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Perl and XML - XML Processing with Perl Erik T Ray and Jason McIntosh
Published by O'Reilly and Associates
ISBN: 0-596-00205-X
216 pages
£ 24.95
Published: Not Known
reviewed by John Collins
   in the December 2002 issue (pdf), (html)

This book describes and explains the various Perl packages for handling XML.

The reader will need a working knowledge of Perl but won't need to know much more about XML than it looks rather like HTML to be able to understand the book. In the second chapter, a fairly comprehensive introduction (described as a ``recap'') to XML is given. The horrors of Unicode and similar issues are covered quite well in the following chapter.

In the following chapters parsers and event streams are covered, SAX, then Document Object Model and trees, then a more brief description of ``hybrid'' methods of processing XML, touching on XPATH, RSS, SOAP and XSLT, before concluding with a chapter of half a dozen brief examples.

I don't mind the writing style, although I know it will irritate some in places with references to Babel fish and Unicode providing for ``Earth begrudgingly joining the Galactic Friendship Union'' and sentences with ``kinda'' and similar words in. It is very much the O'Reilly house style along with the animals on the front which I know many people think has run its course.

The earlier chapters are pretty well-stocked with useful information and tips on the various parsers and handling techniques. I did get the feeling that a lot of readers would wonder and become impatient about apparently academic exercises ``out of nowhere'' in the early chapters before suddenly galloping through supposed real-life examples at the very end.

It was at the end of the book that I thought the authors seemed to fizzle out dramatically, just as the reader would have hoped for some substantial real-life examples, he or she gets chunks of program and subroutines only for doing bits of things like, for example, interpreting Docbook - which is never really described before the program to manipulate it is presented. I thought that only just over a page on XSLT was far too cursory a treatment for what is currently an important part of the XML world, even though, of course, it isn't limited to Perl so possibly it is almost out of the scope of the book.

I think this book is overall much too short and light on detail to be particularly helpful. You can probably glean most of the better-treated parts of the book, such as the basic parsers, using ``perldoc'' once you've loaded up the Perl modules on your system. You will have to have books on XML, probably XSLT and of course Perl to do any serious work. You will need information on the ``dialects'' of XML the other applications you are working with ``speak''. Those might crowd this book off your shelf once you had got going.

In summary, this book assumes too much at the start to be a true ``introduction'' but isn't nearly comprehensive enough to be a reference. It gives you an overview of some of the concepts and a few helpful tips and signposts to get you started at working with XML using Perl provided you already know Perl and can download the XML modules from CPAN but you will urgently need other books to do any serious work. If you are already an XML expert with or without Perl knowledge, I don't think this book will tell you very much you won't know or be able to find out quickly elsewhere.

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