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Learning XSLT Michael Fitzgerald
Published by O'Reilly and Associates
368 pages
£ 24.95
Published: 2nd December 2003
reviewed by John Collins
   in the March 2004 issue (pdf), (html)

This book introduces the reader to XSLT and also XPath.

XPath is a language for finding parts of an XML document you are interested in. XSLT is a language for doing things with XML documents or the bits you've located with XPath by transforming them into other things such as more XML documents, HTML or text.

I'm a bit of a reluctant user of XML myself. It is horribly verbose at the best of times and it is quite ugly-looking all the time. Still it's standard, there are standard tools to manipulate it, it gives people a nice warm fuzzy feeling that you're using it because everyone else is. Above all it isn't ASN.1. For more comments see Aaron Crane's

XSLT is actually written in XML so you end up with one piece of XML transforming another possibly to yet another. XPath isn't XML as such, but you end up burying it in XML as elements and attributes of what your "program". You'll have to get used quite quickly to the "functional" approach as opposed to the so-called procedural approach of programming languages such as C, Perl etc.

To get anywhere with this book you will have to download the examples from O'Reilly's website -- a ZIP file of over 6 MB. Most of the examples given involve use of Xalan which you may have to download from the Apache website and probably build from the sources on your computer, a process which may require a little effort. Some graphical XSLT processors, for Windows only, are mentioned in the first chapter and at the end.

The book takes the reader through all the features with some care and with patient explanations, I thought. Many of the later examples will be useful as a basis for adaptation by the reader. After covering the features of XSLT and XPath as they stand, various people's extensions are discussed in one chapter and XSLT 2.0 and XPath 2.0 in another. There is a chapter about writing XSLT interfaces in Java and C#. A final chapter refers the reader to the definitive works on the subject and an appendix lists various XSLT processors and how to install them.

I think this book is very well put together and succeeds in making what could be a very tedious subject relatively interesting. I am sure that anyone starting to work with XSLT will find it most helpful but you will need to get Xalan going as well as download the examples.

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