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Head first servlets and JSP: passing the Sun Certified Web Component Developer exam (SCWCD)
Basham B., Sierra K., Bates B., O’Reilly & Associates, Inc., Sebastopol, CA, 2004. 886 pp. Type: Book (9780596005405)
Date Reviewed: Feb 13 2006

A complex ecosystem of tools and techniques has emerged around Web application development in the last few years. Within this ecosystem, Java technologies play a major role, with a myriad of frameworks to facilitate Web developers’ tasks. However, you cannot start using frameworks such as Struts, WebWork, Spring, Tapestry, and the like from scratch. First, you must familiarize yourself with the foundations these frameworks are built upon: servlets and JavaServer Pages (JSP). That is where books like this one come into play.

The “Head First” series is famed among practitioners because of its informal style. As “the first GUI-based technical books,” they are written to reinforce learning. Their overabundance of hand-annotated diagrams is their most prominent feature, as well as the substitution of dialogs between fictional characters for the more impersonal prose style typical in technical books. This emphasis on telling stories instead of lecturing introduces some redundancy (a lot of it, actually), but it fosters retention and recall.

This book is aimed at those developers who want to pass the Sun Certified Web Component Developer (SCWCD) exam. This goal fits well with the “Head First” style. Moreover, given that the authors are also responsible for the actual SCWCD exam questions, you will certainly find this book extremely valuable if you intend to get the Sun certification. If you don’t, you will still find a thorough introduction to Java servlets and JSP, although I’d prefer more end-to-end practical examples.

The book starts with an introductory section that briefly presents hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Apache, servlets, JSP, and the typical architecture of a Web application. Once this background material is covered, you will develop a complete Web application from start to finish, the only one in this hefty volume: a beer advisor (yes, that’s right) using the model-view-controller (MVC) design pattern. In MVC, a servlet (controller) receives user requests, calls the application logic (model), and dispatches the result to the proper JSP (view).

Almost 500 pages at the core of this book discuss servlets, JSP, and tags in detail. Since JSPs are compiled into servlets by the Web application container, servlets are dealt with first. These chapters introduce readers to the main classes in the servlet application programming interface (API), as well as to the peculiar terminology used in Java Web applications. JSP syntax is thoroughly analyzed, and the case is clearly made for scriptless JSPs, which help avoid the common maintenance nightmare Web applications usually end up being. Finally, standard JSP Standard Tag Library (JSTL) tags and custom tag development are addressed in their own chapters.

The book’s final chapters address common issues in Web application development, from deployment to security. Here, you will discover interception filters, request and response wrappers, common Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) design patterns, and even a brief introduction to Struts (arguably the most popular Java Web application framework). An appendix containing a mock SCWCD exam ends the book, so that you can test yourself to see if you are prepared to face the real SCWCD exam.

This book might be a good starting point for those interested in coming to grips with Web application development in Java. The engaging “Head First” style can push you up the learning curve associated with acquiring new skills. In this case, you will certainly feel that you can pass the exam. This book might also be helpful as a tutorial on servlets and JSP, although prior experience with Web application development might be necessary for you to grasp all you need to build a real Web application.

Reviewer:  Fernando Berzal Review #: CR132424 (0701-0018)
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