Book Review: Release It!

Michael T. Nygard’s Release It! was referred to several times at MuCon and keeps coming up when people discuss microservices. Despite being released in 2007 the book feels up-to-date. There was a lot of useful advice in here and, even when material was familiar, it was still entertaining. I wish I’d read this years ago – it  would have saved a few mistakes.

The book is a good mix of instruction and case studies. Seeing how Nygard coped with real-life outages is both instructive and fascinating. The advice ranges from high-level (an excellent overview of networking) to low-level (when doing load tests, make sure some connections don’t log out).

Some of the sections I found particularly useful were the one on third party SLA’s and how to deal with them; QA vs production (one of those issues that keeps returning for me); the need to consider data purging from the start of a platform. There is also the discussion of the circuit breaker pattern, which seems to have been one of the most influential parts of the book.

As my responsibility has increased, I’ve needed to think more about the terrible things that might happen to a system. A lot of junior developers are perhaps too optimistic and books like this one are good for giving an idea of how subtly brittle systems can be and the need to develop a certain cynicism. For example, in a section on testing, Nygaard writes:

“A good test harness should be devious. It should be as nasty and vicious as real-world systems will be. The test harness should leave scars on the system under test. Its job is to make the system under test cynical”

Parts of Release It! feel like a horror novel for software developers. It will open your eyes to places where your software is vulnerable and how bad things might get. The book is also funny – laugh out loud funny in a few places. The best endorsement I can give is that this is one of those books you want to force everyone around you to read.

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