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Starting down the XSLT path

A look at XSLT resources for beginners.

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Starting down the XSLT path

In my capacity as an "XML tip guy" for, I field at least half a dozen e-mails from readers every week. Most of them ask for pointers to more resources based on previous tips, or comments therein, but occasionally somebody asks me for something worthwhile enough that I feel compelled to promote it to tip status. Thanks to Dave K. of Salinas, Calif., I'm going to share some interesting XSLT resources in this tip in response to this query:

I'm an experienced programmer (C, C++, Java, and Visual Studio.NET) who's in the process of digging deeply into XML. I've got to tackle the basics of XSLT in a hurry for a project I'm involved in right now, and wonder if you can suggest some good places to start learning more. I've got David Kay's excellent book, but I'm interested in something more entry level to get me up and running quickly.

Great request, Dave -- and you'd still be hard-pressed to find a better general, all-around XSLT reference than David Kay's XSLT Programmer's Reference (2e, Wrox Press, 2001, ISBN: 0764543814). I have the first edition rather than the second, and I still refer to it when writing XSLT myself. But if you're looking for some "gentle introductions" here's what I'd recommend as potential preambles prior to digging deeply into Kay's book:

  • Richard Wagner: XSLT For Dummies (Wiley, 2002, ISBN: 0764536516). OK, OK, I confess--as a ...For Dummies author myself (including titles on both HTML and XML myself), I've learned to look beyond the title and the cover to find value in these books. If you can get past those hurdles, you'll find the simple, straightforward explanations, the wealth of examples, and the effective use of humor in this book will help you get up and running on XSLT pretty darn quickly. That said, this is no reference book, however.

  • Jeni Tennison: Beginning XSLT (Apress, reprint edition: 2004, ISBN: 1590592603). Following the demise of Wrox Press in 2003, various Wrox titles wound up in different homes. Tennison's original version of this book came out in 2002, but has been reprinted in 2004. This book combines clear, simple explanations with a wealth of examples and illustrations, as well as provides ample reference materials. If you're inclined to take a more sober, serious approach to reading an XSLT book, this may serve you better than the Wagner book mentioned in the previous item.

  • If you're more inclined to learn online than in print, you'll be amazed at the number and variety of free online XSLT tutorials you can find. I particularly like the one from W3Schools, though it is not as detailed or loaded with examples as the foregoing books. If you don't mind thinking through the sometimes tortuous English from the pens of non-native speakers at the Czech, you'll find good information, examples and further pointers there, too. VBXML also has a pretty nice XSLT tutorial as well, but if you visit your favorite search engine and look for "XSLT tutorial" you'll see that these three are just the beginning of an embarrassment of online riches.

Once you've gotten a sense of what XSLT is and how its syntax works and have learned about its basic constructs and capabilities, you'll find the Kay book an excellent tool for further learning and experimentation. Good luck with your project!

Ed Tittel is a VP of Content Development & Delivery at CapStar LLC, an e-learning company based in Princeton, NJ. Ed runs a small team of content developers and project managers in Austin, TX, and writes regularly on XML and related vocabularies and applications. E-mail Ed at

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