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Another Tome for the Essential XML Bookshelf

Like many XML developers, I'm often torn between the need to learn more about what I'm doing versus using what I already know to get some real work done, and thus, pay the bills, keep my business going, and so on.

That's why I always hesitate to recommend still more reading or study material to my peers and colleagues. I know how hard it is to keep up with the real work, while trying to keep up with XML at the same time. And in a field that's changing as rapidly as XML and its related specifications, vocabularies, tools, and applications, this is particularly challenging.

Nevertheless, I must give Steven Holzner's new book Inside XML a huge and ringing endorsement as a must-have tool for practicing and would-be XML professionals (New Riders). Not only does this recent publication (it came off-press in November, 2000) survey XML markup, concepts, specifications, tools, and programming techniques better than any other book I've ever seen (including several of my own and even, the entirely wonderful series of XML titles from Wrox Press), it also includes a treasure trove of code samples that you can use to build your own XML parsers, validators, database import/export tools, and much, much more.

Indeed, this 1152-page book not only strains its readers brains, it also strains the capabilities of the extra-large perfect binding machines necessary to bind a paperback this big. In fact, my only beef with the book is that it's big and heavy enough that you'll want to prop it up on a table in front of you, rather than trying to hold it in your hands or on your lap. For the same reason, it's not an ideal book to read while traveling, though it is certainly quite absorbing enough to push the distractions that traveling can bring far into the background.

For me to tell you everything I like about this book would require me to reproduce much of its 7-page table of contents, so I'd like to simply mention a few more extremely high points, beyond what I mentioned two paragraphs back:

  • Great coverage of development and use of document type definitions, or DTDs, on a par with Eve Maler and Jean El Andaloussi's excellent, but out-of-print book: Developing SGML DTDs from Text to Model to Markup (Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 1996, ISBN: 0-13-309981-8). But because Holzner has the advantage of writing after XML Schemas and Namespaces were introduced, his coverage of these topics (which can replace DTDs in XML documents) is unmatched anywhere.

  • His coverage of using programs to load, read, parse, and even, to transform XML documents brings the information about the XML Document Object Model, working with XML Data Source Objects (DSOs), and manipulating XML document contents on the fly together in a highly understandable and immediately usable way. As someone who had to grope his way toward clarity on these subjects, I really appreciate Holzner's explanations and examples.

  • The discussion of XHTML 1.1 that appears in Chapters 16 and 17 of this book finally helped me see a positive side to some of the thrashing and back-and-forth that the XHMLT working groups at the W3C have been going through lately. He also provides succinct, but useful, coverage of key ISO-Latin-1 and ISO 10646 character codes, and covers tricky issues like using framesets and frames with XHTML documents. To me, these alone were worth the price of the book!

    I could go on and on, but hopefully, by now you've got the idea. If you're looking for a good introductory or reference book on XML, be sure to check this title out the next time you visit your favorite bookstore. Enjoy!

    Ed Tittel is a principal at LANWrights, Inc.,: a wholly owned subsidiary of LANwrights offers training, writing and consulting services on Internet, networking, and Web topics (including XML and XHTML), plus various IT certifications (Microsoft, Sun/Java, and Prosoft/CIW).

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