DHTML Utopia: Modern Web Design Using Javascript & DOM, by Stuart Langridge, ISBN: 0-9579218-9-6

Reviewed by: Paul Schneider, Ph.D., December 2005
Published by: Sitepoint
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$39.95, CAN$55.95

Web pages have come a long way since Mosaic ushered in the graphical web browser back in 1993. Today we are seeing more and more companies adding web-based services that are meant to replace traditional software models (good examples being an online word processor or an online scheduler or calendar which provide essentially the same functionality as a standalone program installed on your hard drive). Yet, as prevalent as this technology is becoming, the software and the web pages that deliver these solutions often do not really provide the same experience as an installed program. Although many solutions have addressed some of the inadequacies by using supplementary technologies such as Flash and Java, pure HTML-based solutions have lagged behind. Well no more. Using the latest incarnations of JavaScript, Document Object Model (DOM), and Dynamic Hypertext Markup Language (DHTML), more robust online applications can now be built without a supplementary technology. In DHTML Utopia, author Stuart Langridge opens the door to this new development frontier.


DHTML Utopia is both a practical and wishful title. Langridge doesn't deceive the reader into believing Utopia is here now and he often notes that while many of the approaches described in the book work well, they only work under certain conditions. Yes dear reader, we are crossing over into the bleeding edge. If you are used to the (sometimes) agonizing effort needed to program web pages compatible with Internet Explorer, Netscape, Firefox and Opera running on Mac and Windows, then you'll have a clear idea of where this technology currently stands. The book indicates that experience with building web sites is important, but little or no JavaScript experience is needed. However, I'll qualify that a bit further. This book is not for the beginning developer. If you have actually programmed your dynamic web sites, using more than a WYSIWYG editor, then you should be okay, but otherwise this book may be a bit much.

Langridge’s basic approach to each of the concepts is to provide a situation, what some of the problems are with respect to the way web developers have previously dealt with the situation, and then how you can use DHTML to achieve a practical solution. Finally, he touches on the inevitable problems you might encounter with the various browsers on different operating systems. Overall, the presentation is fairly clear, but being a Javascript-lite programmer, I found myself re-reading a number of topics in order to gain a better understanding. In addition to Javascript, a basic understanding of XML will probably prove useful, helping you to absorb many of the concepts laid out in the book.

The topics covered in the book include: DHTML Technologies, The Document Object Model, Handling DOM Events, Detecting Browser Features, Animation, Forms and Validation, Advance Concepts and Menus, Remote Scripting, Communicating with the Server, and DOM Alternatives: XPath. The first half of the book focuses on the introduction of these concepts, how the technologies work together, and their current state in relation to various browsers. The latter half takes these concepts and applies them to different areas of web development. In reading this text one thing became clear, though there might be a bit of extra work on the front end, the use of these technologies can really pay off once you complete the base development. It’s not a particularly novel concept, but it does help to keep this in mind as you struggle to get the initial elements right, grumbling to yourself, "And this is better why?"

DHTML Utopia is not the type of book you'll read a bit at a time, trying out various things on the computer sometime later on. Instead, plan on taking the book in hand with an active Internet connection, your favorite editor and web server, and practice and apply away. Really, that's what it often takes to bring your web site to the next level anyway. To help you along, the text provides plenty of examples which you can enter manually or download from the web site. You get a good introduction to the techniques used to eliminate extra server calls, page refreshes, and creating web applications which function productively and responsively. However, if you don't care for the bleeding edge, you may want to wait until the standards become more mature and fully accepted in the browser world. In any event, it appears we are all in for a significant improvement to our web software experiences. With DHTML Utopia you can take the first step toward adding this new technology to your own web development arsenal.





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