Review: Learning jQuery 1.3

This post is more than 2 years old.

My readers (and Twitter followers) know that I've been learning jQuery over the past few months. While I absolutely love it now, I wasn't terribly happy with it at first. Coming from the simplicity of Adobe's Spry framework (which, by the way, I still recommend for folks who aren't very comfortable with JavaScript/Ajax), I found jQuery to be confusing and hard to get into. I also had some trouble with the documentation. I just... didn't get it. But I kept at it. And slowly, at least for me, I began to greatly appreciate the features and power of jQuery.

While I definitely began to get more comfortable with jQuery, my knowledge was a bit scattered. There were some important concepts I just wasn't getting. Learning jQuery 1.3, by Jonathan Chaffer and Karl Swedberg, is an excellent book. I feel like I finally have a proper understanding of how jQuery works and also some of the philosophy behind the mechanics.

Probably the biggest area I needed help with was selectors. The book starts off with a very in depth, very thorough description of this feature. I finally think I get them. Am I able to parse every selector I see? No. For me, selectors act like regex. I know basic regex but at times I have to break them down into components to really get it. This is how I approach selectors now. It's made a huge difference in my ability to work with jQuery. I'm no longer just guessing at the selectors.

After selectors, the book goes deep into effects, events, DOM manipulation, and Ajax. Each chapter contains numerous examples and really gives you a great feel for the feature set. It really became apparent just how scattered my knowledge was. I really being surprised, on multiple occasions, when I found that jQuery fully supported something I was sure didn't actually exist.

Following the 'core' chapters, you then get chapters that go deep into particular uses of jQuery. Things like forms handling and table manipulation. Pretty much the exact kinds of things I think most people are looking to use with a JavaScript framework.

Both plugins, and plugin development, is also discussed. While some good plugins are recommended, I'd like to see a bit more talk about selecting plugins. I still think the plugin system can be a bit daunting to new users. Seeing 200 different options for lightboxes is both good and bad. I know for me it was a bit bad as I had absolutely no idea what plugin would be best for the case at hand. This really is more of a complaint in general as opposed to a critique of the book. But perhaps some discussion could be made of how to recognize what is possible a good plugin. Even something as simple as - was the plugin update recently? Is the author responsive to queries? Etc.

Overall, this is a darn good book. Probably one of the best technical books I've ever read. It's a night and day difference for me in terms of how comfortable I feel with jQuery. If you have any interest in jQuery, or even if, like me, you've been using it but would like to get better (a lot better!), then I highly recommend picking it up. (And if you do it via the affiliate link above, I get a little kick back. :) Also note that the publisher has a sample chapter online here:

p.s. One last detail. As we know, we technical books, things can get quickly outdated. Learning jQuery 1.3 was published in February, and as far as I know, is the most up to date book on the framework.

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About Raymond Camden

Raymond is a senior developer evangelist for Adobe. He focuses on document services, JavaScript, and enterprise cat demos. If you like this article, please consider visiting my Amazon Wishlist or donating via PayPal to show your support. You can even buy me a coffee!

Lafayette, LA

Archived Comments

Comment 1 by andy matthews posted on 5/4/2009 at 6:40 AM

Honestly if you look at jQuery's selectors from a CSS point of view rather than from a JavaScript or DOM point of view it'll be MUCH simpler to grasp.

If you can target the object with CSS, then you can access it with a jQuery selector. Plus there's extra stuff in there that's not even possible with CSS.

Comment 2 by William from Lagos posted on 5/4/2009 at 2:23 PM

I sure agree with you on this one Ray. I am rounding up Learning jQuery by Yehuda Katz et al and I have Learning jQuery next in my sight.

But I'm pretty surprised why selectors was a bit difficult in grasping. Anybody coming from a Web Design background should pick this up easily, having been familiar with CSS.

Comment 3 by Raymond Camden posted on 5/4/2009 at 2:44 PM

@William, @Andy: Both of you seem surprised I had trouble with selectors. But you both assume I was familiar with CSS. I am not. I know the basics, of course, but back when I started web dev, there was no CSS. Even now, most of my work is on the back end, so I'll just be given CSS to use, I don't have to worry about creating it.

Comment 4 by Gary Funk posted on 5/4/2009 at 5:25 PM

These young kids don't know what it was like in the old days. I started web development in 1992 and all we had was a few tags and broken browsers. I guess some things never change. Most of my time has always been spent on the backend. Only the last two years have I been involved with the front end and so much has changed, I find it hard to keep up. Funny how the Web Desingners that that's all there is to web.

Comment 5 by andy matthews posted on 5/4/2009 at 5:33 PM

Hey now...I'm no youngster. I didn't start in 1992 like yourself, but at least I started before the current century...1996 is when I really started learning.

Ray...I know you're not strong with CSS...that's cool. Your strengths lie elsewhere. The primary reason I know CSS so well is that I began my development career as a front end designer.

I'd be happy to be your sounding block for CSS questions if you like. I love CSS.

Comment 6 by Raymond Camden posted on 5/4/2009 at 5:34 PM

I always tended to think of CSS as something applied on top of markup. I never really thought of them as selectors ("This crap will be designed to be blue with underlines"). I guess a 'philosophy of jQuery/CSS' class would have helped me in the beginning. ;)

Comment 7 by Steve Weyrick posted on 5/4/2009 at 7:38 PM

I bought this book last week, and I have gone through the first couple of chapters; I have to agree with you, this is a great book. It has really helped me understand how jQuery can leverage CSS.

Comment 8 by Karl Snyder posted on 5/6/2009 at 4:51 PM

I've used jQuery for several years now, written several plug-ins for my company and I love it! (I love CSS too.) The jQuery documentation is lacking good examples or difficult to find the function your are looking for. One common issue that I found during some heavy development last year was that the jQuery site was slow or down frequently.

What makes jQuery most excellent is that it's cross browser compatibility is very robust.

Check the jQuery API Browser Air App... this has provided quick and dirty syntax lookup.

Comment 9 by Raymond Camden posted on 5/6/2009 at 5:09 PM

I'll definitely mega-ditto the AIR app. I have it running 24/7.

Comment 10 by ZK@Web Marketing Blog posted on 5/17/2009 at 11:13 PM

The new version of the book is now packed with good references, and examples. Most of them are day-to-day examples (chapter one to six), but things get a hotter after chapter seven, where more complex examples and explanations are given.