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Javascript & Jquery

Book Review of: JavaScript & JQuery

Interactive Front-end Web Development

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Review of JavaScript & JQuery, by Jon Duckett (Softcover, 2014)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


Since starting with Website development in 1996, I have read many books on HTML, CSS, and Javascript. This is the third such book I have reviewed for Amazon. The other two are  CSS3 Foundations and HTML5 Foundations, by Ian Lunnt and Jon West, respectively. Among the many other Web development tomes I have, Jaworski's "Mastering JavaScript" is probably the most closely related to this book. With this background, I have some relative basis for judging the book in addition to judging it just on its own merits.

Since the negative aspect is so small, let's just get that out of the way. As with other technical books, this one has its share of grammatical errors. Even so, the number of them is surprisingly small for this genre. And they don't interfere with comprehension.

There's another negative aspect, but it's beyond the control of the author. Let me explain it with a similar situation. I write articles about the National Electrical Code (NEC). The current NEC runs 829 pages, not including its index. Obviously, the typical electrician doesn't carry a copy in his pants pocket. And the NEC is notoriously complex, difficult to understand, and tricky to apply.

Many years ago, a colleague of mine (Fred Hartwell) gave an excellent presentation on an NEC topic. An attendee told Fred he hated the presentation, because it was too complicated and what Fred needed to do was focus his efforts on getting the NEC code-making panels to simplify the NEC. Fred responded that the application of electricity is complicated, and addressing those complications is what makes the NEC complicated. When Fred told me this story, I suggested we should get started right away simplifying electricity by eliminating a dozen or so laws of physics. Laugh, laugh....

Complication is inherent in some topics, and thus with writing about them. So it is with any book on programming. Javascript, HTML, and CSS are really programming languages for Web developers. There is no way to make the explanation simple. That said, it is possible to lay the groundwork in a way that is simple enough for the reader to understand the basics. This is what Duckett does in this book. If you can understand the fundamentals of programming and particularly of JavaScript, then you can follow the more technical information presented in the book.

But that can happen only with a clear, unrushed, "start from the beginning" explanation of these foundational concepts. And this is exactly how Duckett begins. The Introduction is lean on text, using a summary style to get the main points across quickly. I like the graphical organization technique used here. It helps move the reader right along, rather than bury you in dense prose or complex diagrams. If only authors of Calculus books would take this approach!

And it's not just the smart use of graphics for organization that makes this book stand out visually. I don't think words can do it justice. Not even words like stunning or beautiful. You just have to see this book. The graphics aren't gratuitous eye candy, either. They aren't an afterthought slapped in there to meet the publisher's minimum graphics requirement. They are integral to the book. Jon manages to mix graphics and text in a way that makes less work for the reader. And they are really great graphics; the people who created these (and their names are disclosed on the Credit page) as masters in their respective crafts.

Chapter One follows a similar pattern of graphics used to make the material more accessible, but with the complexity level raised a notch (as I think it should be). But it also raises the helpfulness of the graphical cues a notch. If you have zero programming or Web development experience, this chapter gets you in the game. If you've got that experience, this chapter makes for a good refresher.

Chapter Two provides explanations and examples of simple JavaScript instructions. Something that Jon does as he goes along is point out which way is the preferred practice (and, usually, why). He also says you can do this or that, but it's a bad practice because it creates this or that problem; this is something that many coders never learn, and sloppy code is just a disaster waiting to happen.

The next three chapters take you into a lot of jargon, and there a long stretches where it seems that all we're doing is learning vocabulary. For example, yada yada yada and we call that a function. Then yada yada yada and we call that a method. Then yada yada yada and we call that an object. While reading through this I was trying to think of how Jon could have done this part better. This issue takes us back to my earlier point about the NEC. Or another way of looking at it would be to imagine a medical student taking anatomy classes and not learning the names of muscles or other body structures. This just has to be done.

Chapter 6 is about events; this is a key reason to use JavaScript. But if you didn't carefully read and thus understand the previous four chapters you will get lost here. Getting to the point where you can read and apply Chapter 6, however, is worth the effort. The payoff is you'll be able to adapt existing JavaScripts to do many useful things you want done on your Web pages. Or, with practice, you can write your own from scratch.

Chapter 7 discusses JQuery. This language gets around some of the limitations of JavaScript, and thus it can be very useful to Web developers. Jon explains the what and why, using examples to help the reader understand.

Chapter 8 is about Ajax and JSON, which might be useful for you. Ajax can load data into part of a page without requiring a refresh; applications for it are endless. JSON is a data format commonly used with Ajax.

The next five (and final) chapters cover what I consider advanced topics. These include error handling, debugging, content panels (something I've implemented using Project Seven's scripts), filtering, searching, sorting, and forms.

This book runs 622 pages (including the introduction). I doubt someone is going to sit down with this book (or any other) and become a fully competent JavaScript programmer. Once you get through the foundational material, the best way to use this book is to start doing projects that call for something it covers. Gee, you want an explanation box to appear when the user's mouse is over a word (this event is called a "mouseover"). Turn to Chapter 6 and learn how to do that.

So I see this book partly as a tutorial that gets you going, but mostly as a reference so you can build from there. Using its index and its table of  contents, you should be able to find exactly the guidance you need to get the job done.

I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to go beyond basic HTML to make Web pages more compelling. There's no such thing as a "light read" in programming books, but Jon does an admirable job of bringing clarity to the subject of how to program in JavaScript.


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