Book review: MODx Web Development offers a real-world perspective

If you're interested in setting up a basic site using the open source CMS MODx, Justin James recommends reading Packt Publishing's MODx Web Development.


One of my favorite applications is the open source CMS MODx. After learning about MODx from a TechRepublic member, I wrote a glowing review of it in October 2006. Despite its high quality, MODx's user base growth has not been as quick as say, Drupal's, and as a result, there are few resources out there for it. Well, that's changed, thanks to Packt Publishing's new title, MODx Web Development by Antano Solar John, which I had the opportunity to read and review. (Read a sample book chapter, which covers authentication and authorization.)

This book provides an excellent introduction for someone who is interested in setting up a basic site using MODx. It also goes into some detail for someone who wants to write PHP code to extend the system. Even though I am already familiar with much of what was covered, I did learn some new things; "snippet" development, in particular, was new to me.

At just under 250 pages (not including the index), the author chose not to go particularly in-depth into any topic and not to replicate reference material that can be found online. Keeping the author's purpose in mind, I think he meets his goals admirably, stumbling only in a few minor spots.

Oddly, its clumsiest chapter is the first one, which introduces MODx. In particular, the author probably should have skipped the discussion of three-tier architecture; it felt out of place and contained a few things that were rather confusing and unnecessary. Chapter 2, which focuses on deployment, skipped a discussion on deploying over FTP, which is the most common deployment method (like it is for all PHP apps). Luckily, this is remedied later on, as Chapter 2 is merely to get you up and running in a demonstration environment.

From there, the book really gains momentum, taking the reader through creating templates, editing content, making use of snippets, chunks, placeholders, and other MODx items, and so on. In fact, my notes for most of the chapters are the same: "very good introduction to this topic!" Chapter 11 is a look at writing your own snippets, which are the heart of providing your own custom MODx functionality. This was one of two chapters where I really wish the author had gone into more detail or possibly provided basic reference material. Chapter 12 felt a bit diluted, and its information on SEO probably should have focused a bit more on the fact that MODx is flexible enough to allow your SEO people to do what they need, rather than try to give actual SEO information, which is always changing. Chapter 13, which was about plug-ins and modules, also could have used some beefing up.

Overall, I think this book is a very good read for someone who is just starting with MODx. It has good material for deployment as well as customization.

This is the second book that I have reviewed from Packt Publishing (the first was on the ADO.NET Entity Framework). Both times, I was struck by the fact that the books were clearly written by people who had to wrestle with the system (as opposed to the person who wrote the system). As a result, the authors did a good job of addressing the common "pain points" that developers would encounter. The authors also did not get bogged down in technical specs that the product documentation could probably give you. I commend Packt Publishing for filling this niche in the technical book world.


Disclosure of Justin's industry affiliations: Justin James has a working arrangement with Microsoft to write an article for MSDN Magazine. He also has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides.


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Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

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