The Web Programmer's Desk Reference by Lazaro Issi Cohen & Joseph Issi Cohen, ISBN 1593270119

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, March 2005
Published by: No Starch Press (distributed by O'Reilly & Associates at all major bookstores)
Requires: Windows XP Home or Professional, Windows 2000, Windows NT4
MSRP: US$59.95, CAN$83.95

With fifteen extensively detailed chapters, one hundred pages of indexing, eighteen pages of detailed table of contents, a compendium of HTML, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and JavaScript, as well as an overview of the Document Object Model (DOM), The Web Programmer's Desk Reference stands as one of the definitive, current web reference works. The three basic programming languages that web developers use to build functional, attractive and interactive web sites are fully covered: HTML creates the text, images, and other content on a web page; CSS formats and positions those elements; JavaScript adds interactivity to web sites by responding to user choices. The Web Programmer's Desk Reference is the only book I'm aware of that serves as a single point of reference for all three primary web programming languages.

Make no mistake, this book is written for intermediate to advanced web masters, web programmers and general developers. It does start with a web programming primer that gives beginner and intermediate programmers an understanding of the core elements of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The introduction is thorough and well organized. But authors Cohen & Cohen quickly move on to the reference sections listing every element of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, along with definitions and usage methods for all of the recognized associations and combinations of tags, code and script. Each listing includes the latest syntax and functionality, compatibility with other elements, and cross-browser compatibility issues. No Starch Press says that whether you are a professional web programmer, professional web designer, or a recreational webmaster with a dynamic web site, this will be the book that you use whenever you need to know how to use a particular HTML element, JavaScript object, or CSS style. After testing over a hundred major references without finding anything other than well organized and perfectly detailed explanations, I've got to agree wholeheartedly with the No Starch Press assessment. The authors have asserted their years of experience and it shows in a well-ordered, clearly laid out book.


Reviewing a book of this type requires a certain approach. Most important of all, and no matter how experienced the reviewer happens to be, actually using the book for its intended purpose while developing and maintaining real live web sites is the most clearly relevant part of the testing and review process. Although syntactical styles abound, Web Programmer's Desk Reference calmly lassos all the conflicting coding efforts out there and reasserts the best methodologies and code practices. In one sitting during late February 2005, I managed to rework a small but busy (and content-heavy) site by reviewing all of the code by reference to the book. After noting errors and inconsistencies and making the required changes, the site now works properly in all the browsers out there. The site also functions faster.

No Starch Press has provided a sample chapter in PDF format for download. Grab it here.

Cons: We don't have a beef with the content—it's absolutely excellent. However, the book should be supplied with a thick, starter bundle of sticky tabs so that you can mark cross-references and pages. Seriously. When you're tracking down a problem in some complex bit of code on a web site, about the only way to keep your head on straight while browsing this huge book is to leave a trail of sticky tabs. The bookbinding is very well done but somewhat inappropriate for a large reference text. The binding method is extremely clean and tight, indicating good quality and excellent page retention. Unfortunately, that same quality prevents the book from laying flat by itself. I'm actually using the book to look up some problems on another corporate web site, but I have to use a large book clamp to keep the thing open without having to hold it flat with one hand while typing code with the other. I vote for reinforced, hole-punched loose-leaf and binder? Anybody got a better suggestion?

Pros: A huge, detailed, clearly organized volume that, as of March 2005 at least, is fully up to date. Extensive cross-referencing. The detail in this book, overwhelming at first, with patience will be welcomed by every developer, web master and web programmer actively maintaining a medium size or large site. In fact, anybody who is maintaining a robust web site of any size will do well to keep a copy of Web Programmer's Desk Reference handy. Printing and paper quality are quite good, ensuring that the book will outlast the coding standards it references. Printing and paper quality also contribute to readability, and that means the book is very easy to read in a wide variety of lighting conditions, an important point when you consider the length of some real-life web programming situations. Excellent work. Highly recommended.

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