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30Jan2018

General webcraft books reviewed

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551 hits Updated: 31 January 2018

A list of useful books on webcraft

Books are one of the things that you can buy that will make you richer.Kajal Thakkar, Why do we love books?, 30-Aug-2016

Although the internet puts us instantly in touch with up-to-date information (even if it’s a bit like the “wild west” out there) I’ve always like books—non-fiction, technical, reference books in particular—because there’s something comforting about their feel, their durability.  In the thirty or so years that I’ve been involved in webcraft—professionally and as a hobby—I’ve collected a small library of books on various subjects related to this pursuit.  Owing to speed at which we’re seeing developments in webcraft occurring, coupled with the disappearance of book stores because of the growth in e-publishing, it has become increasingly difficult to find real books—ones that are printed on paper—to satisfy all our needs.

This article contains a list of general purpose books about webcraft:  the list includes books on web-design and style, programming languages, web-based applications, theory and practice.  The following books are from my personal library—sorted alphabetically by title by publisher—together with a few notes about each of them.

The Web Designer’s Idea BookThe Web Designer’s Idea Book

Patrick McNeil
HOW Books, 2007

I think the term “coffee table book” is a good description; it’s a book of pictures—ideas taken from other websites—to help inspire people needing that creative spark.  The book is divided into short chapters giving examples of different “themes”; for example, themes for ’blogs, forums, photography, red, blue, monochromatic, workplace and hobbies.  Each chapter also contains a few complementary colour palettes that might suit these themes.  The implementation of these ideas is, of course, entirely left in the hands of the reader.

Fresh Styles for Web DesignersFresh Styles for Web Designers

Curt Cloninger
New Riders Publishing, 2002

Another “coffee table book” but the pictures leave me cold.  The book was published in 2002 and it shows its age.  I think this was one of those items I obtained as part of a job-lot purchase at a charity stall and I can see why the original owner threw it away.  I’m sure the author knows his stuff but I had trouble reading more than a few pages before reaching for the analgesics.  The case studies are probably understood if speak the lingo, if you have a background in magazine production—think “lo-fi grunge”—but I would only recommend this book for more serious “arty” types of people.

Dynamic HTML: The Definitive ReferenceDynamic HTML: The Definitive Reference

Danny Goodman
O’Reilly, 1998

If there was to be any one general book on webcraft that I would recommend to people this is it.  All but the most basic of HTML websites use some form of dynamic (i.e. browser-based or client-side scripted) techniques.  The book is divided into five main sections:  understanding and applying DHTML principles, a full HTML reference and a complementary DOM reference guide, an introduction to style sheets and a small reference section on Javascript’s core features  There’s even a table of named colours and keyboard event values.  If you’re looking for the perfect present to give a software developer, I thoroughly recommend this book; make sure that you get a more recently updated version though.

HTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide, 4th EditionHTML & XHTML: The Definitive Guide, 4th Edition

Bill Kennedy, Chuck Musciano
O’Reilly, 2000

There are hundreds of books written about HTML syntax and, admittedly, this is yet another one.  If you’re looking for the latest information about the correct syntax for HTML 5 then go to the ultimate reference—the W3C—but remember that it’s not the W3C that decides how HTML is implemented; that’s an argument that exists among the web browser manufacturers.  If you don’t know the difference between HTML and XHTML then this book is for you.  If you don't understand why XHTML is important then this book is especially for you.  If you really don’t care then buy one of the "for dummies" books at 50% of the cost for one-quarter of the information.

HTML 4.1 was relatively new in 2000 and today's web browsers all use many of the features in HTML 5 and XHTML 2.0 but, as an introduction to the subject, the know-how can mean the difference between an average site and a truly professional one.

Javascript: The Definitive Guide, 3rd EditionJavascript: The Definitive Guide, 3rd Edition

David Flanagan
O’Reilly, 1998

Probably number two on my reference books about Javascript programming.  This particular edition is showing its age when it refers to Internet Explorer 4 and Netscape Navigator 4.  The best part of the book highlights the differences between how Microsoft’s implementation of the DOM as opposed to how other browser manufacturers have done things.  These days there are Javascript libraries (e.g. jQuery) that handle most of these cross-platform scripting issues

Learning PHP 5Learning PHP 5

David Sklar
O’Reilly, 2008

Not that I would advise anyone to learn computer programming via a book, this is a good book for beginners who may have never been exposed to OOP.  The book starts with a basic course on the fundamentals of PHP and works its way through forms handling to working with databases such as MySQL, session control, reading and writing XML.  This book is not a reference manual on PHP; it’s only one book among many that software developers might refer to.  The book contains a number of exercises with fully-worked solutions contained in the back of the book; more of a companion text if you’re undertaking a course of study on PHP.

PHP Cookbook, 2nd EditionPHP Cookbook, 2nd Edition

Adam Trachtenberg, David Sklar
O’Reilly, 2009

Billed as “solutions and examples for PHP programmers” this is similar to other works for people who want to create websites without using packaged—i.e. off-the-shelf CMS—products.  The book discusses in-depth form handling, database interaction, session management, processing XML, interacting with Javascript and working with SOAP and REST architectures.  It’s a cookbook of ideas rather than a reference manual. Useful for advanced programmers; not for everyday enthusiasts.

Programming PHP, 2nd EditionProgramming PHP, 2nd Edition

Rasmus Lerdorf, Kevin Tatroe, Peter MacIntyre
O’Reilly, 2009

Keep in mind that Rasmus Lerdorf was the creator of the PHP programming language. The book explains the principles of the language, how to work with databases, graphics, XML and other material necessary to develop modern websites.  There’s a quick reference at the back of the book to all the core functions built into PHP.  Rather than being a dry reference manual on the syntax of the language, this book explains how and when to use PHP if you’re developing your own web-based applications.

Web Database Applications with PHP and MySQL, 2nd EditionWeb Database Applications with PHP and MySQL, 2nd Edition

David Lane, Hugh Williams
O’Reilly, 2009

Again, this is another book of ideas for medium-to-advanced programmers as opposed to everyday enthusiasts.  The book introduces people to the principles of PHP and database administration through a series of worked examples.  Probably not suitable for people who use using packaged—i.e. off-the-shelf CMS—products that have their own API calling mechanisms but it’s worth retaining on the bookshelf if you’re looking for answers to the question “how did they do that?”

Webmaster in a nutshell—deluxe editionWebmaster in a nutshell—deluxe edition

Stephen Spainhour, Valerie Quercia
O’Reilly, 1996

This was one of the first books I purchased on webcraft (and the most expensive) but even though it is very old—regardless of whatever measure you use—I still refer to the book from time to time.  Its purpose is to be used as “a desktop quick reference” with chapters on HTML, CGI, HTTP, Javascript and server configuration; the book fulfils this purpose admirably.

The deluxe version includes five other O’Reilly books on CD:

  • HTML: The Definitive Guide, 2nd Edition
  • Javascript:  The Definitive Guide, 2nd Edition
  • CGI Programming on the World Wide Web
  • Programming Perl, 2nd Edition
  • Webmaster in a Nutshell

PHP 6 and MySQL 5 for Dynamic Web SitesPHP 6 and MySQL 5 for Dynamic Web Sites

Larry Ullman
Peachpit Press, 2008

In hindsight, I’m not really sure why I purchased this book  At the time it was written, PHP 5.2 was then current and, while some of the book focuses on PHP 6 (that was expected to be released in 2008) this version never made it off the assembly line.  The non-release of PHP 6 notwithstanding, there is some useful information on how to write PHP for use with MySQL to create dynamic websites.  This isn’t a book for beginners but it does give a fairly easy-to-read guide about how to write SQL queries.

This book does provide information that would assist people transitioning between PHP 5 and PHP 7 (bearing in mind that some aspects of PHP 6 were dropped from PHP 7).

Using Html 4, 4th EditionUsing Html 4, 4th Edition

Mark Robbin Brown, Jerry Honeycutt
QUE, 1998

The sheer weight of this book (a little over 1100 pages) and its price may seem impressive but that’s about all I can say.  This book leaves a “Microsoftian” taste on the palate with continual references to—wait for it—Internet Explorer 4 with active channels (remember them?), ActiveX controls, Visual Basic Scripting Language and Java applets.

This was one of the first HTML reference books I purchased and, while it was useful at one time, it’s sorely dated.  HTML 4 was relatively new in 1998 but web-browser technology has moved on more modern variants of HTML and CSS.  As I said, the size of this book looks impressive on the bookshelf.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating an HTML4 Webpage, 3rd EditionThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating an HTML4 Webpage, 3rd Edition

Paul McFedries
QUE, 1998

If you’re a serious website developer and you’re having a meeting with a client who wants you to build a website for them, never leave a book like this lying around where they might see it.  A book with a “a complete idiot’s guide to …” title says more about you and nothing nice about how you respect your clients.  While your client may not require anything more complex than a one-page website, let’s get one thing straight from the get-go:  the term “webpage” is so passé.  People who do business on the internet create websites:  places that contain a multitude of individual “pages” of information (e.g. perhaps a page about what your business does, where it’s located, its hours of business, how to contact the business owner and perhaps a gallery of products or services operated by the business.  I never use the word “webpage” when I’m talking with a client.

Another warning about the book’s [lack of] relevance is the mention of HTML 4 in the title.  HTML 4 was relatively new in 1998 but HTML 5 has largely superseded these variations and, consequently, the web-browser technology has similarly followed suit.  On opening the book, the reader is greeted with screenshots from Internet Explorer 4 and Netscape Navigator 4 and unless you’re still using Windows ’95 you’d think you’re reading the Dead Sea Scrolls instead of a modern-day book.

I’ve included this book as a curiosity to demonstrate how far website development has come in the past 20 years.  If you see a copy in the public library—and I hope you don’t—it’s probably located under “fiction, horror”.

Pure JavaScript (2nd Edition)Pure JavaScript (2nd Edition)

Jason D. Gilliam, R. Allen Wyke, Charlton Ting, Sean Michaels
Sams Publishing, 2001

Subtitled as “a code-intensive premium reference”, at 1400 pages of text plus 150 pages of index, this book it is the most intensive reference work on Javascript I’ve seen.  If it’s impractical to pack a book weighing 2.1 kg when you’re out in the field, there’s a CD version inside the rear cover if you need something more portable.  This work covers the some general theory about OOP, the structure and syntax of the Javascript language and its usage in client- and server-side situations.

If there are any criticisms, the screen graps used [sparingly] throughout the book were created with Netscape 6.  A useful [but heavy] accompaniment for general DHTML work … or as a paperweight.

The Principles of Beautiful Web DesignThe Principles of Beautiful Web Design

Jason Beaird
Site Point, 2001

This is a delightful little book for everyone—like me—who has failed miserably at art.  Whether you’re looking to discover the pyschology of colour or a reference to the jargon of fonts and lettercraft or whether you’d simply like a few tips about how to go about designing a website in order to bring it to life, attract and capture your audience, this is definitely one for you.  A timeless classic:  this is one book that you should bring to a conference with prospective clients who want your services to build their business websites.

Beginning PHP5, Apache, and MySQL Web DevelopmentBeginning PHP5, Apache, and MySQL Web Development

Elizabeth Naramore, Jason Gerner, Yann Le Scouarnec, Jeremy Stolz, Michael K. Glass
Wiley, 2005

Before the advent of open-source PHP-based CMS products (e.g. Joomla, Wordpress, Drupal, Magento, etc.) content management systems largely needed to be assembled by hand.  This book looks at the challenges facing website developers who want to put their own individual stamp in their webcraft.  The best part of the book, for me, are the appendices at the end of the book which contain a quick reference summary of PHP functions, MySQL, text editors, webhosting providers and localhost AMP stacks.

I don’t agree with the book’s claim:

Who this book is for:  This book is for beginners who are new to PHP and who need to learn quickly how to create Web sites using open source tools.  Some basic HTML knowledge is helpful but not essential.Beginning PHP5, Apache, and MySQL Web Development rear cover

Creating Web Graphics For DummiesCreating Web Graphics For Dummies

Bud Smith, Peter Frazier
Wiley, 2003

An unremarkable cookie-cutter entry in the “for dummies” stable.  At the time this book was written, faster-than-dialup connections were only just becoming affordable for using internet and, of course, with increased speed, websites became more “multimedia rich”.  This book, however, does little more than dole out a few recipes on how to use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Paintshop Pro or (for those who have no money left after buying this book) Windows Paint to create images with which they can “jazz up” their websites “with cool graphics”.  Seriously, the author suggests that website illustrators should choose between BMP, GIF and JPEG formats—apparently PNG is mentioned as a “rival format” and it’s supposed to be pronounced “ping”!

I’m sure got this book at a school fête and I haven't had the courage to donate it back.  This book may suit nostalgia buffs or people looking for cheap laughs; for example, here’s the author’s definition of “shrink-wrapped software”:

shrink-wrapped software:  No, this is not software developed and packaged by psychiatrists.  Actually, shrink-wrapped software is just software that is sold as a product and packaged in a box, with the user paying up-front before taking possession of the software.Creating Web Graphics For Dummies p.290

Creating graphics for websites is a serious business.  As a website developer, not only are you trying to attract attention through the use of “cool graphics” you’re also keeping an eye on the demands these things place on site bandwidth, the speed with which they can be delivered, how they’ll appear over a range of different viewing platforms and ensuring that everything reinforces your message instead of distracting people’s attention from it.

PHP and MySQL Web Development All-In-One Desk Reference for DummiesPHP and MySQL Web Development All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies

Janet Valade, Tricia Ballad, Bill Ballad
Wiley, 2008

Unlike the other “for dummies” stable mate I own, the book’s authors don’t attempt to mix juvenile humour in order to make their work appear “cool”.  From the outset, the book gets things started by introducing the reader to the building blocks—the foundation of modern webcraft—from shopping around for a webhosting company to installing PHP, MySQL and Apache (there’s a section on using XAMPP)development laboratory), progressing through the fundamentals of PHP programming, database application design, security through to fully-worked web applications.  One could theoretically use this book to build simple website that allows visitors to sign-in, complete forms and use shopping carts.

One humorously awkward point:  the front cover says “covers PHP versions 4,5, and 6!”  Well, PHP 6 was never officially released but it’s still a nice selling point.

About the author:

is a Joomla professional and former member of the Kunena community for more than 8 years—a substantial contributor to the original Kunena documentation project with over twenty thousand messages posted at the Kunena forum. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author. View his profile here.



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