Web Site Cookbook, by Doug Addison, ISBN 0­596­10109­0. 261

Reviewed by: Robert Boardman, May 2006
Published by: O'Reilly
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$39.99, CAN$55.99, UK£28.50

According to the O'Reilly press release “The Web Site Cookbook addresses the essential skills needed to create engaging, visitor-friendly (fluff-free) sites, and does so in a simple format that won't require hours of research and study time.” The author says in the Preface “you'll find solutions to everything from choosing, registering, and protecting a site's domain name to keep spammers from harvesting the addresses you display on its pages.” Further on he says “This book assumes that you have a hands-on role in the creation and ongoing life of a web site.”

This book is not designed to teach everything you need to know to build a web site. The author states quite clearly the book is designed for those with HTML experience. While he does have some line-by-line examples and discussion of CSS, PHP and JavaScript code, a working knowledge of those formats and programming languages is also very helpful to readers. What is also important to now for many of the techniques in the “hands-on role” is that many of Addison's 'recipes' require changing web server configuration files. In addition, PHP code requires that PHP be set up and working with the web server, something that is assumed but not discussed in this book.

What I have so far described are the warnings listed on the outside of the book. What I have not described is what is between the covers. This is indeed a cookbook, a collection of generally independent recipes. They are grouped by function or category, starting with domain names, directory structure on the web server, and a list of free maintenance tools. The author moves from site plans to page design and navigation, then to page content, interactivity, promotion and finally maintenance and troubleshooting. This is a good logical structure. Each chapter is broken into smaller tasks (the recipes) usually two to four pages long. Each recipe is listed in the Table of Contents so the tasks are easy to find. All tasks have a “See Also” paragraph that points to other resources, usually on the Internet, specific to the task. Most recipes have code that can be copied directly into an HTML editor with some minor customizing for a specific page or site. Many recipes also have tables, diagrams or screen shots which help clarify the technique being explained or developed.

Addison makes clear the more technical recipes work most easily (or were designed for) the LAMP web tools: Linux /*nix + Apache + MySQL + PHP. They should work almost as well with Apache + MySQL + PHP on Windows. Many recipes are in HTML and CSS and so work equally well with all web servers. In my experience it is non-compliant browsers that cause problems with properly coded HTML and CSS, not servers. All code on a web site should be viewed with at least the major compliant browsers (Firefox, Opera, Safari) and the major non-compliant browser (Internet Explorer) before being published to the world.

I have been building web sites since HTML 2. Even so, I found several very interesting and informative recipes which I expect to put into place on at least one of my sites in the next few months. For example, Addison has a very clearly written chapter on image use. His discussion of copyright and protecting images from duplication is informative as well as useful. His recipe for making graphics dynamically using PHP, the PDFlib library and the GD Graphics Library was an eye opener for me.

Doug Addison has brought together a large number of useful techniques. His organization of these techniques is logical. His explanations and examples are clear and easy to put into practice. This book will be valuable for someone who has some experience with the hands-on control of one web site. For those who manage more than one site this will be a valuable addition to their existing library.

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