on 14 February 2014
Imagine yourself a person wanting to create a site today. I don’t mean going to one of those all-in-one site hosting shops and turning the crank on their template library (though there’s nothing wrong with that), I mean “start from bare teal, roll your own, make a site from scratch” kind of things. With the dizzying array of options out there, what’s an aspiring web developer to do?
Peter Gasston (author of "The Book of CSS3”) has effectively asked the same questions, and his answer is “The Modern Web”. Peter starts with the premise that the days of making a site for just the desktop are long gone. Any site that doesn’t consider mobile as an alternate platform (and truth be told, for many people, their only platform) they’re going to miss out on a lot of people. therefore, the multi platform ideal (device agnostic) is set up front and explanations of options available take that mobile-inclusive model into account. Each chapter looks at a broad array of possible options and available tools, and provides a survey of what they can do. Each chapter ends with a Further Reading section that will take you to a variety of sites and reference points to help you wrap your head around all of these details.
So what does “The Modern Web” have to say for itself?
Chapter 2 is about Structure and Semantics, or to put a finer point on it, the semantic differences available now to structure documents using HTML5. One of them has become a steady companion of late, and that’s Web Accessibility Initiatives Accessible Rich Internet Applications or WAI-ARIA (usually shortened to ARIA by yours truly). If you have ever wanted to understand Accessibility and the broader 508 standard, and what you an do to get a greater appreciation of what to do to enable this, ARIA tags are a must. The ability to segment the structure of documents based on content and platform means that we spend less time trying to shoehorn our sites into specific platforms, but rather make a ubiquitous platform that can be accessed depending on the device, and create the content to reside in that framework.
Chapter 3 talks about Device Responsive CSS, and at the heart of that is the ability to perform “media queries” what that means is, “tell me what device I am on, and I’ll tell you the best way to display the data.” This is a mostly theoretical chapter, showing what could happen with a variety of devices and leveraging options like Mobile first design.
Chapter 4 discusses New Approaches to CSS Layouts, including how to set up multi column layouts, taking a look at the Flexbox tool, and the way it structures content, and leveraging the Grid layout so familiar to professional print publishing (defining what’s a space, where the space is, and how to allocate content to a particular space).
Chapter 6 covers device API’s that are now available to web developers thanks to HTML5, etc. Options such as Geolocation, utilizing Web storage, using utilities like drag and drop, accessing the devices camera and manipulating the images captured, connecting to external sites and apps, etc. Again, this is a broad survey, not a detailed breakdown. Explore the further reading if any of these items is interesting to you.
Chapter 7 looks at Images and Graphics, specifically Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and the canvas option in HTML5. While JPEG’s, PNG’s and GIF’s are certainly still used, these newer techniques allow for the ability to draw vector and bitmap graphics dynamically. Each has their uses, along with some sample code snippets to demonstrate them in action.
Chapter 9 looks at how HTML5 handles multimedia directly using the audio and video tags, and the options to allow the user to display a variety of players, controls and options, as well as to utilize a variety of audio and video formats. Options like subtitles can be added, as well as captioned displayed at key points (think of those little pop-ups in YouTube, etc. yep, those). There are several formats, and of course, not all are compatible with all browsers, to the ability to pick and choose, or use a system’s default, adds to the robustness of the options (and also adds to the complexity of providing video and audio data native via the browser).
Chapter 10 looks at the difference between a general web and mobile site, and the processes used to package a true “web app” that can be accessed and downloaded from a web marketplace like Google Store. In addition, options like Phonegap, which allows for a greater level of integration with a particular device, and AppCache, which lets a user store data on their device so they can user the app offline, get some coverage and examples.
The book ends with two appendices. Appendix A covers Browser support for each of the sections in the book, while Appendix B is a gathering of chapter by chapter Further reading links and sources.
The so called Modern Web is a miss mash of technologies, standards, practices and options that overlap and cover a lot of areas. There is a lot of detail crammed into this one book, and there’s a fair amount of tinkering to be done to see what works and how. Each section has a variety of examples and ways to see just what the page/site/app is doing. For the web developer who already has a handle on these technologies, this will be a good reference style book to examine and look for further details in the Further Reading (really, there’s a lot of “Further Reading that can be done!).
The beginning Web Programmer may feel a bit lost in some of this, but with time, and practice with each option, it feels more comfortable. It’s not meant to be a HowTo book, but more of a survey course, with some specific examples spelled out here and there. I do think this book has a special niche that can benefit from it directly, and I’m lucky to be part of that group. Software Testers, if you’d like a book that covers a wide array of “futuristic” web tech, the positives and negatives, and the potential pitfalls that would be of great value to a software tester, this is a wonderful addition to your library. It’s certainly been a nice addition to mine :).