Build a virtual bookshelf of free Ruby and Rails books

July 28, 2010

If you’re just getting into Ruby or Rails now, and looking for some light reading, you’re in luck. Publishers like the Pragmatic Programmers, O’Reilly, Manning Publications, and others have tons of books available to help you learn. You could easily spend a few hundred dollars building a bookshelf of Ruby references. There are also some good free books to peruse online (or download) to get started or augment your collection.

Programming Ruby: The Pragmatic Programmer’s Guide (HTML)

Dave Thomas and Andy Hunt, the Pragmatic Programmers themselves, penned the book that is credited with popularizing Ruby in the United States. The first edition (from 2001) is available for free, or you can buy the second edition, which covers Ruby 1.8, or the third edition, covering Ruby 1.9, from the Pragmatic Programmers.

Why’s (Poignant) Guide to Ruby (HTML, PDF)

Unless you’re brand new to Ruby, you’ve no doubt heard of Why the Lucky Stiff and his contributions to Ruby. Why’s (Poignant) Guide to Ruby was one of my first introductions to the language (along with the first edition of Agile Web Development with Rails). I’ll be honest, I didn’t get through the whole book. But I did find it fascinating. If nothing else, it’s worth skimming so you get the chunky bacon references you’ll hear in the Ruby community.

Sadly, _why disappeared about a year ago, but admirers of his work scrambled to make sure archived copies of his writings about Ruby, as well as his essential Ruby projects like Hpricot, Camping, Hackety Hack, and arguably his most famous work, the (Poignant) Guide.

Mr. Neighborly’s Humble Little Ruby Book (HTML, PDF)

The Humble Little Ruby Book by Jeremy McAnally is a little out of date, being based on Ruby version 1.8.4 (versions 1.8.7 and 1.9.2 are commonly used now), but it’s relatively short (under 150 pages) and in a very friendly, accessible tone. If you’re still getting familiar with the Ruby language itself, it’s as good an introduction as there is out there. There’s also a print version for sale for under $10.

Learn Rails by Example (HTML)

This is a new one for me—in fact, I just learned about it today. So I haven’t read it beyond the table of contents, but having done so I wish I’d known about it much earlier. Michael Hartl’s book goes beyond your basic build a blog in Rails-type tutorial, giving you just enough information on Git, Heroku, testing (which I think is sadly omitted in the blog-in-fifteen-minute demos and tutorials), and AJAX to build and deploy full-featured applications. If you don’t want to read this in your browser you can also purchase a PDF version for $39 (a traditionally-published book version of this title is now available as well). Buy the Rails 3 version and get the 2.3 version for free.

Looking for more books? Thanks to everyone who added their recommendations—here are more free Ruby and Rails books.

What’s on your shelf?

Are there any good, free Ruby or Rails references on your shelf? Please share them in the comments, and thanks as always for reading.

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