Book Review: HTML5 in Action

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After coding in XHTML for years I was thrilled with the HTML5 spec. This update was huge and it centralized web development with a clear group of elements, workflows, and best practices.

The newer version of HTML5.1 is slated for release soon and should bring new updates to the spec. But any potential updates will still support all the basics that I think every dev should understand.

This is why HTML5 in Action might be the best introduction to HTML5 as a specification and development language. This book covers all the fundamentals for typical websites, but also delves into advanced topics like WebGL and Canvas for web games.

I’ve been writing HTML5 ever since it was released and I still learned a lot from this book. Even if you write HTML5 daily you can learn some incredibly advanced features by reading through this book. It may be a little tough for beginners, but if you want to truly master the HTML5 spec this book will get you there.

Book Contents

This 466 page guide to HTML5 teaches you every single aspect of the specification for web development. You’ll start from the beginning with the basics of HTML5 and move through the importance of each major element & feature in the spec.

The book splits up into three parts containing 9 chapters total:

Part 1: Introduction

  1. HTML5: from documents to applications

Part 2: Browser-Based Apps

  1. Form creation: input widgets, data binding, and data validation
  2. File editing and management: rich formatting, file storage, drag and drop
  3. Messaging: communicating to and from scripts in HTML5
  4. Mobile applications: client storage and offline execution

Part 3: Interactive Graphics, Media, and Gaming

  1. 2D Canvas: low-level, 2D graphics rendering
  2. SVG: responsive in-browser graphics
  3. Video and audio: playing media in the browser
  4. WebGL: 3D application development

The intro chapter is super easy to breeze through and you’ll walk away with a rich understanding of what HTML5 means from a technical perspective.

The second chapter is where you really learn how to apply the language in development. The author wastes no time getting into the nitty gritty details.

You’ll learn about the newest HTML5 elements along with HTML5 file management, DOM management, APIs, polyfills, and overall browser support for HTML5.

Keep in mind this spec is not just a few elements slapped onto the previous spec. The HTML5 spec has revolutionized the way we build websites. Single page applications and dynamic features originally left to JavaScript are now possible with HTML5.

html5 logo design

Complete beginners may feel the difficulty ramps up quickly in the first few chapters. I think it does ramp up quickly, however it should still be easy to follow if you practice the exercises and re-read confusing passages.

Moving from the basics of HTML5 into drag-and-drop features and messaging is a big jump.

In truth these topics are much more advanced than I expected. My assumption was that this book would be for completely new developers who want to learn HTML. This is partly true, but the book pushes you far beyond that beginner’s point to consider the high-level possibilities of this language.

Each line of code has its own explanation so that you learn what each line means. This is super helpful for beginners who are struggling to understand even minor HTML5 concepts.

All the source code is online for free in the HTML5 in Action GitHub repo. All codes still work perfectly as of this review and the level of depth simply blows me away.

Pros & Cons

The best aspect of this book is the sheer volume of coverage. Not only does it talk about a wide variety of HTML5 features, but it also goes into great detail with premium examples for each feature.

Some codes are fairly advanced but all of them function well and aim to teach the widest audience possible. Here are some of my top considerations:


  • Detailed code snippets with line-by-line explanations
  • Deep and wide across the entire HTML5 specification
  • Incredible content for beginners and experts alike


  • Examples are very complex for beginners
  • Does not spend as much time on the absolute basics

I really shouldn’t complain about a book that doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator. But on the flip side I think this book would be better if it held your hand more in the beginning.

It’s awesome that the authors went into so much detail about the real meat of HTML5. But since HTML5 is really the standard for building websites I would’ve liked to see more examples covering the basics of HTML5 elements. More specifically some examples teaching basic website layouts with HTML5 elements.

Other than this minor complaint I simply adore this book for its level of detail and precision on the topic. You will not find another book that’s as comprehensive as this one.

Yes you can find HTML5 books that focus more on specific topics like Canvas or WebSockets. But HTML5 in Action covers the broad width of HTML5 while also delving deeper into each part.

Absolutely a great book for the subject and perhaps the absolute best book for a study guide/desk reference.

And since this is a Manning book you’ll get a free digital copy with a purchase of this book(or any Manning book) delivered right to your email.

Who Is This For?

My initial assumption was that only beginners would get something from this book. I must’ve forgotten the golden rule of happens when you assume!

I’m convinced that even people who call themselves HTML5 experts could learn something from this book. It goes into so much detail about visual libraries, HTML5 APIs, data and file transfers… I actually did not know HTML5 had a messaging API until I read this book.

So with that said I’d recommend this book to anyone that wants to study(and master) HTML5. You can pick up this book and start learning from scratch, but you’ll have to do some extra work studying HTML fundamentals on the side to keep up.

People who would enjoy this book:

  • Beginners with no experience in HTML5
  • Professional developers who want to master HTML5
  • Game devs who want to start building games in the browser

Final Summary

For all the frontend dev books I’ve read and loved I still think HTML5 in Action sits in my top 5. It covers so much variety in so much depth that it’ll likely outperform even your wildest expectations.

My one complaint is a lack of real-world examples when it comes to traditional websites. There is plenty of content on the newer HTML5 elements, but the examples feel a tad shallow compared to the rest of the book.

Either way HTML5 in Action is one of the best web dev books I’ve read in a long time. I’d recommend this to anyone interested in HTML5 whether you’re just getting started or have been working with the language since its inception.

This can become your ultimate guide to the spec and help you learn what works, why it works, and how to properly implement HTML5 projects in the real world.

Review Rating: 4.5/5


Alex is a fullstack developer with years of experience working in digital agencies and as a freelancer. He writes about educational resources and tools for programmers building the future of the web.