Philip Newton (pne) wrote,
Philip Newton

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Which XSL-FO book to get?

As I've mentioned before, I've been asked to learn about XSL-FO.

I've had a look at the W3C Recommendation, but it's rather mindnumbingly technical and very much a reference rather than a tutorial, so I thought I'd ask for a good book.

The problem is, I'm not sure which to get. Looking on Amazon, I've found three books on XSL-FO:

At first I thought I'd go with the O'Reilly book because it was the only one I had heard of (I found the other two through a "similar book" search on Amazon or something like that, don't remember exactly) and because O'Reilly is kind of a household name for me. On the other hand, I've heard that their books aren't universally good and that they sometimes tend to be more reference than tutorial in nature.

They all appear to have decent reviews on Amazon, and the editorial reviews, of course, imply that they're all written by "leading experts in the trade" or something like that.

One thing the O'Reilly book has going against it is Tripp Lilley's review: that it approaches XSL-FO through the perspective of XSLT rather than as a language in its own right, which (I suppose) can have advantages and disadvantages. (Though to be honest, that's probably the situation in which I'll be using it, since I've been asked to learn "XML, XSLT, and XSL-FO", implying that I'd be using XSLT to transform XML into XSL-FO rather than generating FO code directly. So that's perhaps a plus point rather than something it has going against it.)

The Definitive XSL-FO, as I understood it, is basically a treeware version of Practical Formatting using XSL-FO, which is available for purchase in PDF form from (There's also a free excerpt of the PDF form available, and a sample chapter from the book form from the publisher.) This book appears to use a more bullet-style approach.

What caught my eye on the SAMS book was the reviewer who said that

[The book] provides solid examples in many areas of XSL FO that actually work. […] The author provides a hands-on view and gives you examples that work and get you up and going quickly. Not a lot of wading through esoterica wondering how you would even get started with a simple document.

which sounded encouraging.

I did a search through the archives of some of the XSL-FO mailing lists to see whether any recommendations had come up, but there were only a few messages. One of them simply pointed to the above three books on Amazon, one or two others were messages by the authors pointing out their own book.

So I'm not really sure which book to buy, though I'm leaning a bit towards either the O'Reilly or the Prentice-Hall book. Hm, difficult.

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