Learning PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, CSS, & HTML5, by Robin Nixon (3rd ed., O’Reilly, 2014)

If you work around your house or mess with electronics, you come to have a sentimental attachment to your toolbox (or at least I do). You and your toolbox have seen a lot together. More than this, there’s a practicality to your toolbox: in a small space, you have a lot of what you need to handle a variety of situations. Robin Nixon’s Learning PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, CSS, & HTML5 is the web programming equivalent of a well-stocked toolbox. It’s not going to have what you need for all possible situations as a web programmer, but it packs a lot of utility into a compact space.

The core of the book is Nixon’s concise coverage of the basics of PHP, MySQL, and JavaScript. The book then delves into each of these topics in a further chapter or two– giving some further ways to use PHP, or tips on working with MySQL databases. Along the way, Nixon covers many of the most common ways readers are likely to want to use these tools: working with forms, cookies, sessions, and authentication, for example. For such a comprehensive book, it does an admirable job of thoroughly explaining topics (such as AJAX) that other books often skim over with a few code snippets. The coverage of topics as substantial as these in a single book enforces brevity, and might suggest that topics get less coverage than they merit. It is to Nixon’s great credit, I think, that there are far fewer gaps than one might expect. The only really egregious one, to my mind, is that jQuery only merits a brief mention (on p. 420).

The second major part of the book moves from the web programming side of things to consider CSS and HTML5. Aspiring web designers should be aware that– despite the book’s occasional claims to be for those who want to learn how to “style and lay out” web pages (p. xxii)– this is not the book from which to learn the nuances of web design with CSS and HTML5. The book does not cover the new semantic elements in HTML5 (though an explanation for this is given on p. 601), nor does it cover all of web design’s intricacies (divs, spans, floats). The book’s chapters on CSS could serve as a helpful primer or refresher for the web programmer who needs to do some light web design work, though. The coverage of CSS3 and HTML5 is good; Nixon discusses many of the ways that HTML5 and CSS3 are changing (and often simplifying) the way to do things on the web, from streamlining layout and display to displaying audio and video, while still explaining how to support older browsers.

This may not be the final word on web programming– given how much things are in transition at the moment, it is hard to know how any single book could be– but as an introduction and a practical set of tools, this book is nevertheless recommended.

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