A Guide to the Best Beginning Rails Resources

There are a ton of books, videos, podcasts, and courses for learning Rails. There’s no way you’d have time to go through them all! So what’s the best way for an absolute beginner to learn Ruby and Rails? Which resources should you start with, and when?

Books and websites

If you’re totally new to programming, the best place to start is Learn to Program, by Chris Pine. It’s an intro to the core programming ideas you’ll need to know. If you’re planning to learn Ruby and Rails, it’s especially great, because it uses Ruby for all of the examples.

After that, Daniel Kehoe’s Learn Ruby on Rails is a gentle introduction to Rails. It teaches you a small part of Rails that will prepare you to take on the harder resources.

If you already know a few other languages or frameworks, check out the free Getting Started with Rails guide. It’s a good, short intro to Rails, that will teach you Rails’ concepts and core ideas.

Once you know the basics, there are two bigger books that will fill out your Rails knowledge.

Agile Web Development with Rails is my favorite general Rails book. It does a good job of teaching first by example, and then by reference. We use it at work to teach devs without Rails experience, and like most of the rest of the Pragmatic Bookshelf books, it’s very good.

The Ruby on Rails Tutorial is the other big Rails resource. It walks you through most of what you need to know to build a fully functional example app. I know a lot of great Rails developers who got started with the Rails Tutorial. And the web version is free, so you can see if it’s your style before you commit to it. If you put in the effort, you’ll get a lot out of it.

Once you’ve gone through one or two of these books, it’s pretty normal to feel confused and frustrated. Especially when you try to put everything together and build your own apps. My book, Practicing Rails, will help you solve the most painful problems you’ll run into as you start your programming career. In Practicing Rails, you’ll learn how to debug your code when it breaks, pick up some processes you can follow to turn the ideas in your head into real features, and discover how to write tests without getting stuck.

While you build your own apps, there are two resources you’ll use more than any others:

The Rails Guides will teach you the most important parts of Rails with documentation and examples. I go back to these all the time. And they’re always up to date.

When you want to know how to call a Rails method, or even whether a method exists to do what you want to do, you’ll need the official Rails API documentation.

(There are much better ways of browsing the API documentation, though, and I talk through a few of them in one of the lessons in my free email course).

You can start building simple apps without knowing a whole lot of Ruby, but spending more time learning Ruby will become important, quickly. And Programming Ruby is the best book I’ve found to get comfortable with the language.

Videos and guided courses

Books and websites are my favorite way to learn new things about Ruby and Rails. But if you prefer watching to reading, there are lots of great screencasts and courses you can check out, too.

If you want a video course to teach you Ruby and Rails, I’ve heard lots of praise for the Pragmatic Studio courses. They sound like a great place to start.

The RailsCasts haven’t been updated in a few years, but they’ll still show you great answers to common web problems. The APIs might have changed, but the ideas have stayed pretty much the same. They’re definitely worth watching.

Avdi Grimm’s Ruby Tapas screencasts will show you fun Ruby code in 5-10 minute videos. They’re Ruby-focused (rather than Rails-focused), but I always learn a lot from them. You can find a few free sample videos on the site, but they’re all great. It’s really worth subscribing to.

The Destroy All Software screencasts aren’t specifically about Ruby and Rails, but watching them will make you a better developer, whatever your language.

Finally, bloc.io is an online bootcamp some readers have recommended. They pair you with a mentor who can help you with your specific problems when you get stuck.

One-on-one help is great – it can be exactly what you need while you’re learning. If you can’t find a friend or mentor to help you out, I wrote an email to my list about where you should look. (By the way, you can sign up here to get helpful emails like that every Friday).

What do I recommend?

I know, that’s still a whole lot of stuff! My recommendation, if you like reading and already know the programming basics, is to start with Programming Ruby and Agile Web Development with Rails. While you read, build some tiny sample apps to try out the things you learn. (You’ll learn more about how to do that in the free sample chapter of Practicing Rails).

Do you have any other recommendations for resources that helped you out? Anything you can’t believe I missed? Comment and tell us all about them!

This article was inspired by a question from James on my advice page. If you’re stuck on questions about Ruby and Rails, and need some help or advice, ask me there!

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