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The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks and Hacks

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In: Reviews > Book Reviews

By Tony Crockford

Published on January 5, 2005

The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks

I hate CSS

If you've been on any Web design mailing lists or forums in the last year or so, you will have heard (seen?) the anguished cry “I hate CSS!” Most often it’s from an experienced Web designer, frustrated by the lack of cross-browser support for CSS, lamenting the broken rendering of a site’s design.

Is this you? Have you had a brief affair with CSS and fallen out big time? Tempted by the promise of easy maintenance and accessible, search-engine-friendly Web sites? Then, having fallen foul of some malicious browser quirk, returned to the tables and font tags you know best?

If you hate CSS, this book is for you. By removing one stumbling block at a time, it will guide you gently to a more pleasant relationship with CSS. You may find that instead of hating CSS, you will actually fall in love again.

Contents

The full table of contents is too long to reproduce here, but you can examine it at the publisher’s site.

Chapters

  1. Getting Started with CSS
  2. Text Styling and Other Basics
  3. CSS and Images
  4. Navigation
  5. Tabular Data
  6. Forms and User Interfaces
  7. Browser and Device Support
  8. CSS Positioning and Layout
  9. Experimentation, Browser Specific CSS, and Future Techniques

A brief summary of the contents:

(The numbers add up to 103, so I guess the book title is playing safe.)

Rachel, show me the way

The book is a surprisingly easy read with plenty of white space, illustrations and code samples. It follows a predictable format, with question, solution and discussion sections on each topic.

Its real strength is in the structure and flow of the book. You could even read it cover-to-cover if you had the time, but I suspect most designers will be dipping into the book for help with specific issues as they build their sites. Either way, it succeeds.

While the book is targeted at designers with some knowledge of CSS, the early chapters act as a refresher and gentle introduction, so don’t be put off if this is your first CSS book.

The chapters on tables and forms pay particular attention to accessibility issues and take a grown-up Web standards approach—clearly and concisely explaining how and why you should include the caption and summary attributes in your table element and how to effectively use label, fieldset and legend elements in your forms.

What I liked

I like the easy flow and the feeling of being gently guided. There are plenty of extra tips and the advice is current and carefully controlled to retain a simplicity and ease of understanding.

I particularly liked the section in chapter seven entitled “I think I’ve found a CSS bug! What do I do?” which has some great suggestions for troubleshooting:

  1. Take a break.
  2. Validate your style sheet and document.
  3. Isolate the problem.
  4. Search the Web.
  5. Ask for help.

In the “Ask For Help” section there’s a simple list of guidelines for posting your question to a forum or a mailing list which are well worth a read:

“If you haven’t managed to find a solution as you’ve moved through the above steps, ask for help. Even the most experienced developers hit problems that they just can’t see past. Sometimes, just talking through the issue with a bunch of people who haven’t been staring at it all week can help you resolve the problem, or come up with new ideas to test—even if no one has an immediate solution.

When you post to a forum or mailing list, remember these rules of thumb:

I also liked the simple clarity of the code samples and the obvious care that has been taken to create solutions that are uncomplicated, avoid CSS hacks and maintain the separation of content and presentation.

What I’m not sure about

On my first scan of the book, I felt there were a few areas that needed more depth and sometimes I wasn’t quite sure if the solution offered was the best one. I say not sure because it was just a feeling, which diminished as I read more of the book.

So to be fair, I think that in order to best serve the confused and frustrated designer, this book stops in just the right places and includes plenty of recommendations for where to seek further assistance and find more in-depth advice to some of the questions posed.

Summing up

The first four chapters are available as a PDF file in exchange for your email address. So, are the other five chapters worth buying the book for? Most definitely yes, especially if you hate CSS.

If you’ve been struggling with building Web sites using Web standards and CSS, you really must buy this book. It’s packed full with useful, real-life advice, hints and tips, clearly laid out and carefully explained.

If you’re already in love with CSS I doubt you’ll learn much new, but it will be a handy reference and quick start guide for those “I forgot how to...” moments.

Go get a copy. Now!

About the Author

Rachel Andrew is the Director of edgeofmyseat.com, a Web solutions company in the UK. She is a member of the Web Standards Project, serving on the Dreamweaver Task force.

Rachel’s writing credits include: Dreamweaver Developer’s Instant Troubleshooter (Apress), Dreamweaver MX Design Projects (Apress), Dynamic Dreamweaver MX (glasshaus), Fundamental Web Design And Development Skills (glasshaus)

The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks
ISBN 0957921888
Rachel Andrew
SitePoint, 2004, 376pp.
US $39.95
Companion Website: http://www.sitepoint.com/books/cssant1/

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Related Topics: CSS, Web Design, Web Standards

 

Tony Crockford is a UK-based Web Developer, founder member of MACCAWS and can be found helping out the CSS newbies on the UK freelancers list.

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