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A Review of "Teach Yourself Active Server Pages 3.0 In 21 Days"

by Stephen Vakil

"Teach Yourself Active Server Pages 3.0 In 21 Days", by Scott Mitchell and James Atkinson, is an excellent resource for web developers who wish to learn some of the beginning lessons in ASP. It covers a large variety of topics, including a terrific series of chapters on VBScript as a scripting language, and several chapters on database access. By including in-depth fundamentals and logic of VBScript programming and programming in general, the book proves to be a great resource for HTML designers who have little experience with true programming languages. The authors clearly understand that the prospective reader is likely to have the most difficult time in understanding the basic fundamentals of the language and how things tie together, and after they grasp these concepts, the rest will be a matter of reading more. The book explains several approaches to a small block of code whenever possible, and covers the main differences between each approach.

Structurally, the book is quite sound. The 21-day learning process is broken down by weeks. After each week is a weekly review section, including work on a small project that is continued throughout the book. This small project is a terrific way to help the user understand why each element of the learning process is important in the scope of a future project they might work on. The book uses plenty of code samples and includes line numbers for easy referencing. The style of coding the authors use (which they explain to some degree in the early chapters) is likely to improve the maintainability of readers' code if they follow the same practices. Along the same lines, the book provides a handy set of figures and tables on stylistic elements such as naming conventions and data types. These should prove to be quite valuable for the beginning coder, who is likely to use obscure variable names when their style is unchecked.

The content itself is quite strong, covering all of the major topics and areas that are commonly used in ASP development. These include topics like including other files, transferring control to another script, databases, components, error handling, and so on. All of these areas cover the topic well, often including underlying logic or structure in order to help the user's mental picture of the process. The book also has a handy reference section at the end that includes both function and method references as well as a listing of useful web sites to continue the user's learning.

Some of the areas do tend to explain things in ways which are easy to understand for the beginner, but eventually should be improved upon with more advanced coding techniques that are more complicated than the scope of the book would allow. A good example of this is the methods it provides for updating records in a database. A more advanced user is likely to use a SQL statement to accomplish the task. However, trying to introduce the entire SQL language while at the same time explaining the concepts of database manipulation in ASP would prove to be difficult, and the author understandably chooses to increase the user's understanding rather than overwhelm them with specifics. A reader who is interested in a specific topic that is covered only as an overview will be likely to want an additional reference on the specific topic. Even without additional references, though, the book is likely to give the user a very good start into the realm of ASP/VBscript development.

The only complaint about the book that is worth noting is in the components chapter. While it is understandable that the authors cover the use of built-in ASP components included in most IIS installations, the authors fail to even mention some of the more commonly used components such as mailing objects, upload components, etc. A little more mention of these might prove useful to the average reader, even if only to mention these objects or point out a few places to look for more information on components.

"Teach Yourself Active Server Pages 3.0 In 21 Days" is a very good resource for HTML designers who wish to dip their feet into the world of ASP. It introduces the important programming concepts and provides working code examples that the reader can test and modify, covers a broad range of useful topics, and is likely to start the reader off in the right direction.

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