Book Review: GIS for Web Developers

GIS for Web Developers, Scott Davis, Pragmatic Programmers LLC 2007

As the name suggests, this book is intended as an introduction to online geospatial mapping for web developers. This target audience has a mix of expertise, and Davis does a good job of keeping the correct balance. No assumptions are made regarding the readers’ knowledge of geospatial technology and nomenclature. On the other hand, it is assumed that the audience has a good understanding of web development, HTML, Javascript, XML, etc.

The chapter titles are: Introduction, Vectors, Projections, Rasters, Spatial Databases, Creating OGC Web Services, Using OGC Web Services, OGC Clients, and Bringing It All Together; plus appendices that cover product installation issues. As can be seen by this overview, the book starts with introductory geospatial issues before moving on to real applications with the potential for quite a bit of functionality.

Davis deliberately uses open source or free tools. These are readily available for the reader. He doesn’t mention it, but a typical web developer is also in a better position to fix any of the installation issues that they might have. Commercial offerings are occasionally mentioned as alternatives, but these are not used for examples.

Arranging the book around OGC standards, gives the book a “building block” feel. A reader can choose the blocks that he/she requires to produce the application that is required. Combined with only 254 pages, this also means that each product only gets limited coverage. However, this is a beginner’s book and could usefully be used as a ‘portal’ into these technologies. Once a useful product has been found, the reader can find further books or websites to develop their knowledge further.

The book is published in full color which is useful for many of the map illustrations. It is bound using a ‘stiff’ binding that is much thinner and lighter than a conventional hardback, but is tougher than a conventional paperback bindings. The spine has a lay-flat binding as usually seen on hardbacks. Overall the effect is one of a book that looks like it can be read repeatedly and used for reference without the spine breaking or the cover getting scruffed. Publishers like O’Reilly should look at using a similar cover and binding instead of their current cheap paperback covers.

The only negative aspect of the book, are the persistent ‘jokes’ that Davis includes. These typically appear as snarky comments in brackets at the end of a sentence, but they can extend to long discussions about how he imagines the Java Runtime talks like a sea turtle from “Finding Nemo”!  Perhaps some people find these amusing and worthwhile. I found them very annoying and they broke the flow of the text.

Overally a good book for people with good web developer knowledge but with little or no geospatial knowledge.

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