King Rat (gkr) wrote,
King Rat

XSL Formatting Objects Developer's Handbook

I used to read a lot of technical books. But it's been a year since I worked on any side projects (i.e., not related to work). I've been toying off and on with a book cataloging project. I want to make it almost entirely driven by database and XML technologies. In other words, very little server side or client side code. This means that the data (lists of books, authors, etc.) will be delivered in XML, and formatted using XSLT. Unfortunately, only Internet Explorer currently supports XSLT, and there you have to have IE 6 or have installed Microsoft's MSXML objects. I never got very far with the DB portion of the project. I've been trying to build a comprehensive database model for cataloging books and authors. I got bogged down in trying to include all sorts of non-book written works into the model. Creeping featurism.

Anyway, all that got me to learn XSLT, which is a subset of the XSL technology. The full technology included XSL Formatting Objects (XSLFO, or FO). FO isn't supported by any browser yet. It's a comprehensive language for displaying data that was designed to cover everything from typesetting to browsers to aural presentation. There's a couple of products (free and proprietary) that use FO to produce PDF files. And a couple that will display in a browser like fashion. All have some large holes in their support of standard FO. Not too surprising given that FO was only approved recently.

Anyway, I've been wanting to learn FO since I heard about it, as HTML/CSS leaves a lot to be desired in what you can do with it. But no one wrote a good book on it that I found. Until XSL Formatting Objects Developer's Handbook. Surprisingly enough, it's a SAMS book. Generally I've found their books to be almost useless. They seem to produce a lot of crap like Learn C++ in 21 days. I like things less technical than the FO spec, but not much more. This is a good book. Very much like Wrox Press' XSLT Programmer's Reference 2nd Edition. These two make good companion books. Surprised Wrox hasn't come out with something like this yet.

Anyway, here are the things I like about it. It covers all of FO. It has a large reference section. It uses clear language to describe each formatting object and attribute. It assumes you know the purpose of FO and doesn't try to explain to you why it would be cool to use FO. It assumes a large amount of intelligence on the part of the reader. The format is very much: here's an object, here's what it's effect is. Here are the variables that affect it. It gives good examples. Check out the site for the book to see if it fit's your kind of learning style for technology.

Tags: books

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