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Resources - Book Reviews

Webmaster in a Nutshell

Review by Susan Plaumann

Webmaster in a Nutshell, 2nd Edition

Author(s): Stephen Spainhour, Robert Eckstein
Publisher and date of publication: O'Reilly, 1999

Audience: Intermediate

Recommendation: 8
(on a scale of 1 to 10)


What is a typical "webmaster"? According to the book webmastering encompasses providing content, designing, programming and administrating Web pages and applications. While there may be just one person doing all of these tasks, the tasks may in fact be split across several members of a Web site team with different job titles, with "webmasters" tackling Web server administration issues only. To cover all aspects the book offers information about client- as well as server-side issues.

Half of this desktop reference is dedicated to the topics HTML (HyperText Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), XML (Extensible Markup Language) and JavaScript (client side), the other half deals with CGI (Common Gateway Interface) and PERL (Practical Extraction and Reporting Language), PHP (PHP Hypertext Preprocessor), HTTP (HyperText Transaction Protocol) and Server Configuration.

The HTML part mainly consists of an HTML element reference, with additional explanations covering tables, frames and forms. The CSS section briefly introduces CSS1 features and lists available properties and values in a reference. Due to the date of the book only version 4 browsers CSS implementations are taken into consideration.

It's definitely a challenge to cover XML, XSL (Extensible Stylesheet Language), DTD (Document Type Definition), XLink (XML Linking Language) and XPointer (XML Pointer Language) in just 60 pages, and besides the reference listings lots of things can only be touched very briefly. However, the book manages to give a first overview, but unfortunately recommendations for further readings are missing.

The JavaScript section is the the third largest besides the HTML and Server Configuration one. It introduces JavaScript 1.2, the most used JavaScript version as long as we still have to deal with version 4 browsers, and the one most popular at the time of publishing (1999). The 20-page overview covering syntax, variables, data types, expressions and operators, statements, etc. is comprehensive enough to get started with the language.

"CGI and PERL" covers the CGI.pm module (a PERL module that handles HTML form interaction) without giving an introduction into the script language PERL itself. This makes it very difficult for beginners to use this part. In the context of CGI and PERL programming some additional pages covering SSI (Server Side Includes) seem to be misplaced. The reason however is explained as their use for incorporating CGI-like information.

PHP, another server-side script language, is given an introduction of similar structure as the JavaScript part. This makes it a lot easier to handle the reference.

For everyone interested in typical server information, the last two parts (HTTP and Server Configuration) offer almost everything you want to know when having to take care of an Apache Web server (other servers aren't covered). The description of how GET and POST methods for form submissions differ, the listing of server responses and status codes as well as HTTP headers are invaluable references for all Web designers.

The server configuration reference for Apache 1.3 is followed by a list of advice on how to optimize server performance by taking into consideration server- as well as client-side topics.


Even though some information may be a bit outdated now there's still a lot you can gain from this book, especially the server information, the JavaScript, HTML and PHP references.


It's not exactly a book for beginners like others in this O'Reilly series. You should at least know the basics of programming languages to get the most from the references. Other books would be a better choice for examples of copy-and-paste programming.


"Webmaster in a Nutshell" consists of a comprehensive overview of the most used languages for Web pages, client- as well as server-side. If you can't spend money on separate references for the above mentioned topics buy this one, and you'll have it all in one book combined.


Copyright 2002, Susan Plaumann, All Rights Reserved

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Susan Plaumann is currently working as an Assistant Director to the CEO at Pixelpark AG, Berlin, Germany, being responsible for Human Resources and Facility Management as well as overseeing long-term vocational training. Before this she worked many years as an IT project manager, technical writer and trainer. Susan has a background in Business Administration as well as extensive experience in teaching, supporting and writing for computer users, the last ten years of which have almost exclusively been on web-related topics.




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