CSS:TDG Update

Published 2 years, 4 months ago

It’s time for a semi-periodic update on CSS: The Definitive Guide, 4th Edition!  The basic news is that things are proceeding, albeit slowly.  Eight chapters are even now available as ebooks or, in most cases, print-on-demand titles.  Behold:

  • CSS and Documents, which covers the raw basics of how CSS is associated with HTML, including some of the more obscure ways of strapping external styles to the document as well as media query syntax.  It’s free to download in any of the various formats O’Reilly offers.
  • Selectors, Specificity, and the Cascade, which combines two chapters to cover all of the various Level 3 selector patterns as well as the inner details of how specificity, inheritance, and cascade.
  • Values, Units and Colors, which covers all the various ways you can label numbers as well as use strings.  It also takes advantage of the new cheapness of color printing to use a bunch of nice color-value figures that aren’t forced to be all in grayscale.
  • CSS Fonts, which dives into the gory details of @font-face and how it can deeply affect the use of font-related properties, both those we use widely as well as many that are quickly gaining browser support.
  • CSS Text, which covers all the text styles that aren’t concerned with setting the font face—stuff like indenting, decoration, drop shadows, white-space handling, and so on.
  • Basic Visual Formatting in CSS, which covers how block, inline, inline-block, and other boxes are constructed, including the surprisingly-complicated topic of how lines of text are constructed.  Very fundamental stuff, but of course fundamentals are called that for a reason.
  • Transforms in CSS, which is currently FREE in ebook format, covers the transform property and its closely related properties.  2D, 3D, it’s all here.
  • Colors, Backgrounds, and Gradients, which covers those three topics in FULL GLORIOUS COLOR, fittingly enough.  Curious about the new background sizing options?  Ever wondered exactly how linear and radial gradients are constructed?  This book will tell you all that, and more.

Here’s what I have planned to write next:

  • Padding, Borders, Outlines, and Margins — including the surprisingly tricky border-image
  • Positioning – basically an update, with new and unexpected twists that have been revealed over the years (case in point)
  • Grid Layout – though this is coming faster than many of us realize, I may put this one off for a little bit while we see how browser implementations go, and find out what changes happen as a result

My co-author, Estelle, has these three chapters/short books currently in process:

  • Transitions
  • Animations
  • Flexbox

Beyond those 14 chapters, we have eight more on the roster, covering topics like floating, multicolumn layout, shapes, and more.  CSS is big now, y’all.

So that’s where we are right now.  Our hope is to have the whole thing written by the middle of 2016, at which point some interesting questions will have to be answered.  While most of the book is fine in grayscale, there are some chapters (like Colors, Backgrounds, and Gradients) that really beenfit from being in color.  Printing a 22-chapter book in color would make it punishingly expensive, even with today’s drastically lower cost of color printing.  So what to do?

Not to mention, printing a 22-chapter book is its own level of difficulty.  Even if we assume an average of 40 pages a chapter—an unreasonabnly low figure, but let’s go with it—that’s still a nine hundred page book, once you add front and back matter.  The binding requirements alone gets us into the realm of punishingly expensive, even without color.

Of course, ebook readers don’t have to care about any of that, but some people (like me) really do prefer paper.  So there will be some interesting discussions.  Print in two volumes?  Sell the individual chapter books in a giant boxed set, Chronicles of Narnia style?  We’ll see!


  1. I am soooooo looking forward to this – I’ll end up getting a print and e-version! Thanks for the update!

  2. Would it be beneficial to release TDG as mini-books/guides in A Book Apart-fashion? Are those easier to print on demand? Is POD even an option?

  3. I’m assuming that even adding color inserts to only the pages would be best seen in color would be too expensive?

  4. Brad: we’re already doing that; see the links in the post, which take you to individual mini-books that are available as ebooks or POD, whichever you prefer. (Except for Transforms, which is an ebook at the moment, but I believe will also be POD soon.) Or did you mean a different mini-book strategy?

    Jim: probably so, though it’s definitely on the list of things to look into.

  5. Ok, thanks Eric. I was just wondering. Obviously you’re an experienced writer, so you know the deal.

  6. Jim: writer, yes; publisher, no. The fine folks at O’Reilly will give all our options a close look when we approach printing time, and we’ll work out the best balance of quality and price. Maybe I can convince them to do a Deluxe Edition with full-color printing, a gold-leaf-stamped leather cover, and a package of smoked salmon!

  7. Ha ha, oh man I like that one!

  8. I don’t think that the size of the book is going to be a problem if you end up close to 900. O’Reilly has published much larger than that. I have several O’Reilly books that are over a thousand pages, including a few that are 1500 or more. The price is a little higher, but not by much at all (check out the current editions of ‘Learning Python’ and ‘Programming Python’ for a couple of books that can double as a weapon when needed, along with ‘Dynamic HTML’, ‘Java Swing’ and ‘JavaScript: The Definitive Guide’ for a few more examples). They certainly know how to publish large books.

    I know O’Reilly has published at least one book in full color (the title of which I can’t remember off hand, something on interface design or a web design topic, but flipping through it at the bookstore, it was a gorgeous volume) that had a pretty good size and the price wasn’t bad. I’ve seen other publishers insert color plates for the pictures that absolutely must be in color (Manning’s ‘Gnuplot In Action’ for example).

    I hope that you can get it as one volume. I don’t like the idea of each chapter being a separate book. I’ve been waiting for this one to be finished and am glad that you are making progress. I’m disappointed that you weren’t able to get it out this year though.

    I do prefer paper for actually reading the book, but like ebooks for when I need to look up something quick while working.

  9. Eric, would you recommend a reading order for these volumes? I’m assuming they are not numbered, right? Would your order listed above work the best?

    I understand CSS is modular now and one can read and learn about different aspects without requiring an absolute understanding of the rest, but I just wondered if you had a recommendation.

  10. Hey Eric,

    Any chance of you talking about baseline grids in the new book?

  11. Hi, George! Can you clarify what you mean by baseline grids? I can think of a couple of possibilities and want to be sure I understand.

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