DHTML Utopia (Book review)

No, this book is not from 1999, despite the DHTML in the title. It was released last year, and the JavaScript techniques it contains have very little in common with the really bad scripting that was the norm around the turn of the century. Well, the end result of some of the techniques is similar (drag and drop, form validation, animated menus), but this time the effects are achieved through modern DOM scripting.

Stuart Langridge's DHTML Utopia: Modern Web Design Using JavaScript & DOM has many similarities to Jeremy Keith's DOM Scripting (stay tuned for a review), but it is more suited for developers/programmers than designers. I really think you need to have quite a bit of JavaScript experience to make the most out of DHTML Utopia since the code examples do get a bit complicated. An alternative would be to read DOM Scripting first and then return to this book.

DHTML Utopia contains ten chapters which build on one another. I recommend reading the whole book instead of skipping chapters, as there are some concepts (like object literals) that are used in the rest of the book once they have been explained. If you miss reading the explanation you could have a hard time understanding the following chapters.

The first few chapters deal with the basic requirements of DOM scripting, and explain the essentials of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, the DOM, DOM events, and feature sniffing. As the book's title contains "Modern Web Design", these chapters explain why valid and well-structured HTML and CSS are important and how you can hook your scripts to events instead of sprinkling inline scripts throughout your markup. Speaking of markup, the book uses HTML 4.01 Strict for all examples. The book's introduction dedicates a couple of pages to explaining why this choice (which I agree with) was made.

After the basics have been explained, the next few chapters move on to animation, form validation, and my biggest complaint about this book: the multilevel animated dropdown menu. In my opinion it doesn't matter how much modern, unobtrusive, gracefully degrading DOM scripting you use - a multilevel animated dropdown menu is still bad usability. I really would have liked to see an example more in line with modern web design.

The final chapters describe pretty advanced concepts such as remote scripting, AJAX, server communication, and XPath. This section is probably of most use to people who work on web applications rather than informational websites. The techniques - just like the techniques in the rest of the book - are explained in a step-by-step way that makes them understandable, so even if web applications are not your thing I recommend reading the entire book.

All in all I think DHTML Utopia is a very helpful book for anyone looking to improve their DOM scripting skills.

As with all SitePoint books, there are sample chapters you can download to find out if the book is right for you.

DHTML Utopia: Modern Web Design Using JavaScript & DOM
Author: Stuart Langridge
ISBN: 0957921896

Posted on August 18, 2006 in Reviews