideal guide to people who need to be given some indications of the world beyond a small area. It's also a good read for those who build web sites which may potentially get a large volume of traffic to learn from flickr and why they made the decisions they made." - Sam Smith, news@UK, September 2006

Book Description

Building, Scaling, and Optimizing the Next Generation of Web Applications

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scalability light but wisdom heavy 1 Mar 2008
Format:Paperback
Somewhat written towards PHP, MySQL and Linux users the text manages to cover a good number of topics every web programmer should know about without being too strong on its chosen technology stack. Some chapters are affected more than others, and some of the problems with UTF-8 text are specific to PHP. 90% of the text however manages to be generic that it is not a big problem.

While the book covers none of the aspects of scalability in great depth, since it only really devotes one chapter to it, the book makes up for it by being a check list of things to know and do with any site that is going to get larger. There is certainly more to know about scalability than this book gives you, but many gems of information can be found in it which even experienced developers will find useful. Its not really the definitive reference to scalability but rather the introductory book to all of the non functional aspects that impact how an application is deployed and written, and it covers many topics well and clearly.

Some elements of the book will age quite badly as they refer to particular tools or the speed of a server, but in general it is a clearly written book. It is one of those books you'll go back to and use as the basis of where to start with many aspects of the system.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very comprenhensive 13 Sep 2007
Format:Paperback
Cal Henderson's guide to scalable web applications is a book that won't dissapoint you at all.

In the initial chapters, he covers from the very basics ( layered design, good source code control ) to more "complicated" aspects of Unicode, internationalization and localization. He goes on to give a deep-geek analysis of email support in web apps, complete with security problems. Remote services are analysed and thought over as well, and different formats like REST, XML-RPC and SOAP are not forgotten, of course, and they are also duly reviewed twice, pros and cons and all.

Probably chapters 8 and 9 are the most interesting of the book (not to undervalue the rest of the content), as they delve deep into issues and problems that many of us, being way too used to working on the software side of things, tend to disregard when designing application. And that is all hardware issues that pertain to scalable apps. Clusters, Replication, CPU bound bottlenecks, disk reliability, data centers, disaster recovery, spare capacity...all of this is perfectly and clearly explained and very well covered. Very illuminating for anyone working in any non-trivial web development effort, from the developers to the project lead.

Then he tops the book by reviewing, not so deeply, issues with monitoring and statistics (usage, trends) and public API exposure.

The book is geared towards the PHP / MySQL developer working on Linux, therefore all the many tools mentioned are for this kind of environment. However, in spite of working in a Microsoft environment, I found the book very illuminating all the same.

I learned a real lot from it, and I mean to review some chapters every now and then. Is there anything better you can say about a book?

Thanks Cal for this masterpiece.
Buy It!!!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great book 3 July 2009
Format:Paperback
This is a great book. The only bad thing is that you have to know basic php/mysql programming. This is not a manual for building web apps, it's a book to make them big so they don't crash.

4.5/5

Greets
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! 3 Sep 2014
By Leo
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Amazing book. It has all the details normal software engineer must know. All those questions are usually asked at job interviews and are useful in the normal live.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  37 reviews
53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scalability -- A Hot Topic 12 Jun 2006
By Brett Merkey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
When I first starting working on Web application development teams, I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of skills and range of knowledge needed to drive the project through establishing the technical foundations; design, development and testing iterations; to final staged release. Lots of things got discussed in team meetings that I had barely a clue about. Not only do I wish I had this book *then,* I wish all members of my teams could have it *now.*

Cal Henderson has a wide background in the area and is lead developer for Flickr, the photo sharing site that has gained deserved popularity and is often mentioned as the quintessential Web 2.0 application.

The author does an excellent job of spreading out before you the whole process at a high enough level so the book can be valuable for managers, designers, and all sorts of people involved in putting out the final product.

His focus is on program design and design implementation issues, not programming as such. Code is not neglected. Many points regarding design implementation are made with code examples and solutions.

I find this book so personally valuable in grounding me in a complex process, I give it the highest Amazon rating even though I found aspects of the book's organization to be completely incomprehensible. This is a book about scalable Web sites and applications but the author does not define scalability nor does he deal with the broad Web issues (like the scaling myth) until 60% into the book! Chapter 9, titled "Scaling Web Applications" should have been much closer to the beginning since it was a high-level view with no code, as the other chapters. I was also befuddled with placing the chapter on internationalization, localization, and Unicode so early in the book -- even before the chapter on data integrity and security. There is nothing like a mind-numbing Unicode glyphs and grapheme discussion to kill the pacing of a book! Skip the chapter entirely or read it last.

Organization anomalies aside, the author has a good writing style and he does not view humor as a blunt instrument. His four page analogy between layered architecture and an English trifle was worth the space he took. That's high praise from a guy who does a job that Henderson likens to whipped cream.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish all software developers would read this 21 Aug 2006
By ueberhund - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Unfortunately, I'm finding that there are still some in the software industry--from "two guys in a garage" to the largest corporation--don't know, follow, or believe software best practices. Suddenly when something goes wrong (e.g. the wrong version of a file was deployed, changes can't be rolled back, the application won't scale), everyone scrambles in an effort to figure out what happened. Oftentimes, if simple software practices were followed, many of these issues would never surface.

This book does a tremendous job identifying many of these best practices, identifies how to easily implement them--in almost any situation, and discusses application scaling techniques. As the book mentions, scalability is made up of three characteristics:

* The application can accommodate an increase in users

* The application can accommodate an increase in data

* The application is maintainable

Like any good book on application scalability, this one begins discussing the tiered architecture that is common in so many modern applications, and is a fundamental step in creating any truly scalable application. This follows into a discussion on source control--another fundamental part of keeping the application maintainable.

The author briefly discusses security issues by touching on cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and the like. The discussion is well written and thorough for the amount of time spent on the topic.

Finally, the author discusses many of the issues related to deployment of web applications, including system monitoring and alerting. There is also an excellent section on load balancing, techniques to keep databases scalable, and caching. Finally, the author ties the final section together by showing how to take data from a live production environment and use that information to continually improve the application.

This is an excellent read--a must if you are in the business of creating web applications. Whether your applications expect loads of 10 users or a million users, the techniques discussed in this book will make your application perform better and be easier to maintain.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars For beginners or clueless managers 10 April 2011
By Scott Murawski - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The title should be "Overview Of Building Scalable Web Sites".

I give it 2 stars not because it is a bad book but because I was tricked into thinking it was going to be useful as a scalable website builder. What you should do is look at the table of contents and research those topics and not bother reading this book.

The book is more of an overview of the topics you need to consider when building scalable web sites. For example, if you are building a scalable website and the powers that be put someone who knows nothing about web sites in charge of managing you, this really is the perfect book to give to your new manager. Your new manager will get a clue, but your new manager won't know a thing about HOW to build anything, but will know ABOUT what is being built.

The thing that got me is the first 188 pages of the book, just doesn't seem all that useful. On page 1 there is a definition of "What Is a Web Application", I'd estimate a book like this should assume you know what it is (it even suggests you do know what it is), but probably should save space and not even bother writing about it.

Some sections and my summaries:
Layered Software Architecture - could summarize into: DB layer, app code, html, css on top
Layered Technologies - get appropriate book on actual topic such as DB book, and use a template language
Getting from A to B - separate program from markup, use a template system
Hardware Platforms - dedicated, co-located, self hosting, space/power consumption, networking

It took 26 pages to get through all of that. Indeed they are all very important topics (for the web builder and your new manager to know), but as a builder (if you've gone past the first "hello world" website) you should really know that you'll be using a database and writing web app code and using html and css. You should already know that in order to run a website, you'll need to run it on a computer which takes up space and power and needs to be networked. It's good to know that dedicated/colo hosting exists, but no need to write so much about it.

It's almost like a book titled, "Building huge skyscrapers" and then goes on to say you are going to need construction equipment, concrete and steel. You'd hope the person interested in that book has already built houses or commercial buildings and has used construction equipment and concrete and steel already. I'm probably being too harsh here, but that's the jist of it.

My "favorite" chapter is 3, "Development Environments". Use source control, have a good build system, track bugs. Those are very good rules, but to have 19 pages on source control AND 3 of those pages on RCS/CVS, it's like, "Are you kidding me? Isn't this book about building scalable websites?". Nowadays people probably have never even heard of RCS... (the book is a bit dated though).

Chapter 9, Scaling Web Applications has some stuff about load balancing and database replication/master-slave info, but after reading the chapter, you still won't have the first clue of what load balancing system to use or how to setup database replication or clustering... but you'll know that load balancing and database replications exists and know a little about them.

The actual best chapter is chapter 10, Statics, Monitoring and Alerting, there is information there that is useful. For your own sake though, look at the Nagios, Zabbix, etc monitoring packages and that'll get you started in the right direction.

For the reviews which say this book is technical, I couldn't disagree more, if it was actually technical I wouldn't be so annoyed with this book. If it was technical, then you'd know HOW to do something after reading it...

In conclusion, I think it's a good overview on the topics involved, but it's not really about building anything, it's about some topics you need to know that are involved with building a scalable website.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Starts out off-topic, and then WHAM... 13 Jun 2006
By I. Code Freeley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
...it's all there.

Maybe it's my background, but I found the first seven chapters to be....dull, and not directly about scalability. To be honest, I almost set the book aside and considered it money NOT well-spent. Then things started to heat up in Chapter 8, and in Chapter 9 it all comes together. That one chapter (9) is the highest density of useful information about website scaling that I've ever seen. There are literally gems on every page.

Make no mistake. This book is more of an overview of the landscape, with brief asides that are clearly brain-dumps from his Flickr experience. The author manages to touch on every topic area that matters, and provide simple overviews of the options available and when they should be applied. In that sense it's more like an informal design patterns book (lots of "yeah, I knew that" and "Ah! I had a feeling there was a pattern there" moments), with just enough detail to let me do intelligent googling for deeper insights on analysis, design, and construction of scalable systems.

Chapters 8, 9, and 10 make the book worth every penny.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Resource, but a bit wordy 31 July 2006
By Adam Sweeny - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I came to "Building Scalable Web Sites" as our team was expanding, introducing two new developers to the existing pair of us. For that reason alone, I jumped at the opportunity to review this book, and once I realized it was from one of the designers of Flickr, that piqued my interest even more. We'd recently moved from hosting our family albums locally to a Flickr website, and so their background and scalability affected me directly.

The introduction chapter started off quite dry, as the author attempted to introduce "What is a Web Application", a step probably not necessary for this volume's intended audience.

The second chapter opened right up however. Henderson's analogy of a trifle to describe Architecture was genius, with your sponge base all the way to your garnish of sprinkles on top. I went racing into the third chapter, exited about the prospects of Source Control ( a problem with our current environment, and one I only see getting worse).

Unfortunately, the book slowed right back down again, dragging through too long segments on Release Management, Issue Management Strategies, and the like. I took longer and longer breaks to come back to this section, almost leaving the book to the side here.

The book continued in this fashion, some bits of great insight and interest, but scattered with wordy, heavy sections that seemed to strangle the pace. As a Higher Education Programmer, Unicode was completely irrelevant to my projects, but the section on Canonical Holes brought me right back in again.

SQL Injections kept me reading right along, but a whole chapter on email in your web application had me drifting again. In summary, Henderson goes into great detail where you need it in some great areas on Scalability, but I'd not read it straight. Find the chapters that relate to your project or your goal, and you'll find a great resource.

The index is great for this purpose, with well thought out keywords that I've already found myself referencing even though I've just only finished the book. The lean of the volume is pretty heavily LAMP, with several Linux/Unix only references and software leads, which would be great for some audiences, but in our ColdFusion/IIS environment, I found myself searching for a tool that was described in the book only to realize that it didn't support Windows Servers.

It also focused heavily on scaling up to millions of users, and I think many system administrators would be more interested in a quicker, dirtier look at taking their dozens to hundreds of users into the thousands and tens of thousands of users instead. Preparing that heavily for growth at these early stages would slow production much too far, in my opinion.

And enjoy the trifle analogy. Mmm...trifle.
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