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JavaScript books

I’ve had earlier editions Flanagan’s JavaScript: The Definitive Guide (O’Reilly) sitting on my bookshelf for years. But I rarely cracked it open. When I did, I often became frustrated with not being able to find succinct or coherent information. Not too surprisingly, I rarely used JavaScript.

Then came Jeremy Keith’s book on DOM scripting, and I felt that, finally, another useful world has opened up for me. More and more books chock full of best practices as well as excellent composition continue to come out. I still don’t do a lot of JavaScript hacking, but with these I feel more confident with the code (and maybe even enjoy it ;-).

Unlike the Definitive Guide, these books aren’t comprehensive references for the language. However, they do comprise an excellent foundation for client-side JavaScript, perfect for a wide audience.

DOM Scripting: Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model (J. Keith, Friends of Ed 2005). This is an awesome book: I read it cover to cover, something unheard of (until now) for me to do with a (non-fiction) book on computer programming. (I usually graze though programming books in bits and pieces, treating them more like reference material.) Amusing writing which keeps my attention. Excellent exploration of web standards, accessibility and the separation of the three development layers: structure and content (HTML or XHTML), presentation (CSS), and behavior and interaction (JavaScript). Moreover, clear discussion throughout of why unobtrusive scripting, graceful degradation and progressive enhancement are so important to web development.

I delighted in Keith’s book so much that, after each chapter, I said to myself, “Wow. I get it. I finally get it. I cannot wait to get to the next chapter!” Of course, I don’t remember every detail. But since it’s now on my bookshelf, I can open it up for reminders. The informative companion site at has an active blog and book details, including errata. I do wish (and it’s a minor wish) the book had more particulars on AJAX. Well, that wish will be coming true soon. 🙂

Beginning JavaScript with DOM Scripting and AJAX: From Novice to Professional (C. Heilmann, Apress 2006). After reading Keith’s book, I hankered for something broader and deeper. Heilmann provides further information on debugging, event handling, navigation, data validation, AJAX and even third party JavaScript libraries. His writing style is easy going, light hearted, yet conscientious. While there’s a companion site at, Heilmann maintains several highly useful sites: Unobtrusive JavaScript, an online JS tutorial;, containing script samples and tools; and, containing his articles on web development.

ppk on JavaScript (P.P. Koch, New Riders 2006). A superficial confession: Like many New Riders’ books, the layout is also very shiny pretty: semi-glossy paper with lovely use of greyscale coloring. A cranky person’s guide to JavaScript. “Cranky” semi-facetiously defined as someone who has a low tolerance for shoddy work, but ends up seeing a lot of it. When it comes to engineering, that’s my kind of person! (Chalk it up to my unrepentant QA attitude.) An example of this is the author’s skeptical view of AJAX, which is considers merely trendy. While I don’t completely agree with him, his reasons (inaccessible or fragile AJAX practices) are illuminating and sensible.

ppk examines eight real world programs to illustrate both the JavaScript core language and the DOM. He integrates discussion of accessibility and usability, form development techniques, event handling, even the history of JavaScript and browsers. Quite constructive (and instructive!), except that the code is only in excerpt form. One needs to go to his website at to view the complete sourcecode. I’d prefer to read full sourcecode in print (such as an appendix), but perhaps he ran into a page count or publication issue? ppk’s site is a well organized fount of JavaScript knowledge —although I don’t understand why there’s no search feature. Overall, I truly appreciate his attitude that “budding web developers will more quickly make the step from simple copy-pasting to copy-tweaking, and from there on to a real understanding of JavaScript and CSS.”

The JavaScript Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks and Hacks (J. Edwards and C. Adams, Sitepoint 2006). I read a few chapters, and do like the first and last ones, which cover debugging techniques and performance tips, respectively. So far this is the only JS book I’ve seen which discussed performance at length. My main disappointment (confusion, actually) is that I found the sections on event handling overwhelming. The details there didn’t sink in successfully for me, so I’ll refer to other resources for event handling information (namely Heilmann’s and ppk’s books). Still, a good book. Code, errata and FAQ are at the companion site for this book.

One comment

  1. SjG wrote:

    If you’re going to be doing web-related JavaScript development and you use Firefox, be sure to check out Firebug ( It’s an amazing debugging / profiling / analysis tool.

    When doing some Ajax-y coding, it can be very hard to figure out what’s going on. Firebug gives you a view into what’s happening. Of course, you have to keep in mind that what’s happening in Firefox is not necessarily what’ll be happening in IE or Opera, but that’s the happy life of a web developer for you.

    Tuesday, 30 January 2007 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

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