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A Great ASP.NET Resource, Next Edition

A classic reference book, ASP.NET 3.5 Unleashed, gets updated for ASP.NET 4

One of standard ASP.NET references, at least on the Web Forms side of the fence, has long been Stephen Walther's ASP.NET 3.5 Unleashed from SAMS. The book is a massive tome that covers the length and breadth of core ASP.NET, the third in the series under that title. I would never claim to have read its 1,795 pages from cover to cover, but over the years I have read and re-read a lot of it as I worked through various issues in web applications. It has been an invaluable reference book, well worth the money.

So I was happy to hear about the release of the fourth in the series, ASP.NET 4 Unleashed. And there are new three authors listed on the cover: Stephen Walther, Kevin Hoffman, and Nate Dudek. The new edition contains vast amounts of the previous edition, tweaked here and there for changes, along with new material to cover the ever-expanding capabilities of ASP.NET.

First, here are the raw stats.

Page Count:
Old – 1,795, New – 1,781
I count these as the last page of text before the Index. It's a bit of a surprise that the new book is a few pages shorter, with no discernable change in font size or fewer figures despite having more chapters.

Old – 34, New 40
ASP.NET 4.0 certainly has more stuff to cover, so more chapters make sense. They dropped one chapter and completely replaced another, which I'll get to shortly.

The new book is roughly 5/24ths of an inch thicker.

No discernable difference. Unfortunately, I don't have a scale that is accurate in this weight range. But you'll not want to walk down the street reading it, nor read it in bed except perhaps on your stomach propped up on pillows. And your bookshelf should be sturdy.

Author count:
Old – 1, New – 3
I was always a bit amazed that Walther wrote the ASP.NET 3.5 book all by his lonesome. But I'll take his word for it (and I wouldn't hold it against him if he had ghost writers). But the new book has three authors on the cover. It appears that Hoffman and Dudek did the work on the new book (based on their being the only two acknowledgments), using the vast majority of Walther's original material. I suspect Walther didn't have time to do the new edition, since he is now quite busy working at Microsoft.

The book has several new chapters and one dropped chapter. The first three parts of the book seem to have gotten only light revisions while covering the basics of building ASP.NET pages, designing websites, and performing data access. The data access section got two new chapters: 15, Using the Chart Control, and 16, Using the QueryExtender Control, to cover those new features in ASP.NET 4.0. Both are rather short chapters.

The fourth section of the book, Building Components, got one new chapter (21), Data Access with WCF Data Services. Nine pages isn't nearly enough space to do WCF Data Services justice, but I suppose it is good to get in some basic information and a bit of code to whet the reader's appetite for more.

The Site Navigation section also got one new chapter (25), Using the ASP.NET URL Routing Engine. Again, at 10 pages it is no more than a brief mention of all that you can do with routing. But the authors pack a lot into those pages, so the reader at least has a handle on what routing is about.

I was sorry to see that the Security section didn't get much work that was immediately obvious, but that probably does reflect how little ASP.NET 4.0 brought to the table. There were a lot of changes in .NET Framework 4.0, and there's a new version of the Anti-Cross Site Scripting Library, but not much in the core ASP.NET. The section lost two pages though.

It's no surprise that the seventh section, Building ASP.NET Applications, got three new chapters: chapter 32 covers Building Dynamic Data Applications, chapter 33 covers Building ASP.NET MVC Applications, and chapter 35 covers Deploying ASP.NET Web Applications. All these chapters are quite short (10 pages for dynamic data and 9 for MVC? Oh my.) so only provide a taste. Walther has an excellent MVC book, so it's probably just as well on that one.

The authors dropped the old chapter 33, Using Client-Side ASP.NET AJAX, in favor of a new chapter 40, Client-Side Ajax with jQuery (note the new, hip casing of Ajax from old to new). This is one place they picked up pages, since the new chapter is only about 13 pages long versus 76 pages in the old. Obviously they chose to go into less detail about Microsoft's move to jQuery as the primary client-side JavaScript library, even though their Ajax client library is alive and well in the Ajax Control Toolkit. Perhaps this portends a Walther book about client-side Ajax and jQuery? That's the team he works on at Microsoft, so one can hope.

The new book also dropped the entire tenth section, which contained only chapter 34, Building a Code Sample Website. That chapter was fairly interesting and a way to tie everything together and finish up. But with everything else in the book, I'm not sure it was a bad decision to drop it.

As you can see, the new chapters were just kind of a token mention of their respective topics. In the context of a tome like this, doing short introductions is probably ok. But those chapters stand in rather strange contrast to many of the original chapters that were sometimes quite comprehensive. I'm not sure this is a black mark against the book, but I would have loved to have seen more. I suspect that they were pushing the limits of bookbinding!

One criticism I found on for the ASP.NET 3.5 edition was that the source code isn't always thoroughly explained, particularly for longer samples. That's a valid criticism, but not nearly a fatal one (as the critic concedes). I think that the book contains so much information that it wouldn't be reasonable to hope for every code snippet to get a thorough rundown. It's great for getting a handle on a topic, then go off and explore for more detail on one's own.

Overall, I'm pleased to have this updated edition for ASP.NET 4.0. For now it is going right next to the ASP.NET 3.5 version (or will, as soon as I reinforce the shelf and floor). One downside is that I don't do much with Web Forms any more (in favor of MVC), but I still maintain older apps, and there is plenty in the book that is still useful to me. Highly recommended as a single, comprehensive ASP.NET 4.0 book, supplemented by other books targeted at specific ASP.NET technologies.

ASP.NET 4 Unleashed, by Stephen Walther, Kevin Hoffman, and Nate Dudek
SAMS Publishing
ISBN 13: 978-0-672-33112-1
ISBN 10: 0-672-33112-8

Don Kiely ([email protected]), MVP, MCSD, is a senior technology consultant, building custom applications and providing business and technology consulting services. His development work involves SQL Server, Visual Basic, C#, ASP.NET, and Microsoft Office.

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