The main text of this book has four separate parts, each with its own personality, and each addressing different aspects of the Ruby language.

In Part I, Facets of Ruby, you'll find a Ruby tutorial. It starts off with a short chapter on some of the terminology and concepts that are unique to Ruby. This chapter also includes enough basic syntax so that the other chapters will make sense. The rest of the tutorial is a top-down look at the language. There we talk about classes and objects, types, expressions, and all the other things that make up the language. We even end with a short chapter on digging yourself out when trouble strikes.

One of the great things about Ruby is how well it integrates with its environment. Part II, Ruby in Its Setting, investigates this. Here you'll find practical information on running Ruby, and using Ruby with the Web. You'll learn how to create GUI applications using Tk, and how to use Ruby in a Microsoft Windows environment, including wonderful things such as making native API calls, COM integration, and Windows Automation. And you'll discover just how easy it is to extend Ruby and to embed Ruby within your own code.

Part III, Ruby Crystallized, contains more advanced material. Here you'll find all the gory details about the language, the metaclass model, tainting, reflection, and marshaling. You could probably speed-read this the first time through, but we found ourselves using the tables in this section even as we were writing the rest of the book.

The Ruby Library Reference is Part IV. It's big. We document over 800 methods in more than 40 built-in classes and modules. On top of that, we have another 70 pages describing some of the more useful library modules that come with Ruby.

So, how should you read this book? Well, it depends on you.

Depending on your level of expertise with programming in general, and OO in particular, you may want to read just a few portions of the book to start with. Here are our recommendations.

If you're a beginner, you may want to start with the tutorial material in Part I. Keep the library reference close at hand as you start to write programs. Get familiar with the basic classes such as Array, Hash, and String. As you become more comfortable in the environment, you may want to investigate some of the more advanced topics in Part III.

If you're already comfortable with Perl, Python, Java, or Smalltalk, then we'd suggest reading the introduction in Chapter 2 first. From there, you may want to take the slower approach and keep going with the tutorial that follows, or skip ahead to the gritty details starting in Part III, followed by the library reference in Part IV.

Experts, gurus, and “I-don't-need-no-stinking-tutorial” types can dive straight into the language reference, skim the library reference, then use the book as a (rather attractive) coffee coaster.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with just starting at the beginning and working your way through.

And don't forget, if you run into a problem that you can't figure out, help is available. See Appendix C, “Support,” for more information.

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