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Review – HTML and XHTML, The Definitive Guide

By Patrick O'Keefe

Do you want to learn HTML?

If the answer is yes, this book is it. If you have always thought that learning HTML would be an overwhelming experience, give this book a chance. Sure, HTML is a large and complex language, but anyone can learn it. It isn’t nearly as hard to learn as the English language, and you learned that one okay, didn’t you?

Oh, and if you already think you know HTML, but want to brush up or have a reference book to go back to — this book can be of great assistance to you as well.

What’s the difference between HTML and XHTML?

Firstly, HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language and XHTML stands for Extensible Hypertext Markup Language. By learning HTML, you’ll learn most of XHTML.

XHTML is a strict version of HTML. The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium, which is the governing body on all of this, so to speak) has, as far as they are concerned, released their final iteration of HTML in version 4.01, and are now focused on the development of XHTML.

Many of the HTML tags you have come to know, and maybe even love, do not exist in XHTML. These include many of the presentation tags, such as font tags, because XHTML basically demands the use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

XHTML also requires, for example, that you close every single tag in your document, even the tags that you didn’t have to close in HTML, such as image tags. All tag names and attributes are case sensitive and must be written in the lowercase, where in HTML that didn’t matter.

These are just a few of the many differences between HTML and XHTML and I can’t give you all of them in this short review (for more information on this, consult Nick Wilson’s XHTML — An Introduction). However, this should give you an idea of why the authors have discussed HTML and XHTML in a single volume — and how valuable that is to the budding developer.


This book tells you everything you could want to know about HTML/XHTML. It explains every tag in detail, including the tag’s function, attributes, how it works, its end tag, and its browser compatibility. Then it explains each of the tag attributes, and what they do, in great detail.

In addition to all the current HTML/XHTML tags, this document also serves as a history book/archive, including depreciated tags, and those that are no longer in use, just so you can have a complete grasp of the language.

It’s written in a very easy to understand way and I really did enjoy reading it. You can sit next to your computer, type the tags they’re talking about, and see it all happen right in front of you, if that’s how you like to learn. The book is also full of graphic examples that illustrate exactly what certain pieces of code produce.

After you’ve read the book, you’ll possess the knowledge necessary to successfully create and edit HTML documents.

Cascading Style Sheets

Even though the book constantly reminds you that it is an HTML book, it definitely provides some great information about Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which, as we discussed before, are essential to the developer who wants to build standards-compliant, forwards-compatible sites.

For those who don’t know, style sheets are the tool you should use to control the overall look (background, colors, fonts, etc.) of your Web documents. XHTML basically requires that you use CSS in your documents. This book teaches you how to write your own style sheets and embed them into your HTML pages, giving you the ability to customize the look of documents to your liking.

This book could be considered an introduction to all the basic concepts of CSS. If you want to learn HTML and CSS, but only want to get (or can only afford) one book, this one’s a great choice!

The Chapter Contents

The book covers a range of subjects that I don’t have time to mention in this short review, however, for a better idea of its contents, let’s take a look at the book’s chapters:

  1. HTML, XHTML, and the World Wide Web
  2. Quick Start
  3. Anatomy of an HTML Document
  4. Text Basics
  5. Rules, Images, and Multimedia
  6. Links Webs
  7. Formatted Lists
  8. Cascading Style Sheets
  9. Forms
  10. Tables
  11. Frames
  12. Executable Content
  13. Dynamic Documents
  14. Netscape Layout Extensions
  15. XML
  16. XHTML
  17. Tips, Tricks, and Hacks
Appendices and Quick Reference

There are nearly 100 pages toward the end of this book dedicated to quick reference information. So even after you’ve completed the book, you’ll still want to keep it handy as a constant reference as you work on your Websites.

This portion of the book includes references for HTML grammar, HTML/XHTML tags, Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) properties, character entities, color names and attributes as well as many other references. A handy pull-out reference is also included at the back of the book.

Rating: 4.5/5

I’ll be recommending this book to anyone and everyone who tells me that they want to learn HTML/XHTML. It’s extremely informative and useful, with excellent explanations and great reference documents. The price of the book is also a huge plus at just US$27.97, which is great value. All ’round: this is a fantastic book.

Title: HTML and XHTML, The Definitive Guide, Fifth Edition

Authors: Chuck Musciano and Bill Kennedy

Publisher: O’Reilly

Buy it at for $27.97

Patrick O'Keefe is the founder of the iFroggy Network, a network of websites covering various interests. He has been managing online communities since 2000 and is the author of "Managing Online Forums," a practical guide to managing online social spaces. He has been responsible for the cultivation of communities. He blogs about online community at and more at

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