Sebastopol, CA--Packed with arcane knowledge for a rarified segment of readers, programming books are not expected to reach bestseller status. One very notable exception is Java in a Nutshell by David Flanagan (O'Reilly US $44.95), a venerable title with lifelong sales of more than 700,000 copies--numbers that any consumer title would love to achieve. Now in its fifth edition, the book has undergone a major facelift to cover Java 5.0, which Sun bills as the most significant version since Java was introduced ten years ago.
"Java developers may be highly specialized, but there are millions of them," explains author David Flanagan. "This book is designed to sit faithfully by their keyboard while they program. With each edition, I've worked to keep them up to speed on changes to the Java platform and programming language, offering them a single source of information when they need help with critical details."
Success, indeed, is in the details: In addition to an accelerated introduction to the Java language and its key application program interfaces (APIs), the bulk of this 1,200-page book is a quick reference to all the classes in the essential Java packages. After studying the opening chapters of the book, "beginning programmers with only a modest amount of experience should be able to learn Java programming," Flanagan says. "The quick reference that follows packs a lot of information into a small space. Packages are listed alphabetically, so they can search for them as they might do in a dictionary."
The quick reference includes 2,700 lines of heavily commented code that demonstrate how to accomplish common tasks, from manipulating text and parsing XML to writing high-performance network servers.
The fifth edition also offers a complete makeover in scope, examples, and type of coverage that appeals to modern Java developers. "For instance, they'll find less emphasis on coming to Java from C and C++, and more discussion on tools and frameworks," Flanagan explains. "This greatly expanded edition also offers new code examples that demonstrate how to perform common tasks with the classes and interfaces that comprise the Java platform. And, of course, there is extensive coverage of Java 5.0."
With all of the new language features and platform changes, Java 5.0 would logically be called "Java 2.0" if Sun had not already used "Java 2" to market Java 1.2, Flanagan notes. Version numbering aside, "this latest release includes several new language features, most notably generic types, which increase both the complexity and power of the language. Most experienced Java programmers have welcomed the new features," he contends, "despite the added complexity they bring."
Generic types not only affect the new code programmers write, but potentially all of their existing code as well. This feature enables developers to reuse and customize their code, so they can dramatically cut down the time it takes to develop new applications. The new edition of Java in a Nutshell devotes an entire chapter to explaining generics, enumerated types, annotations, and other major changes that come with Java 5.0, using simple examples and a detailed look at how those features are used in the Java source-code libraries. "Experienced Java programmers who have read previous versions of this book might want to go directly to this chapter," Flanagan says.
Overall, O'Reilly's In a Nutshell reference series has proven to be extremely popular for its practical, modular format that enables programmers to go straight to the information they need without getting lost or distracted. Java in a Nutshell is the title that defined the category. Flanagan attributes much of the book's success to the symbiotic relationship he enjoys with the legion of developers and programmers who rely on it. "I'm indebted to the many, many readers who wrote in with comments, suggestions, bug reports, and praise," he says. "Their contributions are scattered throughout the book."
Praise for the previous edition:
"A classic Java reference, a dog-eared, highlighted, coffee-stained, copy of which belongs on every Java programmer's desk."
--William Wagers, Focus on Java
"If you've completed something like Teach Yourself Java In 21 Days and now you have to DO something with Java, you owe it to yourself to get this book. This will be one title you'll go back to again and again as you explore the wild, wild world of Java."
--Thomas Duff, www.twduff.com
Further reviews of "Java in a Nutshell" can be found here.
O'Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O'Reilly Media has been a chronicler and catalyst of cutting-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption by amplifying "faint signals" from the alpha geeks who are creating the future. An active participant in the technology community, the company has a long history of advocacy, meme-making, and evangelism.
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