Professional ASP.Net 1.0, Special Edition

by Danny Lesandrini

While there are a lot of new books about ASP.Net that may look quite interesting, Danny Lesandrini takes a look at what is perhaps the best reference available for ASP.Net in his latest book review.

After unpacking my new MSDN subscription, I immediately installed and launched Visual Studio.Net. It didn't take long before I realized that I was going to need a good book to help me get any meaningful work done. Having a web project in mind, my focus naturally turned to ASP.Net, but which of the many books currently available would get me up to speed? I chose Professional ASP.Net by Wrox.Here's why.

Selecting the Right ASP.Net Book
I really enjoy reading technical books and my local bookstore is like "candyland" to me. Though the clerk there probably doesn't remember my name, he must remember the typical genre of book I usually select, because when I asked for a suggestion on a good ASP.Net book, he steered me away from Professional ASP.NET 1.0 by Wrox. He said that if I'm not familiar with C# (or at least C++), I should probably go with a more "lightweight" book that uses VB.Net code examples. Needless to say, I wasn't about to be intimidated by a bookstore clerk. I gritted my teeth, bought the book, and I'm glad I did.

All the same, the decision wasn't exactly a no-brainer. First, there are a lot of new books about ASP.Net that all look quite interesting, and I'd like to get my hands on any number of them. Secondly, I had already invested in one Wrox ASP.Net book that disappointed me, and I was leery about wasting another $50. Back in December of 2001, I purchased the ASP.NET Programmer's Reference, thinking it was going to explain how to create ASP.Net applications. After deciding it wasn't the right book for me, I fired off a note of complaint to Wrox. I was told by a Wrox representative that there were some issues with the book, and that it's currently being revised. To be fair, I was partly to blame for buying the "Programmer's Reference" instead of getting what I really wanted, Professional ASP.Net 1.0, which details not only the properties and methods (as does the reference version) but also web controls, binding XML and relational data, tips & tricks and optimization advice.

I quickly realized that Professional ASP.Net 1.0 was the right tool for teaching myself how to use this exciting new technology. Sure, there were lots of C# code examples, but they were usually provided in tandem with the VB.Net examples. As I considered each code example, I found myself reading both the VB.Net and C# code, which provided an easy introduction into the world of C# for this formerly VB-only programmer. Rather than being intimidating, the C# examples provided the boost I needed to get started learning this new language. If you're a VB developer, don't let a fear of C# dissuade you from considering this book.

General Overview of Topics Covered
Rather than just pasting the table of contents here, let me summarize what you get from this book. Though it approaches Microsoft's new technology from the ASP world, it's still a book about .Net. Accordingly, there are chapters that overview the framework, languages and building blocks of .Net. These chapters are great, but are by no means comprehensive.

In some cases, topics such as these are covered in enough depth to equip you to understand what follows, as is the case with chapters on framework and languages. Other chapters merely touch on issues such as working with collections, lists and base classes, providing useful but limited examples. More than once, I finished a chapter feeling "hungry" for more information. A quick search at the Wrox web site for a more detailed book on a particular topic invariably resulted in success. For example, the chapter on building server controls is a good introduction, but if you really need to know the details, you'll need to invest in a book that specializes in that topic. Same was true for topics of creating and using web services and mobile controls.

The chapters about working with relational data contained much more detail and were quite useful. Though entire books are written about ADO.Net, the discussion was sufficient to arm you with the tools necessary to write data-enabled web pages. Equal time is given to coding with and for XML data. Even if you're new to XML, the instructions for managing XML data in .Net are sufficient to allow you to begin using XML in your web pages.

Of course, the real "meat" of Professional ASP.Net were the chapters explaining how to create functional web pages. The paradigm has changed sufficiently that ASP developers will need to see examples of how to implement new controls, such as server, web form and validation controls, list controls and data binding. More than enough time (in my opinion) is devoted to creating, configuring and securing web applications. Once again, entire books could be written on these subjects, but you won't need that much understanding of these issues to get started with ASP.Net.

Other topics are handled, such as error handling, debugging, performance and migration. The last chapter is a case study which shows you how to use what you've learned to create a simple n-tier e-commerce application named IBuyAdventure.Net. The code for this case study is included, as is all the example code for the book. Additionally, if you purchase the "Special Edition", you're entitled to access an electronic version of the book at the Wrox web site for 12 months.

Things I Tagged as Noteworthy
As I read this book, I kept a highlighter pen handy, as well as a stack of post-it notes. Before I was done, I'd exhausted one pen, and an entire pack of post-its were poking out of the top and side of the book. I really did find that much noteworthy content. The following sections were the most useful to me:

  • Explanation of "code behind"
  • HTML server controls properties and methods
  • Web form controls properties and methods
  • Using validation controls
  • Building and using custom controls
  • Event handling for objects and pages
  • Forms-based authentication (login form)
  • Web service "how to's"
  • Error handling and debugging
What's the Verdict?
Despite my initial disappointment with the ASP Programmer's Reference, I find Professional ASP.Net 1.0 to be a"must have" for any serious ASP.Net developer. I expect to be flipping through the book often as I embark on my first real ASP.Net project. In addition to the associated code, which may be downloaded from Wrox, a couple of the authors provide a great web site which deserves a bookmark. Dave Sussman and Alex Homer appear to have written much of the material that explains how to use each ASP.Net control and their examples are available at the site they maintain: http://www.daveandal.com/books/7035/.

Although a little pricy -- listing for $59.99 -- you get a lot of bang for the buck. In addition to learning how to use ASP.Net to build complete e-commerce applications, you get all the source code, access to an electronic version of the book and anywhere-anytime access to the source code behind Dave & Al's sample code. Yup, you're going to need a book to get up to speed with ASP.Net, maybe even two. My advice is that you make Professional ASP.Net 1.0 one of them.

This article originally appeared in the Smart Access Newsletter, Pinnacle Publishing, Inc. (c) All rights reserved.
This article was originally published on Wednesday Jul 24th 2002
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