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DHTML- The Definitive Reference (2nd edition, O'Reilly) review
October 28th, 2002

DHTML- The Definitive Reference (2nd edition, O'Reilly)Perhaps now more than ever the DHTML technology is at an impasse, as both IE and NS wearily accept standards, and head down what could be the same road, or at least a parallel one. Over the years DHTML has delighted- and most certainly frustrated- web developers, with its myriad of proprietary properties, methods, and concepts. So it is now more than ever that developers could use a good DHTML reference to help sort out all the confusion, and have listed clearly what works and in what context. The DHTML book that we hoped would be our knight in shining book cover- "DHTML- The Definitive Reference (2nd edition)", by O'Reilly.

Two things we should mention right away are 1) This is the second, updated edition of the original DHTML reference book (1998), and 2) It's a deceptively thick book (some 1,300 pages, yet very compact). The new edition was rolled out to address the changed landscape of DHTML, with a renewed focus on the latest specs of the DOM (level 2), CSS (level 2), JavaScript 1.5, HTML 4.01, and how these technologies fit into the various IE and NS browsers. On paper this book appears to be just what the doctor ordered- in practice, we're happy to say it doesn't falter one bit either.

"DHTML The Definitive Reference" is intuitively carved up into 9 sections, "color tabbed" on the side of the book for easy lookup. They are:

  1. Applying Dynamic HTML
  2. Shared HTML Reference
  3. Alphabetical HTML Reference
  4. Shared DOM Reference
  5. Alphabetical DOM Reference
  6. Event Reference
  7. CSS Reference
  8. JavaScript Reference
  9. Cross References

The opening section ("Applying Dynamic HTML") is conceptually different from the rest of the book, serving as a comprehensive tutorial on DHTML and the DOM, tying in and explaining the sections to follow. A great book in itself, the section covers everything from dynamic positioning, dynamic content,  the DHTML event model, to CSS. And all this is done with consideration for the latest DOM/CSS specs and browser compatibility. Topics such as CSS level 2 selectors, using the DOM to sort a table, and embedding XML using DHTML, no doubt will benefit even the experienced DHTML programmer.

The sections that follow are references on the various technologies that together make up DHTML. The reason why you bought this book, you sure won't be feeling any regrets that you did. Unlike a bad reference that monotonously lists and defines, The Definitive Reference explains as well the property/method/attribute in question.  That is what, in our opinion, continues to separate O'Reilly's Reference books from the rest- it's not just a dictionary, but a true reference that reads like a tutorial, but handles like a dictionary. As an example, we looked up the DOM object "TreeWalker" hoping to see its definition- what we got was close to a page full of information on it, including an example. This is the kind of depth we're talking about.

We received this book about a month ago, and already, have referred to it more times than the rest of our DHTML books combined. If you've already broken into DHTML, this book is a must-have now. If you're completely new to the technology, know that the inevitable day is coming that you will need to have this book. Like attempting to learn a spoken language without a good dictionary, forget about it.

Product information: DHTML The Definitive Reference (2nd edition)

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