The Book of CSS3: A Developer’s Guide to the Future of Web Design, by Peter Gasston

by Peter

The Book of CSS3 is Peter Gasston’s first book. With, as you can see, a somewhat ambitious title: THE Book etc. Not a book. THE book! And with a subtitle that confirms it: A Developer’s Guide to the Future of Web Design. The impression I immediately got was that either this was a very confident author or – my alternative hypothesis – a publisher really overselling. So I got curious and decided I wanted to have a look and review this book.

The CSS3 Book GasstonI have to report that I have rejected my alternative hypothesis. Gasston really addresses the future of Web Design. Not only does he review the recent additions to the CSS3 standard, he also discusses and illustrates a number of the various new features that are in the pipeline and that are quite likely to be added to the CSS3 standard in the not too distant future. And, let me also add that most of the discussion is at a level that presupposes significant knowledge of and experience with CSS – this is not a beginning book on CSS.

So far, the many new features that have been added to the standard CSS and CSS2.1 through the new CSS3, have in many ways revolutionized the way web pages can be and are designed. As the major browsers implement these new standards and as older versions of the browsers are phased out by users, the changes will become more and more noticeable.

Already now, new features like box shadows, border-radius, new pseudo-selectors, linear gradients, and so forth, allow web designers to do a lot of things that used to require JavaScripts, complex use of background images and lots of tedious HTML and CSS in much easier, much more logical ways. The result is better code that can be more easily maintained and updated, and web pages that load faster (primarily due to fewer HTTP calls). This is now, but also the future, as CSS3 will be with us for many years to come.

Peter Gasston shows how to use the new features implemented in CSS3 – what the CSS looks like, which effects can be produced, and which browsers support the various new options of these features, in an instructive manner.
But there is more to the CSS3 revolution than «just» that, and this is where Peter Gasston’s The CSS3 Book really shines: The CSS3 standard revision is a work still in progress under the auspices of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and some of the changes that are in the «pipeline» are probably more revolutionary than the ones that have so far been implemented («recommended» in the official language of W3C).

Let’s take a look at the content of the book:

  • Chapter 1: Introducing CSS3
  • Chapter 2: Media Queries
  • Chapter 3: Selectors
  • Chapter 4: Pseudo-classes and Pseudo-elements
  • Chapter 5: Web Fonts
  • Chapter 6: Text Effects and Typographic Styles
  • Chapter 7: Multiple Columns
  • Chapter 8: Background Images and Other Decorative Properties
  • Chapter 9: Border and Box Effects
  • Chapter 10: Color and Opacity
  • Chapter 11: Gradients
  • Chapter 12: 2D Transformations
  • Chapter 13: Transitions and Animations
  • Chapter 14: 3D Transformations
  • Chapter 15: Flexible Box Layout
  • Chapter 16: Template Layout
  • Chapter 17: The Future of CSS
  • Appendix A: CSS3 Support in Current Major Browsers
  • Appendix B: Online Resources
  • Index

Looking at the table of contents, you can see that about two thirds of the book is about CSS3 that has already been implemented (to some, albeit in some cases, a relatively limited extent), while the last third or so (as of January 2013) has not been implemented. This book does an excellent job of presenting, illustrating and discussing these. It even provides links to jQuery libraries that allow designers to start to test (and use, if you dare) several of these new features. To my mind, this is what sets this book apart from other more basic CSS3 books and makes it a «guide to the future of web design».

Some of what is happening represents natural extensions to CSS that, as with the changes implemented so far, will allow developers to do things more easily and quickly. Another aspect of the suggested changes is to make CSS a little bit more of a programming language. This is already quite noticeable – CSS3 transitions allow developers to do things in CSS that so far were viewed as «events» and mostly handled by JavaScript. Other proposed aspects of CSS3 move even further in this direction: for instance by building calculations into CSS. If you want to understand the direction in which CSS is moving, this book is a great place to start.

For the moment things are changing very rapidly in CSS, and it is inevitable that this book will become outdated. But for now – even after IE9 and IE10—it is a great tool to help you become familiar with some of the major novelties that will forever change the way we do things. This is perhaps what most web developers will and ought to use this book for. However, considered as a reference book, now and for a considerable time to come, it will remain very useful if you just keep an eye on the browser-specific prefixes and remove them as the need disappears.

The Book of CSS3 is written in a clear, easy to understand, yet concise language. It is a good reference book for CSS3 and an excellent book for getting familiar with how CSS3 has changed the way web design is done and how this whole area is going to change in the relatively near future. The inclusion of links and references makes it a very useful source.

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