Programming the World Wide Web

May 26, 2011

Author: Robert W. Sebesta

Edition: Sixth revised international

Publisher: Pearson Education

Pages: 800

Price: £47.99

ISBN 9780137053834

Everybody should understand the World Wide Web. Everything we do or think seems to be changed by it. How, then, can we change the World Wide Web to do what we want?

If you are interested in web development, the latest edition of Robert Sebesta's book is an excellent place to start. A sixth edition means he is on to something and is providing the coverage of the issues that people want. Indeed, if you want to know about Flash, Ajax, PHP, SQL, XML, CSS,.NET or Ruby and how they work together, here is a balanced overview at the right level for a first-year computer science course.

It's a perfect textbook: students are really interested in these issues; the book empowers students to make working systems; and for those of us academics who got where we are today by doing something else, here's a chance to learn how some of these important technologies work.

However, there are some warnings to consider before adopting it. The first point is that it is impossible to stay up to date with the World Wide Web, so some strategy is needed. This book does not provide one. It has a website, but it is a modest one that doesn't supply anything beyond the book. Anybody asking about HTML5, mashups or Facebook programming may be disappointed.

Of course any student will need resources on topics beyond the scope of a single book, but it would be nice to have practical advice about security (HTTPS, SQL injection, etc) and how to design for effective use (UCD, HCI, etc) - otherwise students will end up with insecure and unusable systems. And a student wishing to change the world (which is the whole point surely?) will need to know how the World Wide Web works politically; W3C, RFC and all.

The other warning is less to do with the book than its supporting course material: Sebesta has provided slides for everything, but sadly they are likely to drain away the excitement that the book itself conveys to students and lecturers.

In summary, the book is well written. Sebesta has had to take a practical slice through the most compelling topics, based on what can be programmed, and he has produced a nice self-contained resource, especially for self-study. As the set book of a course within the context of a wider degree, it is hard to fault. It deserves to go on to another edition, but I hope it will become a website with a book, rather than an engaging book with an ironically passive website.

Who is it for? Useful for anybody getting into programming the web; essential for all undergraduate computer science students.

Presentation: A pleasant read for anyone who wants to start to make things work on the web. Clear and self-contained.

Would you recommend it? It cannot do everything, but reliably covers vital practical information for any programmer interested in the web.

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