Review: Liferay Portal 5.2 Systems Development, by Jonas X. Yuan

I’ve just finished Jonas X. Yuan’s book, Liferay Portal 5.2 Systems Development and I thought I’d share a few thoughts.

First, I should probably get this out of the way: Jonas works for Cignex, which, from time to time, competes for business with my firm, Optaros. Okay, back to the book…

My overall impression of this book is that it essentially documents the work Jonas and his team did for one of their clients. While it is great that their project was broad enough to generate enough material to be compiled into a book, I felt like I was reading “here’s what we did on our project” instead of “let me teach you how to do Liferay development”.

When I read a technical book, I like to read about concepts and how I might apply those in different situations, and then dive into a realistic application of that concept. This book definitely covers realistic examples–the screenshots are lifted right out of the solution Jonas and his team built for their client. And I like that the example is fairly consistent throughout the book. But I found it very light on context and concepts. That left me feeling a bit disoriented as Jonas jumped from detail to detail with very little being done to set the scene. A simple explanation of “Why are we doing this?” would have been a big help.

Another thing that made this a tough read for me is that there are many grammatical issues with the text. If this were in one or two places, you could rightly accuse me of being a hard-grading Grandson of an English teacher (which I am). Unfortunately the problem isn’t limited to one or two places–there’s one on nearly every page. I don’t blame Jonas for this, I blame the editor. Is the pressure to publish on schedule so great that there is no time to perform even rudimentary grammar checks for things like missing articles?

If you can get past the style, there are good takeaways in the book. You’ll learn:

  • The difference between building customizations in ext versus plugins
  • How to use ServiceBuilder
  • How to build portlets using Struts and Tiles
  • How to extend the Journal CMS with structures and templates
  • How to build and customize themes and layout templates

There’s a chapter on Liferay’s Social Office and how it works behind the scenes, including details on Inter-Portlet Communication. Jonas has also included a chapter on moving content between multiple environments (Staging/Production) which is an area where portals are often less than optimal.

There is a lot of code included in the book and available for download. Several of the code snippets in the book need to be debugged before they will run properly, but most are easily worked through. The book suggests working with the Liferay source from HEAD, but I had to use the 5.2.3 tag to get the ServiceBuilder stuff to work correctly.

While this book isn’t for everyone, I’m glad Jonas wrote it. Liferay is a complex piece of software and the community needs all the documentation help it can get.