The Ultimate HTML Reference, by Ian Lloyd, ISBN: 978-0-9802858-8-8

Reviewed by: Mark Goldstein, October 2008
Published by: Sitepoint
Requires: An interest in advanced and accurate HTML programming
MSRP: US$44.95, CAN$44.95

The Ultimate HTML Reference is a pure reference guide unadorned by any sort of narrative fluff or prosaic bulk sometimes found in such publications. Author Ian Lloyd and publisher Sitepoint seem to have designed and executed a straightforward reference guide specifically for use by active web programmers in need of direct access to a desktop HTML compendium. The book consists of approximately 530 pages of organization and reference pages.

The need for straightforward reference guides in many fields is well known. Too often, authors lose their way and end up including far more information than is needed by specialized users, and far more information than is covered by the book title. The Ultimate HTML Reference is essentially therefore an HTML compendium containing succinct explanations and examples for all World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standardized HTML notation. As well, the differences in syntax between HTML and XHTML are clearly documented.


The initial review period consisted primarily of cherry-picking dozens of definitions & examples throughout the book, trying them out in published web pages and observing the results. The second part of the review period consisted of comparing reference code in the book to that generated by Adobe Dreamweaver. The latter 'test' revealed a lot of compliance from hand written code culled from The Ultimate HTML Reference, and more important lots of properly rendered rendered web pages viewed in Internet Explorer 7, Firefox 3 and Opera 9. The latter test clearly showed Dreamweaver's inherent weakness because Dreamweaver generates so many of its own tags that code bloat occurs quite easily and creates legibility and comprehension issues for anyone subsequently tasked with editing or correcting the code. The now-aging adage about hand coding by knowledgeable developers being the bastion of quality is true. Rendering some of the needlessly complex code generated by Dreamweaver is a task which occasionally taxes browsers to the extreme.

There's little or nothing missing in the book. I'm not a master web developer by any definition, but I've weathered the storms caused by many different versions of Dreamweaver and subsequently too learned the virtues of hand coding. That doesn't make me a web development expert, but it does ensure that a very wide range of web development needs has successfully been tackled by various teams of mine (and me!) over the years and in sufficient volume to have touched on almost everything related to HTML (as well as user interface development, scripting, etc., etc.). The point is that after a few days of pounding away at the book, I really couldn't find anything missing. The book is a dry, straightforward (there's that word again) reference, unadorned and technical.

For all those who battle browser compliance issues every time a new site or page goes live, The Ultimate HTML Reference provides a highlighted chart beside each tag reference indicating the browser versions with which it's compliant. It's a remarkably helpful reference feature which can shave off inordinately large amounts of bug fixing time during site and page testing.

Cons: What is going on in the publishing industry? Who are these editors at Sitepoint who believe that a detailed Table of Contents and a comprehensive Index are not needed? The alphabetic element index is all well and good, but it's exceedingly limiting for a wide range of intermediate-level programmers who simply don't know the names of certain elements and therefore can't look them up by name. If omitting a robust table of contents and index is part of an effort to reduce print publishing costs, it's a mistake. Some people absorb published information more easily when a detailed index is ready at hand. Some people never look at a book index, instead preferring a logical and unimpeded progression through a book. Still others have a need for reference information about particular subjects in their field of interest and therefore need a practical table of contents. Essentially, The Ultimate HTML Reference provides only the reference which, as fundamentally valuable as it is, will remain obscure to a large number of readers because of the lack of an index.

Pros: Sitepoint continues to publish factual, well organized books by authoritative writers and editorial teams. Author Ian Lloyd knows his stuff and has assembled a book which obviously reflects his own reference requirements. The approach should suit the needs of quite a few intermediate and advanced web developers. The hardcover version reviewed here is assembled with a very good binding which allows readers to open the book and keep it laying flat quite easily. Excellent coverage of Form tags including things such as 'disabled' and so on, which will be a welcome relief to so many web developers who rely on free form code snippets and then struggle to customize them (you know who you are). Excellent coverage of Common Attributes such as 'class' 'dir' 'id' and of course 'style' with remarkably clear explanations which should help a number of coders who struggle with these particular items. Note that because it lacks an index, I can't recommend the book for novices or beginners. It's good otherwise, so it still gets our recommendation.

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