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Learning XML Erik T Ray
Published by O'Reilly
368 pages
£ 34.95
Published: 8th February 2001
reviewed by Mark Ashley Jones
   in the December 2001 issue (pdf), (html)

Learning XML provides a good gentle introduction to the subject matter, is full of good worked examples using a clear referencing scheme to breakdown complex XML documents. There is an excellent Taxonomy of standards section which allows the book to be used as a pointer to other relevant text/URLs.

The Introduction gives you a flavour of just how powerful XML can be and makes you want to read on to find out more. It also explains the history of XML, who is responsible for standards, etc, and the types of applications the author would recommend to view, test, and parse documents. The markup and core concepts chapter provide a good solid understanding which allows you to read an XML document within a relatively short time. It explains the syntax of a well formed document and how DTDs can be used to validate content.

The chapter on connecting resources with links is less interesting than the previous two chapters which are quite humourous, this may be down to the subject matter. However, the chapter does seem to cram a lot of information into a few pages. The next chapter on CSS explains how Cascading Style Sheets are used to provide a range of different display options. It has a good explanation of how to manipulate display attributes.

The DTD chapter makes effective use of the Barebones DocBook DTD standard to illustrate how a good DTD design can make a document easier for an XML developer to work with. It also gives examples of how a bad DTD design can reduce productivity.

The Transformation section is full of good examples, but is a little long and hard to follow. The short chapter on character subsets provides a fascinating aside to the development of Unicode and character subsets such as UTF-8. This was very relevant to the project work I have recently undertaken in XML-RPC.

The last chapter was probably worthy of a complete book in its own right and there are many texts devoted the subject area. The author made a good job of condensing the subject material into a single chapter and the author was not afraid to provide his own opinions on the relative merits of XML protocols such as SAX and SOAP.

Overall the book was an excellent introduction to XML and I am sure that I will explore some of the recommend further reading, since the author clearly knows his stuff.

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