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HTTP - The Definitive Guide David Gourley & Brian Totty
Published by O'Reilly and Associates
635 pages
£ 31.95
Published: 4th October 2002
reviewed by John Collins
   in the March 2003 issue (pdf), (html)

This book sets out to describe HTTP - Hypertext Transfer Protocol, on which so much of the Web revolves. In my view it goes a great deal further than just defining HTTP, which is done in the first section. The book covers just about everything you could possibly think of, and quite a few you would probably take quite a while to think of, to do with the web apart from web page content, HTML and so forth.

It is in six sections of four or five chapters each. In the first section, HTTP itself is described in some detail. We learn about requests, URIs, HTTP Messages, and Connection Management in successive chapters.

The second section describes what are described as ``HTTP Architecture''. This covers the mechanics of servers, although to be fair, Apache is the only server covered in much detail, various kinds of proxies, caching, gateways, tunnels and relays, robots and how to program for them, before concluding with future directions for HTTP.

Next there is a section on identification authorisation and security, covering HTTPS and digital certificates and explaining how they operate.

The fourth section describes entities, encodings, and internationalisation including details of content negotiation.

The fifth section talks about content publishing and distribution. This covers web hosting with multiple severs, redirection and load balancing and has a whole chapter on logging and log file formats

Finally there is a comprehensive set of appendices listing URI Schemes, HTTP Status Codes, HTTP Headers, MIME Types, Base-64 encoding, Digest Authentication, Language Tags and country codes and MIME Charsets. There are various C and Perl programs provided to illustrate some of these concepts.

Every part bristles with clear diagrams explaining the logic or mechanism for what is being described.

I think this book is an extremely useful, very comprehensive and clearly-written reference to all aspects of the internals of the Web going well beyond just the bare mechanics of HTTP. Even where its huge detail does stop on a topic, there are extensive and useful references for further reading on each topic covered given at the end of nearly every chapter.

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