|Beginning ASP.NET 4 in C# and VB by Imar Spaanjaars
|A book for the beginner by a practitioner himself and a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional), who has contributed a lot to ASP.NET forums, replied many, many queries for beginners as well as for experts.|
As Microsoft comes up with ASP.NET 4 and Visual Studio 2010- both equipped with efficiency and security features- Imar Spaanjaars is here to make life easy for people who are either totally unfamiliar with both or one of them or, are upgrading from a previous version. He makes sure that neither the programmer nor the beginner is lost in the jungle of features that Microsoft’s latest products have to offer.
Beginning ASP.NET 4 in C# and VB is a book for the beginner-truly! While many books only claim that they don’t expect you to know anything about a particular subject but end up misleading you, this book really expects you be naïve while at the same time touches on advanced topics like AJAX, jQuery and then Databases, LINQ, and ADO.NET, besides CSS and, interestingly, “Configuring SQL Server 2008”. While that seems to sum it all up, there’s a lot more to this book.
Imar Spaanjaars is a devoted contributor to the ASP.NET community. He actively replies queries from programmers as well as beginners on ASP.NET forums and was awarded Microsoft’s MVP (Most Valuable Professional) title in 2008 and 2009. He can be reached through his personal website http://imar.spaanjaars.com . You could also follow him on twitter. His twitter handle is @imarspaanjaars.
The main features of his latest book are:
- It’s easy! The book teaches you how to build rich and interactive websites in a step-by-step concise, easy and no-nonsense manner. The author starts with the description of Microsoft’s Visual Web Developer 2010 and explains in an easy-to-understand non-geeky language how to acquire it, the several alternatives and the differences between them. It explains clearly and through several screenshots where to find the product, how to download and install it, how to use it and finally how to customize it. Visual Web Developer is an integrated tool for web development using Microsoft’s .NET platform and allows you to drag and drop HTML tags, ASP.NET controls, AJAX extensions and so on without the need to type in even a single line of code. By introducing the Visual Web Developer at the very beginning and explaining it well, Imar has ensured that even the most casual, non tech-savvy user will be able to follow further discussions and design web sites effectively.
- No prior background is needed- really! The book is for dummies but at the same time provides the reader a clear and strong understanding of general networking and Internet concepts step-by-step, building one concept over another. The book does not even need you to know HTML. The first chapter devotes significant but not unnecessary time to explain what HTML does, what tags are and what attributes mean. A table of all the HTML tags that the reader/developer might need during development is provided. This is an important feature as all ASP.NET books do not provide so much of flexibility and do not devote this much time and space to HTML and XHTML; and when they do, it is not always this concise. Even for a student who has worked with HTML a lot, this table can serve as a refresher. For the more experienced ones, obviously, this can be skipped.
- Gets straight to the point. Right after teaching you how to install the Visual Web Developer, you find an example- the first among hundreds of “Try It Out” examples in the book. This is a very important feature from the point of view of the beginner and can be understood by someone who has faced lots of questions and doubts from beginners and cleared them. The novice is impatient to see “something” happening and feels that he is learning only after that “something” has happened. As for this book, that “something” happens as early as possible, right after Visual Web Developer is installed; the reader gains confidence (though he has practically not done anything so far!) and dares to venture forward. There are hundreds of such examples distributed throughout the book and each one is complete in the sense that:
a- all examples have been run (executed) on the platform that’s mentioned and used,
b- all the screenshots, starting at code and ending at the resulting page in the browser accompany the text and,
c- ‘all’ the examples are given both in C# (read C sharp) and VB (Visual Basic).
- How it works. After each “Try It Out” example, the author has provided a “How It Works” section that explains whatever happened in the background while trying that example out. For dummies who are looking for creating a website superfast, this section can actually be skipped. For the keener ones, these sections are where things start becoming clear. How things happen in the lower layers, how code is executed, what background processes are helping the code in the example run and much more- you find it all here. The claim that no prior background is needed for reading the book comes alive here. From “the difference between client-side and server-side code” to “how exceptions are handled in the background” and much more, this book has it all. It serves a dummy and a one or two-semester student of ASP.NET equally well.
- Notes and common mistakes. Another feature that speaks of the author’s experience on the subject is the presence of boxes like these.
They highlight common errors that beginners are prone to make- I have myself committed some of those mistakes as a beginner- and things that need to be remembered. Knowing common mistakes and things to remember is again a result of years of experience and technical sophistication. Imar does it really well.
Summary, Examples and Solutions.
Each chapter is followed by a precise summary of the concepts introduced in the chapter, comprehensive exercises and solutions to those examples are provided at the end of the book. Imar has really made sure the reader is not kept wondering in any way.
Source Code and Online Help.
To save the reader the trouble of typing all the code in, all the source code for the examples in the book has been made available online at www.wrox.com/go/beginningaspnet4 . Any doubts can be discussed at Wrox sponsored P2P (Programmer to Programmer) forums at http://p2p.wrox.com which are a rich source of answers to both common and more sophisticated problems faced by programmers and are frequented by Imar himself.
From beginner to expert.
One more thing that I couldn’t help but notice is that Imar has, wherever possible, tried to encourage the reader to do things like an expert while at the same time keeping in mind that the user is naïve. Expert tips are included everywhere and the reader is advised to start using them early on- maybe so that by the end of the book he already feels and behaves like an expert.
From design to code.
This is one of the best features of the book in my opinion. Just like a kid learns multiplication tables blindly at first till, gradually, he is able to make out what they mean and how they follow, the reader doesn’t have to do much at first to make the code run. In the first few chapters, the emphasis is largely on design and drag-and-drop though the author encourages him to examine the code that is rendered in the browser and the actual code written. The reader keep working with functions and classes till he finally realizes what he has been doing in later chapters. As the chapters progress, the emphasis shifts to coding, using CSS, getting involved with server controls, and finally to data types, variables, classes, etc. This “getting your hands dirty gradually” approach seemed very interesting to me. The reader gradually gains confidence and doesn’t feel betrayed at any step because the transition is in so many steps that he doesn’t even feel the transition.
Some consider it the most important criterion to judge a book. If it is, then Beginning ASP.NET 4 in C# and VB would definitely score at least a 9 on a scale of 10. Yes, this book is really self-explaining as long as you know English! You really feel that you are sitting in a lab and a demonstrator is explaining every step to you. The numerous screenshots help to simulate the scene all the more. Not many books give me this feeling.
Not many books on server-side programming touch the concept of databases so well. It’s like the one book that has all you need to know. Though the author admits that since the book is for beginners advanced topics haven’t been elaborated upon, I believe that this is the best that you can get. Just like the HTML table in chapter 1, it gives you an SQL table listing all important SQL commands (though that is a common practice and is not unique about this book). Wherever the discussion is limited by the scope of the book (in any chapter) the author has provided useful references to further reading material on the topic.
Teaching through a live example.
Designing, coding and debugging- most books go only that far. This book teaches you through a live example which is the Planet Wrox Website. It is the site that the reader builds in this book. The Planet Wrox is a cool, online music community that serves as the prototype for building the client-side or the user view. You can check out the site to get a user’s view at http://www.planetwrox.com . On the administrator side, you get to add and maintain reviews, manage genres and photo-albums created by users. The book uses this site as an example, shows you how to build it exactly like the original, online version and how to deploy it.
Focus and uniformity.
In spite of all the details, side-notes, advanced topics and underlying detail, the book gracefully maintains its focus and uniform structure. This is good for the reader’s psyche who would otherwise find it hard to wade through the pages, looking for patterns. The book strictly maintains its focus (which is building a fully-functional website with advanced security features) and structure (example-analysis model followed by summary and exercises). This makes the book and the subject much easier than it seems otherwise.
What I thought was missing.
I would really like a chapter outlining the differences between ASP.NET 3.5 and ASP.NET 4.0 and similarly between Visual Studio 2008 and Visual Studio 2010. Though the author has explained the differences between Visual Basic and C# wherever they exist, I would really like a section in the appendices catering to this in a tabular form.
So, if you’re a beginner I’m all for this book. It has HTML, XHTML, CSS, VB.NET, C#, ADO.NET, CSS, jQuery, SQL, SQL Server 2008 and much more key technologies all at one place and is great for a beginner. It is complete, simple and self-explaining. However, if you’re familiar with ASP.NET 3.5 and Visual Web Developer, I don’t think there’s much here for you. If you already have the book ASP.NET 3.5 by the same author, then again, I can’t recommend buying it. But if you’re new to ASP.NET programming and want to do it right, then certainly, this book is worth buying.