Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Web Standards Solutions

Dan Cederholm steps his readers through best practices in (X)HTML and CSS markup, with a focus on standards and semantic structure.

When I first heard about Dan Cederholm’s book, I was excited. I visit SimpleBits often for the down-to-earth, real world web development scenarios that are brought up in his SimpleQuiz posts. Instead of futile CSS3 and DOM-hacking questions, the series concentrates on the fundamentals of (X)HTML, semantic markup and how to use available tools to build the most functional websites possible.

Web Standards Solutions is structured the same way. The continuing theme is “using the markup you’ve been given.” Dan explores the little things in (X)HTML that developers need to know — the small tags we forgot about, a better tag for the job, a new way to employ an old favorite.

WSS fills in the cracks left behind in other HTML manuals by keeping the details at the forefront, and it’s obvious he cares more about semantic and intelligent markup than extravagant ways to decorate it. It’s about building the web page’s HTML skeleton the right way, equal parts “how” and “why” with almost no “what if.” Needless to say, there is scarcely a mention of JavaScript, esoteric browser hacks or unsupported CSS techniques.

For instance, there are two chapters on lists — how to use them, the differences between ordered and unordered, and how to style them. There is a chapter on image replacement, which offers three techniques and all the pros and cons associated with each. There are chapters on forms, the <body> tag and how to properly apply a print version of the style sheet. There is even a chapter on phrase elements, which are the funky tags most developers forget about, like <kbd>, <cite> and <abbr>. (Dan even explains the semantic difference between the <abbr> and <acronym> tags. The smallest of small details, but an example of the thorough, microscopic consideration each element receives.)

Like the material, WSS gets extra marks for attention to detail. The Table of Contents is an exhaustive list of everything in the book (like a printed Site Map), and is complemented by an equally comprehensive index. Almost every topic and idea is provided with code examples and screenshots. There is even a list of useful links at the end for continued reading.

The book falls short in only two regards. First, the order of chapters seems random. (Why are the two sections on lists seven chapters apart? Why isn’t the chapter on headings the first one?) Second, the printing quality is not that great — nowhere near the level of a New Riders book, yet the list price is still $34.99. These are admittedly small nuisances, and trivial compared to the wealth of information between the covers.

Web Standards Solutions is not for HTML or CSS beginners. It is aimed at the designer/developer who is well down the path of standards compliance, who wishes to polish the markup skills with a meticulous resource on the less common details of (X)HTML and style sheets. I have found myself referencing the text several times, and already consider the book an essential part of my library.

Buy the Book from Amazon