HTML, XHTML & CSS All-In-One for Dummies

HTML, XHTML & CSS All-In-One for Dummies
by Andy Harris
Wiley Publishing, Inc.
$39.99 US, $47.99 CN, £27.99 UK

It seems like almost everyone has some sort of web presence. Maybe it’s a blog that’s used to keep in touch with family and friends around the globe. For others, it could be a site that shares their hobby with like-minded people. The web pages most of us are used to seeing are for businesses: from the small, independent craftsman to the Internet giants like Apple and Amazon.

Getting started designing a web page can freeze some people in their tracks. HTML, CSS, Javascript: sounds so intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be. Wiley Publishing has released a new book, HTML, XHTML & CSS All-In-One for Dummies, by Andy Harris, that can help newbies create their first web site, while assisting more experienced designers to bring their sites to the next level.

HTML, XHTML & CSS All-In-One for Dummies is eight mini-books in one. Each section builds upon the previous one; although you don’t have to read it in order, it makes more sense if you do. Harris is a big believer in using open-source software for web development, as he explains in the Introduction of the book. To make it easier for readers, all software and development tools he discusses can be found on the accompanying CD, in addition to the many examples he uses in the book. No need to worry if you don’t know how to use a particular piece of software: Harris explains that, too.

I’m a strong proponent of understanding HTML and CSS if you design a web page, even if you use a program that’s more template driven, like iWeb. Having at least a familiarity with the code makes it easier to find errors or tweak your page. In book 1: Creating the HTML/XHTML Foundation, and book 2: Styling with CSS, Harris explains in great detail how to choose a web editor, why validating your web page is so important, what we can expect with HTML 5, and, HTML and CSS code. If you need to design a form, link to another web site, add images, or make your page look pretty, these are the books to read. Of course, Harris writes with the same sparkling sense of humor readers have come to expect from the “Dummies” series of books.

Once you start reading book 3: Using Positional CSS in HTML, XHTML & CSS All-In-One for Dummies, you move from the beginning to intermediate level of web design. This book talks about floating images, using margins and padding to position elements on a page, and creating a two-column design, amongst other topics. Yes, the conversation is getting a bit more intense, but don’t worry: Harris is very good at breaking down the subject matter into bite-size pieces without talking down to the reader.

You may have heard the expressions “client-side programming” and “server-side programming” tossed around when reading about coding. In a nutshell, client-side programming means the background work of the web page is done on the client, or user’s, computer, as opposed to server-side programming, where the page is created on the server, then sent to the user’s computer. This brings us to books 4 and 5: Client-Side Programming with JavaScript, and Server-Side Programming with PHP. Both of these programming languages can help make your web site go from good and basic to amazing and great.

There is a bit of a learning curve with JavaScript and PHP, but be patient: you’re not going through this alone. It’s as if Harris is holding your hand throughout, guiding you and telling you what a great job you’re doing. As with previous chapters, lots of examples, images, simple language, and humor make learning JavaScript and PHP almost fun. Almost, I say, because reading about variables, conditions, loops, arrays, functions, and strings can be very intimidating. But take it from someone who took a JavaScript class in college just a few years ago: I learned more from reading this book than I did that entire semester!

If you’re at the point in your web development life where you really want to bring your web site to yet another level, read about Managing Data with MySQL in book 6. Once again, Harris explains step by step why your web site would need a database and how to set one up.

Have you heard of Asynchronous JavaScript And XML? No? Maybe you know it better as AJAX (no, not the cleaner)! According to Harris, “AJAX allows Web applications to act more like desktop applications, even if these Web applications have complicated features like remote database access.” Phew!

Go Into The Future with AJAX in book 7. The good news about AJAX is that the majority of scripts you might use have been written for you. Rather than reinvent the wheel, programmers add frequently used scripts into libraries that are available for anyone to use, typically at no cost. One of the most popular libraries is jQuery, discussed at length in book 7. jQuery is free, open-source, and simple to install. As with the other mini-books, Harris peppers his step-by-step instructions with images and examples.

The final mini-book in HTML, XHTML & CSS All-In-One for Dummies explores going from a single web page to developing a web site and uploading it to a server. Book 8, Moving from Pages to Sites discusses servers, site planning, Content Management Systems (CMS), and graphics. Harris points out that coding a web site is only part of the process. Designers need to know who their intended audience is and how to make their site user-friendly.

HTML, XHTML & CSS All-In-One for Dummies ends with an Appendix listing what is on the accompanying CD, and a whopping 60 page index.

I found this book to be very user-friendly and easy to read. Some of the content was welcome review for me; the rest was (is) new learning, possibly leading to new adventures in web design. There’s A LOT of information in HTML, XHTML & CSS All-In-One for Dummies, and will be able to answer almost any web design question you might have. Personally, I think this can make a fantastic college text book for a multi-semester web design class.

Harris’ friendly, conversational tone, mixed with a sense of humor and easy-to-follow examples makes HTML, XHTML & CSS All-In-One for Dummies a must-have for anyone who has an interest in web design. rating: 9 out of 10

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