Enterprise Application Development Books

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Around the middle of last year I reviewed ASP.NET 3.5 Enterprise Application Development with Visual Studio 2008. In a nutshell, I thought it was a good entry level book to multi-tier app development, but I didn’t think it really showed what “enterprise” dev should be.

Since then, I’ve gotten a lot of questions asking what book I would recommend to learn enterprise application development. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have an answer at the time… and I still don’t.

The problem is that, for a dev who’s never done anything much larger than a fairly simple web site or some console/WinForms apps, after reading this book it looks like “all you need to do” to get into enterprise dev is start separating things into tiers, and that’s not really accurate.

Really, you need to consider different technologies; different architectures; how the system you’re building needs to interact with other systems (if at all); who’s going to maintain it when you’re done; how the system should be extended; and so on. It’s more than just throwing a three-tier web app out there.

Because there’s so much to it, you really can’t just pick “a book” and call it good. You sort of need to pick several books, but even then, it’s not enough.

Think of it in terms of those “Learn to Program in 24 Hours” books.Say you read one of those and work through the exercises and do everything it says you should do. When you’re done, are you a programmer? No, not really. You might be able to put a simple program together, or even a complex one, but you’ll be missing a lot of the things that you’d get with experience - knowing which algorithms to use in certain situations, understanding the benefits and drawbacks to the tech you’re working with, and so on.

Same thing here: Can a book, or even several books, teach you enterprise development? I’d say no. You’ll never be able to just read a few books and throw “enterprise development” on your résumé. Can books give you a few building blocks that you can use, along with experience, to do enterprise development? Sure.

Given the constraint that you’ll be looking at .NET-based technology (since the original commentary was on a .NET-based book), here are a few suggestions. It’s by no means all-inclusive; the second I publish this it’ll be out of date (if it isn’t already); and while this is a .NET-centric list, you really need to look beyond just .NET so you can choose the right solution.

  • Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software: Understanding design patterns will help you recognize different ways to implement various functionality as well as giving you a common language with which you can communicate your design. (You may have heard this book referred to as the “Gang of Four” book.) Should you apply every single design pattern in your code? No - it’s not a checklist. Will it help you do things in a standard way and maybe open your eyes to some different ways to solve the problem? Sure.
  • Design Patterns in C#: Less comprehensive (and easier to read) than the “Gang of Four” book, but provides concrete examples of common patterns in C# and helps to solidify some of the concepts.
  • Framework Design Guidelines: Conventions, Idioms, and Patterns for Reusable .NET Libraries: This book will help you understand various patterns (and anti-patterns) that you should use in your code. It also addresses some issues like naming conventions that will help your source code be more discoverable to other developers who may come in to help or maintain the code. (FxCop analyzes your code for some of these rules. You’ll want to run FxCop on your enterprise app code. However, you may not want to run literally every single rule. I have some recommendations on which rules to run based on my experience.)
  • SOA: Principles of Service Design: If you’re not familiar with service-oriented architecture, this will help you become familiar. Remember, though, that SOA is just one option for separating logic into components. The ASP.NET 3.5 Enterprise Application Development book doesn’t even mention services, and that’s a big oversight.
  • Professional ASP.NET 4 in C# and VB: If your UI will be a web app, you owe it to yourself to get this book. It covers the ASP.NET pipeline and the common providers you’ll need to know about. While it primarily focuses on web forms, it does touch on ASP.NET MVC. Note that there is a lot to ASP.NET. It’s not just throwing a few controls on a page or whatever. This book is a behemoth at around 1400 pages with fairly small text. Be ready.
  • Professional ASP.NET MVC 2.0: A smaller book that focuses on the MVC portion of ASP.NET. This complements the more general ASP.NET book listed above. (At the time of this writing, the MVC 2.0 book is a pre-order; if you’re looking for something right now, get the MVC 1.0 book.)
  • Writing Secure Code: If you’re creating an enterprise app, it probably means you’re going to have a user base larger than one trusted user. You’ll want to make sure what you’re doing has security built-in from the ground up. Security is not an afterthought.
  • Code Complete: If you’re a developer of moderate experience then a lot of what you’ll find in here will feel like review. If you’re not, this book will help you understand some general good programming practices. In enterprise development, you’ll want to be aware of this stuff. It’s not just “jamming some code together.”
  • Code Leader: Using People, Tools, and Processes to Build Successful Software: Part of development of enterprise apps is the process - not just the coding, but how it gets built, how it gets tested, how it’s organized, etc. It’s meta-information about the app, not just the app. This book is a good intro to some of this process information. This one is sort of like gaining some “free experience” - it took a lot of us years to arrive at the conclusions you’re just handed here.
  • The Art of Unit Testing: With Examples in .NET: If you’re doing an enterprise app, you’d best be testing it. “It works” isn’t good enough at this level. While unit testing isn’t the only kind of testing you should be doing, it is fundamental. This book will help you understand how unit testing works and how to make a good unit test.
  • Other technology-specific books: You’ll end up with a lot of books that tell you how to work specific tech in .NET. Depending on your solution, you may or may not need these; or you may need more than this.

Like I said, it’s nowhere near a comprehensive list. For example, you’ll notice I didn’t include a database design book - not because there aren’t any good ones, just that I don’t have a specific recommendation. I also didn’t include a book for every single .NET-based tech; that list could go on forever. Windows Presentation Foundation, Silverlight, Azure cloud services… there’s a lot. I also didn’t get into every technology-agnostic programmer topic that would help - regular expressions, source code branching strategies, refactoring patterns, algorithms and data structures, etc. Again, that could go on forever.

However, all of this stuff is stuff you need to know, or at least be highly aware of, if you’re doing any sort of “true” enterprise development. It’s not just multi-tier development.

What do you think? Do you have a recommended set of books for enterprise application development? Do you think you can learn enterprise app from a single book? Several books? Or is it just something you need to learn with experience? Leave a comment and help out the people who are trying to learn.