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CSS: The Missing Manual | Learn how you can build sparklingly new Web sites

Review: CSS: The Missing Manual

By Lee Underwood

Cover: CSS: The Missing Manual Author: David Sawyer McFarland
Total Pages: 494
Publisher: O'Reilly Media, Inc.
Copyright: 2006
ISBN: 0596526873

When you're just starting to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), they can be a bit overwhelming. You know you should be using them; it's the proper method to separate design from structure. (Besides, the Internet is full of people telling you how much you really need to use them.) But trying to get boxes to float, columns to expand, and text to align center can be very confusing. On top of that, when you read some of the many articles on CSS, you find that the "professionals" themselves are still trying to work out the details. So what do you do?

First of all, don't give up. There will come a time when you'll be comfortable with CSS, but there's an overwhelming amount of books and tutorials. If only CSS came with a manual. Well, now it does! It's called CSS: The Missing Manual.

David Sawyer McFarland has taken a complex subject and has made it easy to comprehend. His relaxed, informal style of writing enables the reader to quickly gain an understanding of the technical aspects of CSS. He begins with a short chapter titled, "Rethinking HTML for CSS." The premise of the chapter is getting the reader to understand HTML as the foundation for CSS, i.e. how to write "CSS-friendly" HTML. This is an excellent step as many people learn HTML using <font> and other assorted, now deprecated tags. Changing this mindset can be a bit difficult. Instead of wrapping <font color="#40e0d0" face="verdana" size="3"></font> around a section of text you want to change, you now need to open the style sheet, create a rule, and then add the declaration. But you can really appreciate it when you have to change something on a large Web site. Instead of doing a mass search and replace on 1,000 pages, you make the change using CSS in the style sheet and it's done.

From there, David introduces the reader to the "anatomy of a style." This is a good, solid foundation for learning the intricacies of CSS. The book builds on that, with other topics such as "Identifying What to Style, Saving Time with Inheritance," and "The Cascade."

Part Two of the book is called "Applied CSS." This is where you learn how to apply the techniques to actual situations. Each chapter in the book includes a tutorial of the methods and techniques just learned. These aren't wimpy tutorials. They cover the subject matter in depth and, if warranted, even show you how to fix bugs.

Part Three covers a very important but often confusing topic: page layout. This is one of the biggest problems I see on the CSS forums over on WebDeveloper.com. It doesn't take much to mess up a two-column layout, but fixing it can lead to some late nights filled with anguish and a lot of caffeine.

Part Four covers advanced CSS; specifically print style sheets and "CSS habits." These "habits" are helpful with creating and organizing style sheets. These are tips that would take a lot of time to find on the Internet. Part Five is a CSS property reference guide. In addition to the properties, examples are given along with valuable tips in the actual usage of the properties.

Overall, the book is an excellent resource for learning CSS. The tutorials are in-depth and reinforce the material previously learned. If you're new to CSS, or if you want to thoroughly understand the subject, get this book for your reference shelf.