Countless Web sites contain HTML reference material, but nothing beats the convenience of a book. It is nice to lean back in your chair and thumb through the pages searching for that elusive bit of information to solve a problem. For this reason (and others), I love the latest edition of O’Reilly’s HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide. It provides the nitty-gritty details of most every aspect of HTML, as well as additional information on Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and XHTML. However, the best feature may be the handy quick reference card tucked inside the back cover.

HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide

By Chuck Musciano, Bill Kennedy
O’Reilly & Associates
August 2002
ISBN: 0-596-00382-X
670 Pages
List price: $39.95

The layout
Unlike the popular O’Reilly Nutshell books, which are organized as quick reference guides, this book is divided into chapters focusing on different aspects of HTML development. This provides the following flow from start to finish:

  • ·        HTML introduction/overview (three chapters)
  • ·        Text basics
  • ·        Rules, images, and multimedia
  • ·        Links and Web
  • ·        Lists
  • ·        CSS
  • ·        Forms
  • ·        Tables
  • ·        Frames
  • ·        Objects and JavaScript
  • ·        Dynamic content
  • ·        Netscape extensions
  • ·        XML
  • ·        XHTML
  • ·        Tips, tricks, and hacks

If you’re an HTML novice, the first three chapters provide an excellent introduction. The third chapter covering the anatomy of an HTML document provides a first-rate explanation of what goes where in an HTML document. Listing A provides a sampling of the style used throughout the book, with information on the paragraph tag. Each HTML entity is thoroughly explained, and a quick summary is provided in an accompanying table using the style of Listing A. Although these are excellent when reading through the text, they can be hard to find in a pinch.

Chapters 4 through 11 provide details on the basic HTML concepts, such as forms, tables, and frames. The HTML entities, accompanying attributes, and events are discussed at length. These chapters also provide  pertinent information relating to quirks with different versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers. Fringe browsers like Mozilla and Opera are not included in the discussions, and no coverage of Netscape 7 is included either.

Chapter 12 offers executable content with thorough coverage of the object tag. This tag was introduced in HTML 4 to replace the deprecated applet tag, but the applet tag is discussed as well. Included in the chapter is a review of the script tag that allows script to be embedded in an HTML document. The discussion covers only the tag, so you should look elsewhere for JavaScript information.

Chapter 13 provides a brief overview of working with dynamic content via HTML, and chapter 14 covers Netscape 4 anomalies. I found this a peculiar inclusion, given that Netscape 4 is a rarity in these days of the latest-and-greatest. The space could have been better served by discussing Internet Explorer and Netscape differences.

Chapter 15 provides a short (very short!) introduction to XML, which seems out of place in this book. It seems like a case of trying to do too much with one book. There are better, more thorough XML tomes available in your local bookstore. While the XML chapter is brief, it towers over the XHTML chapter. This chapter covers XHTML in a whopping 14 pages. It makes me wonder why XHTML was included in the book title. Again, better XHTML references are available elsewhere.

The book closes with a chapter covering tips and tricks from the authors—good information for any Web developer. The appendices provide both valuable and useless information. The HTML grammar, reference, and color values sections are valuable. On the other hand, the HTML DTD, XML DTD, and CSS reference sections seem like an attempt to increase the size of the book. I don’t know too many HTML developers who are interested in perusing the arcane HTML or XML DTDs, and understanding the CSS quick reference requires CSS knowledge not provided in this book.

Tear it out
As I said earlier, an innovative feature of this book is the quick reference card provided inside its back cover. The card size is handy (9 by 5.5 inches), featuring three pages (front and back) loaded with valuable details. I suggest tearing out the card and placing it within reach for those times when your brain fails you.

Great for Web developers
This book is a great resource for those involved in the daily grind of HTML development, but including XHTML in the title is misleading. True, the basic idea of XHTML is tidying up HTML, but there is more to the XHTML movement than a mere 14 pages can cover. Odder still, the XHTML appendix is actually four pages longer than the XHTML chapter. In addition, the CSS reference in the appendix is too thin to be particularly useful, and although object tags are adequately covered, JavaScript is not discussed at all. Another glaring omission is the lack of information pertaining to site accessibility.

But even though it falls short in these areas, what the book does well, it does very well. Buy this book if you want to know HTML.