Book Review - HTML & XHTML The Definitive Guide, 5th Ed.

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Author: StormhawkLocation: Warwickshire, England, UK PostPosted: Thu Feb 02, 2006 2:25 pm    Post subject: Book Review - HTML & XHTML The Definitive Guide, 5th Ed.
HTML & XHTML, The Definitive Guide, 5th Edition

Author(s): Chuck Musciano, Bill Kennedy
Publisher: O'Reilly
Date Published: August 2002
Book Specifications: Softcover, 645 pages
Category: Web Authoring & Design / HTML
Publisher's Suggested User Level: Not Rated
Reviewer's Recommended User Level: Web designers at all levels
Suggested Publisher Price: $39.95 US / $61.95 CDN
ISBN: 0-596-00382-X

Blurb from back cover:
HTML! XHTML! Cascading Style Sheets! Standards for writing web pages are hard to sort out, especially because various versions of Netscape and Internet Explorer differ in their implementations. HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide brings it all together for you. The authors search out the standards and browser features and give you concrete advice on creating web pages for the broadest possible range of audiences and platforms.

Learning HTML or XHTML is like learning any other language. Most students first immerse themselves in examples. Studying what others do makes learning easy and fun, but imitation can take you only so far. It's as easy to learn bad habits through imitation as it is to acquire good ones. The best way to achieve fluency is through a comprehensive reference that covers language syntax, semantics, and variations and helps you to distinguish between good and bad usage.


In a world where the web is playing an increasing role in our everyday lives, and more and more people are embracing its power and publishing websites, knowledge of HTML is a powerful thing to have, and with standards being constantly updated, it is hard to keep track of the latest changes in HTML.

This book captures the essence of HTML, keeps track of the latest standards, and advises the reader on what works and what doesn't, when it comes to web design.

Chapter Synopsis & Review Comments

Chapter 1 begins with the history of HTML and the web. It looks at the standards and also discusses some of the extensions provided by various vendors. This chapter covers everything you'll need to design web sites, looking at editors, browser software, and utilities. As such, the reader is gradually introduced to the environment they will require for building web sites.

Chapter 2 presents a quick start guide. Writing tools such as text editors are discussed, as are the more advanced HTML editors. A simple HTML document is presented, and some of its composing blocks are explained. The authors provide a gentle introduction, yet capture the power and simplicity of HTML. Here, the authors cover many of the most common features of web pages, and refer the reader to the parts of the book which discuss each one in more detail.

Chapter 3 dives into the anatomy of HTML, document structure and the differences between HTML and XHTML. This chapter covers perhaps one of the least interesting parts of the book; the language grammar associated with the HTML syntax, but it is easy to follow and necessary for a good understanding of HTML itself.

Chapter 4 begins to look at text formatting; paragraphs, divisions, headings and text appearance. Each HTML tag is presented in a box along with a list of its supported attributes, the function of the tag, and where it is used. These boxes stand out from the surrounding text, allowing the book to be easily used for both tutorial and later reference purposes.

Chapter 5 looks at images and multimedia. Horizontal rules, images, colour and sound are introduced, along with animated text and other multimedia content. Images can be inserted into pages to create a number of effects, and many of these are discussed in detail here, with corresponding HTML code.

Linking is covered in detail in chapter 6. URLs are explained in a simple yet comprehensive manner, and advanced topics such as creating images which are mouse-sensitive are discussed.

In chapter 7, formatting of lists and list elements is introduced. Unordered, ordered and nested lists are covered, along with definition lists. Combined with CSS, lists can form a powerful mechanism for displaying ordered text on a page.

Chapter 8 touches on an important development in the world of web design: cascading style sheets. CSS presents a new approach to document layout and styling. The discussion of CSS in this book is limited to the basics, as a full treatment of CSS would be beyond the scope (and, indeed, other books have been dedicated to this topic), but the essentials are all present and explained sufficiently that a beginner could start using CSS right away.

Chapter 9 looks at one of the key components of HTML, adding interactivity by way of forms, which provide for the user to input data which the server can respond to in different ways. Each form input type is detailed, along with the attributes it can have and the types of data it works with.

Tables are covered in chapter 10. While tables used to be used for layout, CSS now mostly eliminates that use, and tables can return to their more traditional use for presenting data. The authors make reference to table-based layout control at the end of this chapter, but do not discuss CSS as the alternative.

In chapter 11, the book discusses frames, which are also a layout aid from the pre-CSS era. Chapter 12 moves on to the more applicable topic of executable content, including applets and JavaScript. The HTML support for these features is emphasised, rather than specifically how to write JavaScript, which would be beyond the scope of the book.

Chapter 13 touches on dynamic documents, which are typically browser-specific. To further the browser-specific extensions, chapter 14 covers the Netscape layout extensions. One topic touched on here is the multi-column layout, a design sought out by many, but one which is not easily achieved using standard HTML.

Chapter 15 covers XML and the attempts to standardise HTML into XHTML, based on the XML model. In chapter 16, XHTML itself is formally introduced. XHTML is the latest W3C standard for web markup, and places restrictions on what is considered valid markup, designed to allow for cleaner and more efficient web design. Emphasis is also placed on using CSS for layout and formatting.

Chapter 17 is a useful compendium of tips, including a tables-based multi-column layout.

Appendix A details the HTML grammar, while appendix B is a tag quick-reference. Appendix C covers the cascading style sheets properties, and appendix D is the HTML 4.01 DTD (Document Type Definition). The XHTML 1.0 DTD is included as appendix E, character entities are listed in appendix F, and colour names and values in appendix G.

Style and Detail

As expected from O'Reilly books, this is a concise yet complete reference, missing nothing and delivering more than many books on the subject. The authors are widely respected experts on HTML and web design, and their opinions on how best to use HTML are presented throughout the book, adding a personal touch but also guiding the reader into best practices.

This book takes the previous edition and pushes it up to date and into the arena of the latest in web design, including significant chapters on CSS and XHTML.

The discussion on CSS is limited to its chapter, and I would have liked to see more relationships being drawn with CSS and HTML, throughout. Since CSS is rapidly becoming the standard way to lay out web pages, I find it somewhat disappointing that this book puts all of its CSS discussion tidily into a single chapter.

Of course, the book is about HTML, and not CSS, but the two tie in so closely that there really should be overlap between the scope of an HTML book and a CSS book.


I've used previous editions of this book, and this edition not only lives up to expectations, but exceeds them. I cannot recommend this highly enough, anyone wishing to learn more about HTML should start with the information laid out in this book.

Although CSS is mentioned, and has a chapter dedicated to it, I still do not feel that there is enough linkage between CSS and HTML throughout this book. Were this improved, I would not hesitate in giving this book a 10 out of 10. As it is, however, a 9 seems more appropriate for a book on HTML which fails to press home perhaps the most important message in the web design community over recent years, that CSS is the up-and-coming layout language for HTML.

This book receives an honoured SFDC Rating of 9/10.

Keywords: HTML XHTML CSS cascading style sheets hypertext markup language W3C

This review is copyright 2006 by the author, Andrew J. Bennieston, and Security-Forums Dot Com, and may not be reproduced in any form in any media without the express permission of the author, or Security-Forums Dot Com.

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