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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
XML has grown into such a diverse set of technologies that it’s almost impossible for newcomers to get their hands around it. Fortunately, there’s a solution: Erik T. Ray’s Learning XML, Second Edition.
This book presents an outstanding “birds-eye view” of the XML landscape. It’s definitely not a programming book (though it does introduce some key XML programming issues). Rather, it’s focused on key ideas you need to understand whatever you want to do with XML. That could be document management, web or print content delivery, application integration, B2B commerce, data storage, internationalization -- you name it.
Ray’s “day job” is software developer and XML specialist at O’Reilly. There, he’s helped to implement a complete publishing solution, using DocBook-XML and Perl to produce books in print, on CD-ROM, and for online delivery. So he understands XML from the real-world point of view of someone with a job to do.
His first goal is to take on the big questions. First, What is XML? Ray attacks this question from multiple angles, introducing XML as a general-purpose information storage system, a markup language toolkit, and an open standard (or, increasingly, a collection of standards). What can (and can’t) you do with XML? What’s the history that led us here? And what tools do you need to get started?
Next, he introduces the basic building blocks of XML markup and all XML-derived languages: stuff you’ll need to know regardless of your goals. Through easy examples, you’ll understand elements, attributes, entities, and processing instructions -- and how they fit together in a well-formed XML document.
Then, it’s on to representing information with XML -- in other words, understanding the nature and planning the structure of the documents you’ll be using. Ray starts simply, then builds on his basic examples to discuss “narrative” documents with text flows, block and inline elements, and titled sections. Once you can handle those, he discusses more complex information modeling, as used in specialized markup languages such as VML.
This edition contains an entirely new chapter on XML Schemas -- what he calls the “shepherds” that “keep documents from straying outside of the herd and causing trouble.” Schemas, of course, have become hugely important. This is one of the best plain-English introductions to the topic we’ve seen.
Ray then turns to presentation, introducing CSS stylesheets, basic usage, rule matching, properties, and more. A little later on, he returns to the subject -- this time with a complete introduction to XSL-FO that illuminates two powerful examples. The first is TEI-XML, a markup language for scholarly documents (Ray presents a Shakespearean sonnet, appropriately coded). The second is the immensely powerful DocBook -- which, as we’ve observed, Ray knows inside and out.
Learning XML is superbly written. Clear explanations. Simple examples. Great metaphors and analogies. And excellent introductions to nearly every topic that matters, from links to presentation, transformation to internationalization. If you’re just starting out with XML, you’re lucky to have it. Bill Camarda
Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks for Dummies, Second Edition.