Three ASP Books from WROX Press

If you’re looking for a good ASP text to get you started with the language, fill in some of the gaps in your knowledge, or just serve as a handy desk reference to all things ASP, WROX Press may have the book for you. At least, that’s what I set about finding out when I sat down with their three flagship ASP titles the other day.

What follows are my mini-reviews of Beginning ASP 3.0, Professional ASP 3.0, and ASP 3.0 Programmer’s Reference, all from WROX Press. Hopefully these will help you decide whether WROX Press has what you need.

Beginning ASP 3.0

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Whether you’re completely new to programming, or you have some experience with other languages and you’re looking to pick up ASP for the first time, Beginning ASP 3.0 will give you a good introduction to the essentials. With a friendly and supportive tone, the introductory chapters of the book walk you through the basics of the VBScript language, which is most often used to write ASP scripts. Unfortunately, while these were some of the most approachable chapters in the book, I found that, in places, they were also the weakest, technically speaking. Certain sections are unnecessarily confusing (notably the early section on variants, for which I had to seek a more cogent description in the online documentation); meanwhile, others contained some fairly basic inaccuracies (e.g. the list of arithmetic operators on p.140 incorrectly identifies the integer division operator () as an alternate form of the modulus operator (MOD)).

Later chapters in the book that cover more advanced topics such as database access are very well written, but the further the book progresses, the further it strays from its intent to provide an easy, general introduction to ASP. The final chapter on XML, for instance, seems completely removed from the rest of the book, as it has surprisingly little to do with ASP. The sizeable appendices seem quite complete at first glance, but beware! You’ll rapidly find the online documentation to be more complete than the information contained here, which glosses over important details in order to fit the definitions into the awkward tables in which they’re presented.

While Beginning ASP 3.0 will provide you with a good starting point if you’re out to learn the basics of ASP, I can’t recommend it as an authoritative work on the subject. Taken for what it’s supposed to be – a guided tour through the minefield of confusing concepts that face someone just starting out with ASP – this book serves its purpose well. Make no mistake: if you read this book, you will learn how to create Web sites with ASP. Just keep in mind that if something is confusing, or doesn’t quite seem to make sense, don’t take the authors’ word for it – double-check with the facts in the online documentation.

"Beginning ASP 3.0" by Buser, Kauffman, Llibre, et al
1999 WROX Press (www.wrox.com)
885 pages + 286 pages of Appendices
OVERALL RATING: 3/5
BUY IT:
If you’re new to programming and want to learn ASP
FORGET IT: If you need an authoritative ASP reference

Buy it at Amazon.com for $31.99

Professional ASP 3.0

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If you consider yourself an experienced programmer, and especially if you have experience with 1) Web scripting, 2) programming in Visual Basic or VBScript, or 3) basic or intermediate ASP, then what you’ll need in an ASP book is very different from what most beginners will need. Instead of a gentle, example-heavy introduction to the basics of the language, you’ll want no-nonsense, technically thorough coverage of how the language works, and what you can and cannot expect from it.

Professional ASP 3.0 provides this in spades. From the very start, it launches into descriptions of seemingly basic features with an astounding amount of detail. Not only does this technical richness show off the experience and knowledge of the authors, but it really gives the reader a sense that nothing is being glossed over because it’s "too hard" or "not significant". If you’re a tech-head like me, you hate it when a thick book leaves you with unanswered questions and dwells on the "fluff" that you could figure out on your own in half the time. This book did not disappoint.

Covering such wide-ranging topics as database access (with ADO 2.5, OLE DB, XML, and RDS), the development of ASP components, COM+ component services, Transactions and Messaging services, Win2000 Active Directory interaction, dynamic generation of email with CDO and CDONTS, ASP performance and security, all with the same level of technical depth and accuracy is a monumental task, which explains why there are 15 people on the cover of this book! If you’re an experienced, technically-minded Web developer who isn’t afraid to get up to their elbows in the guts of a language, then you’ll be pleased to see that Professional ASP 3.0 leaves no stone unturned in its quest to deliver on detail.

"Professional ASP 3.0" by Homer, Sussman, Francis, et al
1999 WROX Press (www.wrox.com)
1127 pages + 106 pages of Appendices
OVERALL RATING: 5/5
BUY IT:
If you’re looking for a thorough, detailed guide to ASP.
FORGET IT: If you’re new to Web programming.

Buy it at Amazon.com for $47.99

ASP 3.0 Programmer’s Reference

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I have to admit that the unhelpful reference materials that made up the last quarter of Beginning ASP 3.0 left me with the distinct impression that the best place to go for a good ASP reference was the online documentation that accompanies ASP itself. Professional ASP 3.0 did little to change that opinion, as its reference section was all but nonexistent. As soon as I looked at WROX’s ASP 3.0 Programmer’s Reference, the reason for this apparent omission became clear.

Written largely by members of the same team that contributed to Professional ASP 3.0, ASP 3.0 Programmer’s Reference surprised me, with clearer descriptions and better examples than could be found in the online documentation of every aspect of ASP. From essentials like the buffering methods provided by the Response object, to the intricacies of XML document generation, and interaction with Active Directory Server in ASP, everything is documented with rigorous precision, and relevant examples demonstrate each feature. Every advanced topic covered in Professional ASP 3.0 has a corresponding section in this book.

Whether you’ve just learned ASP and are preparing to launch into the development of your first real server-side application, or you’re an experienced ASP developer who tires of the guesswork required to interpret certain parts of the ASP online reference, you’ll appreciate having ASP 3.0 Programmer’s Reference within easy reach.

"ASP 3.0 Programmer’s Reference"
by Anderson, Denault, Francis, et al

2000 WROX Press (www.wrox.com)
1077 pages + 188 pages of Appendices
OVERALL RATING: 5/5
BUY IT:
If you plan to do any serious ASP programming.
FORGET IT: If you’re just getting started.

Buy it at Amazon.com for $47.99

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