BizTalk 2006 Book Rating

Students frequently ask my opinion on which BizTalk Books will be most helpful. I have reviewed several books, and will recommend a few of them here. I haven’t really seen any terrible BizTalk 2006 books (and believe me, I have seen some terrible technical books in the past!), so this is really a ranking of several really good books. It should be noted that many of the books below mention BizTalk Server 2006 R2 only in passing, because they were all written prior to the release of R2. I do not know if updates are planned for them.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that QuickLearn has received a slew of books from Apress that we occasionally pass out in classes (thanks, Apress). Also, Darren Jefford, the author of one of the other books, is a friend and has provided signed copies of books that we have given away at various conferences. Despite my affiliations, I hope to provide a fair assessment of the literature.

The top of my list is Professional BizTalk Server 2006, by Darren Jefford, Kevin B. Smith, and Ewan Fairweather, published by Wrox Publishers. “Wrox” is pronounced like “Rocks,” which is exactly what this book does. It’s very telling that, as I was writing this post, Amazon has eight listed reviews, and all eight give the book full marks (five stars) – I would definitely give it the same. Because this book assumes a moderate level of existing BizTalk knowledge, it is definitely not a good book to learn BizTalk from scratch (it’s a great companion book to our Deep Dive). Nevertheless, it’s a book by three guys who have been there, done that, and own the tee shirt when it comes to BizTalk implementation. This is a book that I refer to frequently.

Coming in at a close second on my list of favorites is Pro BizTalk 2006, by George Dunphy and Ahmed Metwally, published by Apress. (These books share more than a similarity in their names!) This is also an excellent book with very similar coverage to the Wrox book (Deep Dive level). If you own either of these books, you’re in good shape. I prefer the writing style of the authors of the Wrox book, but you may like this one better. Either one or the other of these is great, but you probably won’t need both.

If you’re looking for a book for someone totally new to BizTalk, consider Foundations of BizTalk Server 2006, by Daniel Woolston, published by Apress. This book contains good, concise description of common BizTalk terms (BizTalk vocabulary on steroids), and is a great pre-class primer for QuickLearn’s BizTalk Server Developer Immersion. If you’ve already attended any of QuickLearn’s BizTalk classes, you will probably find this book overly simple.

If you’ve identified a problem in your design/development, and you’re looking for a quick way to solve it, your best choice is BizTalk 2006 Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach, by Mark Beckner, Ben Goeltz, Brandon Gross, and Brennan O’Reilly, published by Apress. This may not be the best book for learning BizTalk from scratch, but it’s a necessity for every BizTalk shop. This book takes a no-nonsense approach to “Here’s the problem, now how do I fix it?”, and identifies the implementation of the patterns necessary to solve the problem.

Although not a BizTalk book, per se, a good general overview of messaging and other integration patterns can be found in Enterprise Integration Patterns: Designing, Building, and Deploying Messaging Solutions, by Gregor Hohpe and Bobby Woolf. DO NOT EXPECT TO LEARN ANYTHING ABOUT BIZTALK FROM THIS BOOK! I am recommending this book as an excellent resource about integration in general non-Microsoft terms; however, many BizTalk-related documents, available from Microsoft sources, reference the patterns revealed in this book. So do the BizTalk 2006 scenarios (more on these later, if you aren’t familiar with them). Gregor maintains a site that contains much of the information available in the book, but the book still makes a great paperweight, (it’s big and hardcover) J. I have been referencing it in my classes for so long that I thought I better mention it here as well.

Where’s my functoids?

QuickLearn is in the process of updating our now famous BizTalk Deep Dive course (NEW and IMPROVED!). As I have been collecting and reviewing content for the advanced mapping module, I am reminded of one of the most common “Eureka” moments for many students is the realization of just how easy it is to create custom maps without using functoids. Many people come to BizTalk after having developed a custom integration project that required them to create their own XSLT. Often I am asked, “Can’t I leverage the work that I’ve already done and use the XSLT I’ve created? Do I have to use all those functoids?” The answer: Of course you can use your own XSLT, and some of the best maps do! You really have three options here: The first two involve the use of Scripting functoids; the third relies strictly on the XSL that you provide.

Inline XSLT

Many times, the result of chaining several functoids together can be more concisely defined in a little custom XSL. When using the inline XSLT option, the Scripting functoid cannot have any input links; rather, it should contain references to the source schema nodes through XPath expressions. The functoid must link directly to a record or field in the destination schema (it cannot be input for other functoids).

Inline XSLT Call Templates

Like an inline XSLT script, the inline XSLT call template must connect directly to a destination node; however, it may receive input through links coming from other functoids, or from the source schema. On the map grid, setting the Custom Extension XML property enables Scripting functoids, configured as either Inline XSLT or Inline XSLT Call Templates, to make calls to external assemblies.

Custom XSLT Code (Look ma, no functoids!)

If you have XSLT code you have written to convert instance messages, you can use that code directly, instead of creating a map.

  1. Create an empty map and set the source and destination schemas as you normally would.
  2. With the map grid selected, configure the Custom XSLT Path property to use the file containing your custom XSL.

NOTE – Using custom XSL overrides all links and/or functoids in the map.

Remember that you can always validate your map to access the generated XSL, which will be executed for the map. Also remember that maps do not validate the messages generated, except while testing in Visual Studio. The warnings you receive in Visual Studio provide design-time assistance to identify possible problems. BizTalk is totally content with generating exactly the message that you tell it to, valid or not!

Until next time, have a great day.

BizTalk Server 2006 Virtual Multi-Box Install Lab

I wrote this lab about a year or so ago, with a view to posting it when I got the time. If you want to learn about multi-server installs with BizTalk, it may be a good idea to run through it in a virtual environment first. It will probably take you about half a day to run through the lab, but most of the time will be spent waiting for the various installs to complete.

You can find the lab here.