JSTL In Action, by Shawn Bayern; ISBN 1-930110-52-9

Reviewed by: Songmuh Jong, send e-mail
Published by: Manning Publications Co., go to the web site
Requires: Web Server with JSP 2.0 or above and a database server
MSRP: US$39.95

Web development has come a long way and is very different from the early days. One main interest in web development is to provide server processing which hides the details from the clients (browsers) yet provides enough processing power to handle clients' requests. Microsoft came up with Active Server Pages (ASP) and the idea was developed into Java Server Pages (JSP). However, JSP is very Java-centric and cannot be used by web developers coming from different a background. Thus Sun Microsystems developed the JavaServer Pages Standard Tag Library (JSTL). Because JSTL is now part of the JSP specification (2.0 or above), every web container has JSTL available for every web developer. Just like ASP, the JSTL tags can be readily used in any JSP page. More important, any Java developer can create and define new custom tags.

This book progresses from the basics (the JSTL history, the design of web applications, and the background information for JSTL, including XML and JSP) to JSTL details ( expression, flow control, loops, text import, XML XPath, XML parsing, database pages, formatting and internationalization), then to examples (checkbox, dates, and error handling, a survey page and a message board, and a case study to build a Yahoo-style web portal), and finally to the programming APIs (modifying properties, exposing data, importing text into a Reader, encoding characters, advanced XML parsing and transformation, JSTL configurations for database access and internationalization and creating custom tags).

The author has a special writing style that makes the reading logical, interesting and informative. For example, the background chapter goes into details of XML and JSP, but keeps the scope limited to the ones that are relevant for JSTL, and it ends before the readers get bored. Another example is when the author discusses the expression language. This is usually a boring topic, but the author makes the transition smoothly. The discussion of XPath is another example. Here the author points out the differences between JSTL and XSLT--again in a natural style.

Although the book does not discuss the web server and JSTL installation, the author has published a web page on the Manning book site to describe the installation of Tomcat and JSTL (click on the Tomcat sidebar on the product web site, see below). For people who do not have a database server, the author includes a discussion of HSQLDB on the book web site (click on the HSQLDB sidebar on the product web site, see below). Sample chapters Controlling Flow With Loops (5), Common Tasks (11) and JSTL Reference (Appendix A) are available on the product web site (see below).

This book is designed for any web developer who is interested in using JSP and in extending its capability. This book has done such a good job that I'm beginning to consider the possibility of using JSP and JSTL for my next project.

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