Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Review: Head First HTML5 Programming


It’s a good bet that at some point your everyday tester is going to need to come face to face with the newest web standards, and if you have to get exposed to it from a books viewpoint, well, this is a friendly and straightforward way to do it. Head First HTML5 Programming uses a fun and graphically dense format to help get people comfortable with the ideas of using HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript.

OK, first and foremost, this is not an absolute beginner’s book, although you may well find that you don’t need all that much underlying understanding to be effective. If you have a basic understanding of HTML tags understand some CSS formatting and have seen and can recognize XHTML or XML, then you know enough to work through this book. This is also not a grans master’s book, either. It is not a comprehensive reference. What it does do is provide a basic framework and some fun text to help the user get familiar with HTML5 syntax and use JavaScript to help create web applications.

The book starts out with some basics, showing you how HTML5 is utilizing the standards of HTML, CSS and JavaScript as defaults, and the fact that many of the strict type details that were part of HTML 4.01 and XHTML are integrated.  Games such as crossword puzzles, word matches, sample programs and workbook projects are included to help get the gist of how to use recognize the changes and see them in action. Interviews with HTML5 and JavaScript are also included (no, I didn’t just make that up :) ).

The book then moves into JavaScript and explains the way JavaScript works, including a syntax run down, how to use it in simple programs, as well as how to put the scripts into web pages, and explains the Document Object Model (DOM) that is created and used to enact your JavaScript.

Creating event handlers and interactive controls to a user is up next. By making a simple song selector, the user is shown how to make buttons and tie events to them, , along with creating new elements to hold information and display songs. The exercises help the user see how the code and page elements interact with each other.

Functions and objects are next on the list. Chaining, constructors, and scope, oh my.

Geolocation gets a chapter, meaning that we can make our pages and our code pieces  location aware (by using the Geolocation JavaScript API). This can be done at a GPS level or an IP address level, but in both cases, this chapter covers ways to say where you actually are.

Web Services gets a chapter and a look at XMLHttpRequest, JSON, and JSONP, and shows when to use which, and how to fetch data at regular intervals to update the application you make (and with gumballs, no less).

The Canvas chapter explains how to use the canvas element to physically draw out parts of the page. With a T-shirt design problem, we create a square, manipulate the pixels to create fills, fail gracefully and inform users if their browsers are too old to support canvas, and create functions to draw circles and other shapes. Creative text can be displayed as well.

The Video tool allows developers to not just embed video in pages, there’s also playback, moving forward and backwards, handling different video formats, and embedding video images into objects that you have drawn onto the canvas tool. We also get to play with a variety of video formats including H.264, VP8 and Theora. Video also allows the user to use an API to focus on a variety of behavior.

Web storage, or more commonly, localStorage, gets coverage and an explanation of how it differs from traditional “cookies”. Starting with the space (cookies max out at 4kB, localStorage gives you 5MB for each domain).

The book rounds out with the topic of Web Helpers, the ability to spawn small JavaScript threads to take over the lengthier or more involved processes, so that the browser doesn’t wait forever for that particular process to finish (with an explanation of an exploration of Mandelbrot Sets just for fun).

There are also a number of topics that didn’t get covered, such as Modernizr, Audio, jQuery, XHTML, SVG, Offline Web Apps, Web Sockets, more advanced Canvas API, Selectors API, and many other things that would make a book already 600 pages much thicker (especially since most pages are graphically structured with examples, puzzles and a lot of pictures).


Bottom Line: 


It’s cutesey, it’s kitschy, it’s loaded with pictures, diagrams, and other stuff that may drive some people crazy (the “get to the point already” people), and I’d say that, for those people, they are probably already knowledgable enough to go beyond what this book offers anyway. If, however, you are like me, and don’t necessarily mind a variety of presentation options, and the “ooh shiny” quotient is high, and the need to have silly asides and corny jokes abound to keep you smiling, and engaged, then I have to say there’s a lot to like here.
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