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HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide Paperback – 27 Oct 2006
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However, my main complaint is that the index is almost of no use for locating actual tags and their usage in the text. Additionally, the ordering of the topics means that this book should be seen more as a series of tutorials than as a reference from which information can be easily extracted.
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In spite of these problems, it is an excellent way to learn or brush up on HTML.
Note that this book isn't good for learning the basics. Rather, it is useful reference once you know the basics and need a source that tells you authoritatively that this such and such tag (e.g., 'p') does or doesn't support such and such attribute (e.g., 'padding') - fyi, it doesn't, except thru the 'style' attribute.
If that's what you need, then this is what you should buy.
Although this is more of a technical reference than a "Master Web Design!" type of book, the authors do go into a bit of general web design philosophy, especially in chapter 6 (which mostly covers links). This clearly isn't aimed at experienced programmers per se (although one will get quite a bit of useful information from it); the only real reference to programming at all is the last six pages of chapter 9, which talks (briefly) about form processing. In chapter 12, when they talk about java applets, they state "Creating Java applets is a programming task, not usually a job for the HTML or XHTML author", if you wanted more evidence that their audience is web page designers rather than programmers.
This book tries to serve as both tutorial and reference, so a lot of sections end up being repeated - for example, each time a new tag is introduced, a paragraph describing the "dir" and "lang" attributes (which apply to every HTML tag) is repeated, for the benefit of somebody who just opened the book to the section on, say, the "div" tag. This gets to be a bit tedious, as I kept having to re-read the same paragraphs several times just to make sure nothing new had been hidden in there. In some cases, there were - in chapter 7, they start adding the disclaimer "not all [of these] are implemented by the currently popular browsers for this tag or for many others" - but they don't (!) specify which popular browsers or which tags.
Most of the book is about HTML, saving XHTML for the very end. The code samples in the book are very much HTML, not XHTML - "br" and "hr" tags are presented without closing slashes, they don't insert closing tags for "p", "td", and "tr" tags, and many attribute value are given without being surrounded by quotes, for example. Chapter 16, which covers the specific differences between XHTML and HTML, clarifies this - in fact, they state that some browsers can be confused by closing slashes on "br" and "hr" tags.
They cover, of course, every feature of HTML, past or present (at least up to HTML 4.0, the current version). As such, they talk about a lot of "sometimes-used" features - some things that have been deprecated but are still "in wide use" or some features that have been added but "have not been embraced", for example, but there's no data at all about frequency of use. It would have been nice to see some research on how widespread certain tags or certain attributes are in actual use.
The chapter on CSS was worth the price of the book - it wasn't exhaustive (they didn't cover every part of the CSS specification, much less the popular but undocumented extensions, like they did with HTML), but it covered the important parts extremely well.
All in all, I'd recommend this book for anybody with anything more than a passing interest in HTML, regardless of skill level - there's something in here for everybody, and if you touch HTML in any way in your profession, you're going to learn something useful here.