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HTML and XHTML: The Definitive Guide

Chuck Musciano and Bill Kennedy
Published by O'Reilly Media
654 pages
£ 35.50
Published: 27th October 2006
reviewed by Graham Lee
   in the March 2007 issue (pdf), (html)

The first thing I do when I'm looking at any book about the web is something I learned while perusing second-hand bookshops: go to the index and look for `gopher'. If gopher is mentioned in some kind of `history of HTML and the web' section, that's fine; if it appears in some other context then the book is possibly out of date. This book contained a reference of the second kind, which may be surprising as it's also modern enough to discuss XHTML. My overall impression of the earlier chapters in ``HTML and XHTML'' is that they've survived the first five editions without much change, accreting new information but never really losing any. Deprecated and obsoleted features appear alongside supported features, and browser-specific extensions which only ever worked in Netscape 4.

Conversely the later chapters are much more succinct and relevant, probably because they represent newer developments and therefore have not seen so much revision. The chapters on Cascading Style Sheets and HTML forms in particular are very useful and thorough, describing well not only how to write CSS or forms, but also the implementation details (although an interesting choice on the part of the authors sees XForms left out due to its status as a working document, while XFrames which is in a similar state was included). A chapter on targeting mobile devices is included, which while brief is a welcome overview of the particular considerations of mobile browsing. The book is finished off with a chapter of Tips and Tricks, describing a few hacks to achieve certain layouts or styles with HTML, though without mentioning style sheets.

HTML and XHTML: The Definitive Guide certainly is definitive. The subject is dealt with exhaustively, however I did find it problematic that the various obsolete or proprietary features are included in the main chapters on HTML, as in some cases a lot of wading must be done to find out the current and standards-compliant state of play.

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