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HTML Pocket Reference, 2nd Edition Jennifer Niederst
Published by O'Reilly and Associates
104 pages
£ 8.06
Published: 4th February 2002
reviewed by Andrew Cormack
   in the July 2002 issue (pdf), (html)

In the last issue Lyndsay Marshall asked for a small but comprehensive reference to HTML. For many years I kept a single A4 cribsheet to hand which provided all the information I needed to write HTML 3.2. However HTML 4 is a much bigger language and O'Reilly's 95 page pocket reference may be as concise as it is possible to get.

The reference starts with a list of tags grouped by type: block, inline, form, etc. Example templates are given for structures such as lists, tables and frames where tags are commonly used together. As a nudge towards best practice there is a note of the different ways to reference style sheets, though CSS is not covered in this volume. After this orientation section the bulk of the book consists of an alphabetical list of tags with a description of the function of each one and the attributes it can take. Finally there are tables of the HTML 2.0 and 4.01 character entities and a hexadecimal conversion table.

Sadly, HTML is no longer a single language and the guide has to cope with the variants implemented by Netscape version 6, Internet Explorer 6, Opera 5 and WebTV in addition to the official HTML 4.01 standard. For each tag, and some non-standard attributes, there is a list of the browsers and versions that support it.

So how well does the reference work in practice? The combination of alphabetical list and function index allows quick access to information for either a known tag or a required function. My own preference would be to group the descriptions by function and index these alphabetically - this allows browsing of a particular area of the language - but this is a question of personal taste and familiarity. The descriptions and attribute lists provide almost all the information an author is likely to need: my only failure was when searching for the conventional target frames such as top. The character entity tables have saved me a lot of trial and error.

Of course all this information is available on the web, but for those like me whose screen space is already overflowing, or who simply find printed, bound, paper an easier medium for quick reference, this pocket reference is well worth the shelf space. Even better, prop it between your screen and speaker so it is immediately available when needed.

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