XML and ASP.NET
by New Riders

by Jason Salas Sunday, May 26, 2002


OVERALL ASSESSMENT
Authors Kirk Allen Evans, Ashwinn Kamanna, and Joel Mueller, with contributions by Scott Worley, tackle several must-know concepts of XML and of XML-related technologies in a fine book that’s a great addition to any technical library. The book is 686 pages, comprised of 13 well-ordered chapters, and also has (3) great appendixes. While dealing with a very advanced topic that in my experience can often easily become very confusing, the book’s voice is written very easy, which makes it quite easy to follow.

It discusses both client-side and server-side presentation of XML data, and there’s lots of content on how ASP.NET incorporates XML, specifically with the use of application configuration through the web.config file, and the <asp:xml> server control. While the book handles some very advanced topics, it does so in easy-to-read fashion, as is evident in the chapter describing the construction of XSchema.

The book contains one of the better discussions of how the .NET Framework handles XML serialization, and how this important topic can be integrated into system-to-system communications. The book also spends a good deal of time deconstructing SOAP. The book’s code examples are both written in Visual Basic .NET and C# (but the majority appears in C#).

However, one chapter I found particularly helpful was the discussion of SQL Server 2000’s enhancements for handling XML. This is a valuable discussion that sadly is lacking in many publications. Proper attention is given to the fact that SQL Server 2000 allows a developer to build custom XML structures by using additional arguments in a T-SQL query, and has some degree of flexibility to change the structure of a derived XML document, as opposed to being forced to deal with a single element per DB record, with each field as an XML attribute, as was frequently the case in ASP classic.

The book doesn’t necessarily bind the reader to have to use Visual Studio .NET outright to replicate the code samples. Rather, it’s written in the voice of pre-RTM .NET, when nearly everyone was writing code with NotePad. This is a raw-code approach. And I like it. Nevertheless, the book doesn’t neglect the importance and ubiquity of VS.NET, and has a great chapter on using XML from within the IDE. A case in point is the book’s excellent discussion of building schema both from scratch, and then with VS.NET.

This book is a great addition to one’s library. While New Riders doesn’t classify their titles as being “Beginner,” “Intermediate” or “Advanced”, it should be noted that this book is best suited for experienced developers looking to expand their apps…but it can also be picked up by daring beginners looking for an empowering challenge. Since the book deals with so many topics, it’s a bargain at US$49.99, letting the reader get the equivalent of two or three books at once, all in one convenient title.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE BOOK
 

  • The authors really give a comprehensively tour of the .NET Framework’s System.Xml namespace, the MSXML parser, of database communications with XML through ADO.NET, and an outstanding discussion of writing web.config files to manage ASP.NET applications.
  • The book’s appendixes are outstanding, being the ASP.NET object model, an MSXML reference, and a decent XSLT programming reference. They’re very well laid-out and very helpful. It’s almost like a free additional book in itself.
  • There’s lots of code to play around with, and almost every single concept, XML technology, or strategy mentioned in the book is followed by a practical code example.
  • The proofreading was excellent. Sure, there are some minor typographical snafus, but it’s been a concern of mine with New Riders that their titles aren’t treated with an appropriate amount of quality control. Happily, this book addressed that concern and is easy to read, and very accurate.
  • Physically, the book is well-bound and sturdy. The dimensions of the book are compact and nicely portable. It should be able to take a pounding or hours of being left open mid-way through on your desk without the spine breaking, and the pages won’t easily tear when you flip through them frantically when working on a project. However, this latter point makes the book a bit heavy.
  • Included was a discussion of mobile applications development, using WAP, WML, and XHTML Basic. While arguably outside the scope of the book, it was helpful and should provide to be of use to the reader for the next couple of years, as .NET’s impact on mobile computing continues.
  • The address book XML Web service built in the latter portion of the book is very cool. While I read through the majority of the book not trying out the code samples the first time around, I had to replicate this application. It’s very practical, and very useful.

WHAT I FEEL NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

  • The book again took into consideration both VB .NET and C# for code examples, but inconsistently split the amount of examples. Most are in C#, some are in VB .NET. To really make this a valuable learning tool, it would be great if all the examples were presented in both languages; but this is my major gripe with mostly all .NET books. Either use both all the way, or only use one language, and write two versions of the book.
  • It’s not a major criticism of mine, but I felt that the chapters on integration with SAX2 and MSXML interfaces needed a bit more of a lead-in, to describe exactly when and where such integration would be best. There’s a good discussion of what SAX (Simple API for XML) is from a historical perspective, but more practical application of the technology would have made this better.
  • I would have a liked a little bit more information on the using XML on the client-side in applications. The book touched very briefly on data islands as an example, but more would have been great.

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