|author||Elliotte Rusty Harold|
|reviewer||James Edward Gray II|
|summary||A guide to the correct use of XML.|
Before I tell you what's inside though, let me tell you what you won't find in these pages. Primarily you need to know that this book does not teach XML. I know a lot of books say that, yet still include an introduction or appendix that covers the basics, but this isn't one of them. You're expected to know XML from page one. Even syntax is only covered from a proper usage angle. Personally, I appreciated this. It always bothers me when an obvious non-beginner's book starts off by wasting a chapter on things I should already know. You just need to be aware when you buy that you won't learn XML here. Knowledge of namespaces, DTDs, the W3C's Schema Language, XSLT, and more aren't strictly required to get something out of this book, but they certainly would help you get a lot more out of it.
What you will get here is coverage of fifty miscellaneous topics spread across four sections on "Syntax", "Structure", "Semantics", and "Implementation". In "Syntax", ten topics delve into the details of things like DTDs, entity references and the XML declaration itself. It may sound silly to dig deep into a single line of XML that simply declares the format, but I doubt you will think so after reading that topic. There's a lot going on in that line and you want to be in control of those decisions instead of just copying and pasting. Entity references are an even smaller chunk of XML output, but they too get illuminated by a rare insight on how and when they should be used, and for what. Did you know that it is possible to write a namespace savvy DTD? I do now and I learned that in this section as well.
The second section of the book covers "Structure", and to me it was the best part. This collection of seventeen topics is loaded with good advice about how to build an XML document that will be ideal for anyone who needs to work with it. Here you see how metadata should be stored in XML, get tips on embedding binary content, learn which schema language is better for which tasks, and finally understand rare XML constructs like processing instructions and exactly what they are for. Additionally, there's a lot of general advice on the right way to mark up content that's really worth its weight in gold. Just one example of what I learned here is that I under appreciate mixed content for great constructs like <name><given>John</given> <family>Doe</family>, <title>Ph.D.</title></name>. If you like that, you'll enjoy this whole section.
Section three, "Semantics", deals primarily with parsers and their APIs. Again, you won't learn any APIs here. What's covered is their strengths and weaknesses and why you should choose a given API for a given task. SAX and DOM are the main focus of these ten topics, but there are other details sprinkled in, like XPath.
The fourth and final section is all about "Implementation". The thirteen topics here address client-side XML styling, server-side transformations, signatures, encryption, compression, and more. My favorite topic here was a terrific coverage of Unicode and how it affects XML. All developers should know at least as much about Unicode as what's printed here and this is a fine source to learn it from.
One thing that really stands out in the whole text is that the author isn't afraid to cover the dark side of XML. He will tell you where the design process was less than perfect, which tools have little practical value, and some of the problems with where XML technologies are headed. This isn't complaining though. All of this is targeted at how it affects XML developers today. You learn what you can safely skip and what should be outright avoided. The author even tells you what XML is bad at and gives you advice about when you shouldn't use it. That's the mark of a man who knows his subject, if you ask me.
All told, I think the author failed to completely convince me his way is perfect on only 2 topics. That means I learned 48 expert XML tricks. Surely that's worth the cost of the book in time and money. This isn't the first XML book you need, but I think it is the second XML book everyone should read.
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