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Just Enough Web Programming with XHTML, PHP, and MySQL

Web Development Smorgasbord

by Todd Schultz


A recent visit to Denmark gave me experience with several true smorgasbords, a Scandinavian meal served buffet-style with multiple dishes of various foods on a table. Smorgasbord guests are invited to eat as much as they like, but the approach and style differ from the typical all-you-can-eat buffets with heavily loaded plates. Instead, I was advised to make lots of trips to the buffet and to use several plates, putting only enough on each plate to get the sense of a dish or two. When I followed this advice, I was satisfied and happy, and felt I understood the cuisine. When old habits kicked in and I piled on too much, I was overwhelmed and a little embarrassed. "Just enough"” was good advice.

Getting started with software development of any sort can be overwhelming but Web programming is a monumental, dynamic buffet of techniques, patterns, and paradigms. It can even seem to move backward: JavaScript was becoming defunct until Ajax (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) revived it, and recent attention on the model-view-controller patterns for Web development has its roots in 1960's software engineering. Developers—especially beginners—can avoid being overwhelmed by starting with resources like the "Just Enough" Course Technology series from Cengage Learning.

In this particular volume, the reader gets a quick start on creating Web sites via concise introductions to XML, XHTML, and CSS. From there, author Guy Lecky-Thompson establishes the basics of client-side scripting and server-side development (PHP scripting and MySQL database). The text culminates in a broad discussion of content management systems and the emerging Web 2.0. It includes information on setting up with open source resources and provides references to the relevant standards and documentation.

Web development has two distinct challenges that developers must address early in the learning process:

  • how to handle the several technologies that a single Web site or page typically combines—for example, (X)HTML, JavaScript, server processing (such as PHP, ASP.Net, and Rails), server data management (such as MySQL and SQL Server), CSS styles, data messages (such as XML and JavaScript Object Notation), and
  • how to establish the site architecture—for example, layered design and separation of concerns.

Throughout Just Enough Web Programming, Lecky-Thompson quietly but competently provides good practices to address these challenges. Rather than discuss design patterns abstractly, for instance, he provides good patterns to work from with hints of a broader context for nearly every design decision. Intermediate or advanced readers are unlikely to agree with all his approaches, but in most cases he provides sufficient foundation for someone who understands "just enough" to see how and why other approaches would succeed.

In addition to beginning Web developers or intermediate developers interested in learning to build PHP/MySQL websites, Just Enough Web Programming is a useful backgrounder for managers or marketers who work with developers or sell Web-oriented products. It offers insightful discussions of Web development and Internet processing that could help nondevelopers be taken seriously when dealing with these technologies. It could also stand as a textbook or supplement in a Web development course, although it doesn't contain student exercises.

Just Enough Web Programming is certainly not a deep reference in the mold of tomes like PHP Complete or MySQL Bible, but that isn’t the intent. Instead, it provides a variety of well prepared "dishes" in Web development so that readers might enjoy a complete and satisfying—but not overwhelming—exposure to Web development.

Todd Schultz is a professor of management information systems at Augusta State University's Hull College of Business. Contact him at tschultz@aug.edu.