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CSS Cookbook Paperback – Jan 3 2010
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About the Author
Christopher Schmitt has been working with the Web since 1993. He is the author of several books on web design and digital imaging, including earlier editions of CSS Cookbook, and is a contributing writer to many web development magazines.
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Back then building websites was pretty straight forward, you used tables to create columns and filled them up with text and graphics. Web designs were very basic, fixed width was the norm and there was not much of a difference between the two most popular browsers of the era, Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer 3.0.
Many "old-time" coders tried to stick with table-based layouts, but it was easy to see that basic HTML would not longer cut it and CSS was the way to go. I stopped using tables and educated myself on how to use CSS.
In the early 2000s, I purchased several CSS books, including the first edition of CSS Cookbook. That book turned out to be the most useful because O'Reilly's "Cookbook " format is based on question and answer rather than the other CSS books, which focused on basic tutorials.
With the CSS Cookbook, I was able to look up "How to build a two column page," which would provide me with sample code as opposed to going through a basic CSS tutorial. I was able to learn quickly.
If you are new to CSS, you should consider buying another CSS book, but if you know basic HTML and CSS and want to bring your skills up to the next level, I highly recommend reading this book.
Even though you may not want to read the book front to cover I think its a great experience to just pick your chapters by what interests you most and to work through a complete chapter following along and rewriting the code as indicated in order to get a good feel of what problems are solved so that if along the way you run in to a problem you find it back without mach ado. You might learn things you never knew where that simple ore useful. For those who are transitioning from table based layouts to CSS it might not be to book to get familiar with CSS because it is a technical book, a little to dry for just getting into using CSS. Once you have gone through the initial learning curve using books like Head First: HTML and CSS from O'Reilly or Eric Meyers on CSS from New Riders you will be ready to use the book as it is intended: A constant companion within reach whenever the going gets tough,
Chapter 9 on page layout for example clearly explains what took me a long time to understand when starting out trying to use floats for layout. A common problem like columns floated to the left being shorter then the second column located on the right and the resulting overflow of this right column below the left -floated column, I almost forgot that that took me hours to solve when starting out with CSS. In "CSS Cookbook" these behaviors/problems are explained almost in order of appearance as we are working to accomplice more complicated layouts using relative or absolute positioning. There are many resources out on the web but wadding through them is time consuming and being able to find your solutions in a one or two page example including code and images are a big time saver. After each problem there is almost always a "See Also" referral to either another recipe in the book or a link to a more detailed explanation online directing you not only to reliable CSS resources but also to the direct location of the particular problem at hand within these CSS online community resources.
In the same chapter on layout Christopher Schmitt takes us trough as step-by-step tutorial on Alex Robinson's influential article on creating the "any order Columns" published at postitioniseverything.com. A great exercise in understanding floats and how to be creative with code.
In chapter 4 on page elements you will find a great example on some creative ways to add java in your pages and I really appreciate the precise instructions here since that is still kind of new to me. The results are truly beautiful, and would inspire any visual designer and can even be applied to background images placed from a style sheet as you can see applied at [...] a small testing / playground of mine.
A whole chapter is dedicated to forms, another to print.
You will find a clear explanation of how to run multiple versions of i.e. and how to install them. I always new where to find them, just could not get them to work until now! I wish the same simple explanation were given on how to implement Shaun Inmans "clearing a float" in a absolute positioned design since it still is not working for me. (patience, patience...)
The books focus is on solving CSS problems so don't expect all files/example that accompany the book to be validating. I find that a bit of a draw back since the document type used is XHTML Strict in most example files. I think the book as well as the accompanying files may need someone to go through them one more time with a fine comb to correct some of the minor coding errors.
It's really not to be picking but the book is meant for those familiar with code looking to switch over to CSS and for those more advanced. Using a XTML strict Doc declaration in most documents, would it not be neater if the document where written and validated as such? Text without a paragraph surrounding it or a <ul> inside a paragraph, missing closing tacks, make it hard for those who are starting out to find confidence when the CSS is somehow not working. Is it I, is it the book? Honestly, when I get stuck I like to know it's something I did wrong and not the book I am learning from. I did however not find any CSS errors in any of the samples I worked trough!
I never read the first edition of the CSS Cookbook but with the release of IE 7 the book has been updated.
In chapter 3 on images it is stated that at press time IE 5x and 6 do not support a fixed background image in a header to receive a particular effect. I tested in IE 7 and its now is now behaving as it should, so the book I think was released before IE `s 7 official release. Would it have been wiser to wait for this? I think there would have been a more structured outline then of what is still missing and a clearer picture of what to expect in the future working with multiple browsers and demands.
In a ocean of resources in print and online, in the midst of so many tutorials and inspirational articles written on CSS we need a book that works like a Swiss Army Knife to help us solve the problems and issues we come across when we are working on a project and don't have the time to wade trough some of the indeed fascinating and very valuable recourses we can find online. We need a direct solution...We need to know that when we do get stuck or want to push the boundaries that there is a resource that is not lost in a endless list of valuable bookmarks, however well organized, one we can access immediately. Therefore it can be a valuable reason to work through the chapters of interest so that when time is of the essence we know where to go.
Especially when working on commercial project and when we are not at liberty to suggest that, well maybe IE users will not get the full experience of some more advanced and also very popular browsers, but...
In short it is imported to know what works or not and
to have some workarounds or at least to hide from those browsers who don't support what you are doing.
Me personally, I am passionate in my belief and the reasoning behind it, to not letting a product of lesser quality hold down a development....
And especially because of this is it so important to have the tools at hand to know when to support or bypass older browsers to know what works and what not etc.
I almost want to keep the book a secret just because of the fantastic light box example in chapter 4.6. What a beauty. The book really makes you want to explore and experiment with some more java code added in to your designs. A true gem released a bit to hasty. I don't want a refund and you cannot borrow my copy!
Floats are covered for CSS layout but there is no mention of some common Internet Explorer bugs that make their use tricky, including common bugs like the expanding box and guillotine bugs. Holly Hack anybody? How about the problem with setting percent font sizes in the body selector without defining them first in html. Granted IE 7 fixes most of the shortcomings of older versions of the browser but to pretend they don't exist for a measurable percentage of the browsing population is negligent.
Where CSS works as it should, the solutions are fine. Where it doesn't there is too little discussion of the real everyday lack of support in various browsers. If discrete "solutions" are given, the problems associated with each "solution" should be mentioned in the "solution:, not left to a later section that is not cross-referenced. There is a token section at the end of the book on hack support but it is superficial. Even where browser support is mention, it is usually at the end of the solution, where we see it, if at all, after wasting time working through the code. A simple, "This works in xyz browsers at the beginning of each "solution" would have been a great improvement. As they are, some "solutions" only solve problems in a minority percentage of browsers.
There are simply too many good and complete CSS books like Meyer's CSS: The Definitive Guide and CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions by Andy Budd, Simon Collison, and Cameron Moll that give us better real world coverage of CSS usage. For beginners there is Stylin' with CSS: A Designer's Guide by Charles Wyke-Smith. For the experienced there is the stunning new Transcending CSS by Andy Clarke and Molly Holzschlag. I ordered CSS Cookbook in a moment of book craving and am not thrilled by it.
I'm torn on sending it back. It is far from the best general reference, but does have some good content. If I wasn't experienced enough to recognize where it offers less than complete information, it could cause me head scratching with the layout solutions.
Where was Dan Cederholm for this revision?
Unfortunately, the book contains some organizational flaws. The "General" chapter, which is meant to serve as an introduction to CSS, is a brief background to concepts and tools, but it doesn't always point out that certain selectors are not supported in every browser (child selectors and pseudo-elements are the most notable). I think it'd be helpful to state straight-up that many aspects of CSS are interpreted differently in various browsers, if supported at all, and then note which browsers support each feature as the feature is introduced to the reader. To their credit, they do include a "pitfalls/warnings" icon at the end of some sections, but it'd be helpful to know about them before you continue on to work through one of their examples, only to discover later that it doesn't work in IE6. Since most people would like to design for a cross-browser experience, they might just want to skip over certain CSS features that are not widely supported, so indicating browser support up-front would be very helpful. And I wonder how valuable it is to mention something like "text-shadow" if it is only currently supported by one browser? In addition, some important concepts are buried in the book (such as the fundamental concept of inheritance and the !important rule) - they might be better placed in the "General" chapter (introduction).
Though this book does have its flaws, I have to say that it does assemble some nice formatting tricks. I have previously scoured the Web searching for many of the techniques that are all nicely packaged in one place in the "Images" chapter, so I am sure this would be a real time-saver for many, as the leg-work is already done for you. Among some commonly sought out techniques are rounded corners, dropshadows, and the lightbox effect. The "Lists" and "Navigation" chapters are also pretty useful. The "recipes" this book includes are not only a means to accomplish a particular goal, but the solutions are creatively achieved so that you start thinking about using CSS in less out-of-the-box ways. And kudos to them for mentioning accessibility/usability in the "Typography" chapter - those concepts often fall to the wayside in comparison to glitzier topics.
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