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A Review of "Build Your Own ASP.NET Website Using C# & VB.NET" from SitePoint

by John Peterson

They Got Me To Do It Again (Yet Again!)

I don't really like doing book reviews. With every review that I post, I swear I'll never do another one. (I won't go into the long history of me and book reviews, but if you're interested you can read a little about the last few in the beginning of my review of "ASP.NET Data Web Controls Kick Start" from Sams Publishing.)

So what convinced me to do this one? Well... to be honest, I'm not sure. I think it was a combination of a lot of factors. First, I hadn't dealt with SitePoint before and the little that I had seen of the company I had liked (ie. giving multiple sample chapters). Second, I hadn't read anything by Zak Ruvalcaba. Third, I hadn't done a review of a ASP.NET book that wasn't on a very specfic topic. This is the first general "learn ASP.NET" book that I've taken a look at. And finally, I think I just forgot how much time it takes me to read one of these beasts. At 700+ pages a piece these books are not a quick read... at least not for me.

Learn ASP.NET

As I mentioned in the intro, this is the first ASP.NET book I've read that attempts to cover ASP.NET as a whole, and overall it does a very good job. It assumes very little prior knowledge and covers the setup and configuration needed to get started step by step. In many sections it seems like a workbook (complete with screen shots) that you follow along with to accomplish a given task. While advanced users may find much of this content unnecessary, beginners will have a very hard time getting lost if they follow along.

Not Just ASP.NET

The book also covers some peripheral topics that come into play when building a website. For example, chapters 6 and 7 cover database design and SQL. Because this information is not really part of ASP.NET, many books leave it out. Luckily this one does not. Most novice web developers I've met know even less about SQL and databases then they do about web development. They would be hard pressed to build a database-driven web site without this information and yet most books leave them to find it on their own. This type of thing is a nice inclusion in a book aimed at beginners.

Not For Advanced Readers

The book's preface states that the book is "aimed at beginner, intermediate, and advanced Web designers looking to make the leap into server-side programming with ASP.NET." I wholeheartedly agree, but make sure you read that carefully. It does not say Web developers... it says designers! I overlooked that when I first read it and very quickly found myself thinking that much of the content in the book would be pretty elementery even for an intermediate level developer. This is definitely a book aimed at designers and novice developers. Intermediate and advanced developers should probably look elsewhere or they risk being bored or bogged down by the in-depth explanations. The very thing that makes this a great book for beginners makes it relatively poor for the advanced reader.

Chapter Sequence

Now to my only real complaint about the book. Following several chapters on database related controls, I found a chapter discussing what web applications are and how to set one up. A similar experience happened to me when I reached chapter 15 (out of the 17 in the book) only to find that it covered handling text files and sending email.

While they are all well written, it seems as if some of the chapters were just thrown into the book at random places. I would normally expect to learn how to set up and configure a web application before I'm taught to build one. Similarly, sending an email is such a simple and often used skill that it seemed out of place way in the back of the book.

Conclusion

Overall this is a great book. It's focused on helping beginners learn ASP.NET and get stuff done in the real world. It's well written and doesn't take itself too seriously. The content included is well selected and adequately covered, even if it does feel a little out of sequence at times. Advanced readers should probably look elsewhere, but for those in its intended audience, the book is a great find.

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