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 Book Review: XML Pocket Reference
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XML Pocket Reference
Robert Eckstein
107 pages

This 107-page book is the size of two floppy disks. And it will probably only take you an hour or two to read it from cover to cover, but the information in it is densely packed, and selected for usefulness. No unnecessary introduction parts, no jokes, no stories, just plain down-to-earth reference of XML.
The book consists of five sections (they are too small to call chapters or even parts). The first one lists XML terminology (the syntax), including a list of "bad" habits (left over from the HTML age) like the use of quotation marks for attribute values, which is required in XML. This first section of the book also contains a short overview of an XML document, a Document Type Definition (DTD) and a simple XSL stylesheet.
By the time you've finished with that one, and start with the second section of the book, you're still only at page 14. The XML Reference starts with the definition of well-formed XML (this is the first time I see a few parts of sentences that have been mentioned before in the "bad habits" section), followed by the XML Instruction reference ( 4 pages), Element and Attribute Rules, a list of XML Reserved Attributes and finally the Entity References. All very concise, but still useful.
On page 22, the Document Type Definitions (DTD) section starts. This, too, is only about 15 pages in length, but covers Element Declarations, Entities, Attribute Declarations and Subsets. By the time you've finished reading the book so far (page 38), you should be able to write your first XML documents - with or without a required DTD - and know what you're talking about (which is more than the average hype can claim about XML).
The fourth section of the book is a bit more advanced, and takes a whopping 34 pages to cover the Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL). In this section you read about Formatting Objects and General Formatting, followed by two relative large sections (more than 10 pages each) on Pattern Matching and XSL Elements. Unfortunately, this part of the book was written in about a year ago, and is partly outdated by now (even at the time the author wrote it, the XSL specification was moving, so he suggests the homepage for the W3C XSL working group for the most up-to-date reference on this topic.
The final section of the book - again over 30 pages - is about XLink and XPointer. I must admit that when I started to read that section, I had no idea what the use of XLink and XPointer would be (or could be) for the average developer. Both fall under the Extensible Linking Language (ELL), which is a subset of XML that specifically works with XML links. So, using XLink and XPointer you can define relationships between XML documents. This was an interesting section to read, although it ended rather abruptly - leaving only a nine page index to conclude the book. Of course, like I said in the introduction, no effort was wasted to make this book as condense as possible, but a final word or list of resources in the end would have been nice.

Having finished the book, I can hardly believe it was only 107 small pages in size. And the typeface isn't even that tiny to begin with (the same size as the font on my 17" monitor). But due to the fact that I know it contains a lot of information (that I don't all know of have in my head), and mainly due to its handy size, this book is one that I carry around with me a lot - and I have been doing so since I got it, which was almost three months ago by the time you read this. Add the absolute low price to this information, and I promise you this is a book you won't be sorry or replace soon. Until O'Reilly publishes the second edition, that is...

(Bob Swart)

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