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on October 20, 2002
This book is more than just an HTTP reference. In fact the name of the book may even be a bit misleading. While it does an excellent job of describing the "what", "why", and "how" of HTTP, it goes a great deal further by describing how the various technologies that interact with HTTP work. And since HTTP is the very foundation of the Web, this book ends up being a great guide to the guts of all of WWW.
If you ever had a question about how a certain piece of Internet technology works, there is a good chance you will find it described in this book. From various types of Internet gateways, servers, and proxies, to security, content publishing & distribution, and HTTP related performance issues.
The topics are dealt in an insightful, practical way - full of useful examples, and "tricks of the trade". The writing style is very engaging, and accessible even to non-technical readers. Authors' knowledge and passion for the subject matter shows through. I have had the good fortune of working with the authors, and I can't think of a more qualified bunch of people to write this book.
Size of the book appears a bit daunting first, but you don't need to read it cover to cover. Just pick your topic of interest, or keep the book as a reference. I have been closely involved with developing HTTP related high performance Internet servers/gateways/proxies for six years, and I haven't seen a better book on the topic.
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on May 12, 2003
I had never thought of HTTP in such a broad scale before I read "HTTP::The Definitive Guide". Apparently, Web sites and Web browsers are not the only things that should come to mind when one thinks of HTTP. Flexibility of the protocol made it home for so many breakthroughs of the Internet. It's amazing that there were no comprehensive textbooks covering the topic until today.
Organizing such enormous data in a 500-line book is a challenge already. But authors managed to go even beyond. The result was a well organized, comprehensive and amazingly easy to follow book.
The book is organized into 6 large sections. Each section is split into Chapters. Wherever appropriate, authors use figures and diagrams to illustrate the point.
The first section, called "Web's Foundation" covers most of the things an average web developer may already have known. It starts off with a chapter on HTTP Overview, and covers such topics as URLs, HTTP Messages - requests and responses, connections - parallel, persistent and pipeline. Some of the highlights are HTTP versions and their differences, URL conversion algorithms and status codes.
The second section, called "HTTP Architecture", is probably the most informative section with lots of gory details. It discusses existing technologies that make things happen - players of the Web. Starts with Web Servers that actually serve the original content. Takes you step by step what exactly happens once the Server accepts the request from your browser and displays you the page. Other technologies, such as Proxies, Caching, Gateways, Tunnels and Relays are very well covered. They even talk about Web Robots (a.k.a. Crawlers) and allocate over 30 exciting pages on these both annoying and incredibly useful "creatures". The section is finished with a brief overview of HTTP-NG, also called "Next Generation HTTP".
"Identification, Authorization, and Security" is the next section, that talks about just that. Detailed coverage on Cookies, Basic and Digestion Authentication available. Walks you through the architecture of HTTPS, a.k.a SSL/TLC and algorithms used.
Fourth section is on Encoding, Internationalization and Content Negotiation.
Fifth section is on Content Publishing and Distribution. Types of web hosting and Publishing systems - all covered. Also allocated good deal of time on explaining Redirections and Load Balancing - very useful topic. Wraps up the discussion with a chapter on Logging and Usage tracking.
Last, over 100 pages of the book are all useful Appendixes.
If you really want to understand how the Web really works (I mean, really), this is a "must have" book.
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on March 3, 2004
You think you may know enough HTTP, it's just a simple application level protocol eh? Hold your thought till you read this book. I borrowed this book from a library merely for doing some research on HTTP connection management and secure authentication. However, the more I read, the more I'm amazed there're lots of practical and interesting topics with so rich but not boring details. The book uses quite numbers of pictures to depict different handshaking protocols and complicated concepts, very easy to follow and understand. It is certainly not the HTTP specification reprint. It tells you what, why, where, and how. It is as the name suggested --- The Definitive Guide.
This book gives you very resourceful details on how HTTP works with a wild range of topics like Caching, Proxies, Gateway, Tunneling, Web Robots, Connection Management, Cookies, Various Authentication, Security, i18n, Hosting, and even Load Balancing! For example, it addresses how web crawlers work, really the inside out information, how a web crawler can back track their visited paths and what other alternatives to prevent & resolve loops & dups.

HTTP is becoming the 'operating system' for distributed applications in Internet. No doubt in my mind, from beginners, advanced users, even to researchers, will surely be benefitted from this excellent book. The authors really did a superb job. Five Stars!
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on February 1, 2003
This is a really nice, technical reference of HTTP; the technology that makes the web work. I am a software engineer interested in web services, and this book has rescued me from a pile of confusing technical specifications. I've been waiting for a book like this, and it's no surprise O'Reilly came out with it. The book is technically deep, but it's well written and thoughtfully organized. It's not "HTTP" for dummies (it has 700 pages of meat), but the friendly writing made it easy even for my colleagues who knew nothing about HTTP. There are also hundreds of great illustrations that make technical interactions clear.
The book seems useful for anyone that wants to understand how the internet works; but it's deep enough for professional developers and academic types. The authors clearly have clearly spent a lot of work on the book, to make it thorough and readable. The book is very good, but I wish it had more detail about web services and maybe wireless web communications. Those might be slightly off-topic, but I think they'd go great in this book.
I agree with most of the other reviews of this book (but the Anton Skederis review below seems to be reviewing the "HTTP pocket reference" which is an entirely different book). All said, if you are a technical or marketing professional involved with internet technology, or a computer science student, this book may be a good addition to your library. I'd give it a 4.7 out of 5. - T.E.B.
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on May 12, 2009
Some of the existing reviews of this book go into excellent detail on how good this book is. I would like to add that while many technical books do not age well, the HTTP spec has not really changed in the past decade and the reason that this is still 'the definitive guide' is because this is so detailed there is no reason to replace it.
Still worth a read in 2009, and I suspect whenever you consider purchasing it.
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on January 7, 2005
Here's my advice: review the book's contents (you'll need to visit O'Reilly's site at [...] Do you need a complete understanding of the topics? If so, buy this book. Everything is clearly explained in detail, with the chapters on security and internationalization being especially good. Highly recommended!
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on October 7, 2004
This book has much of interest, and reads easily, with lots of pictures and lots of repetition. But it probably served me better than it would have someone who came to it to learn to use HTTP in Web programming. I cared more about the overviews of routers and servers and such, and the conceptual issues involving HTTP -- what it is and how it works. But to actually use it I would want some examples -- even just one example. Instead, we get a couple of random programs -- a mini-server in PERL, and a C program that sets up an HTTPS session using the OpenSSL routines (which themselves remain undefined).

The book has interesting material, but much redundancy, and much irrelevancy (chapter 19 on publishing systems is particularly worthless). Several of the appendices seem just dumps of publicly-available web sites, or, what is worse, long selections from them. The authors are good, though, about pointing to various useful web sites at chapter ends and in the appendix. But what this book really should have done, while explaining general concepts, is provide detailed documented examples, involving various configurations of client, server, router, and so on, that would illustrate exactly how HTTP is used.
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on January 6, 2003
Collaboratively written by HTTP experts David Gourley and Brian Totty (with the additional assistance of Marjorie Sayer, Sailu Reddy, and Anshu Aggarwal), HTTP: The Definitive Guide is a thorough and "reader friendly" introductory presentation of HTTP protocol, how it works, and how it is used to create webpages and to develop web-based applications. A wealth of development and application tips, tricks, techniques, as well as cogent strategies for optimizing proxies and caches, creating robots and web crawlers, crafting secure HTTP applications, and much, much more are featured in this highly recommended and truly extensive guide which packed with numerous and illustrative examples ideal for aspiring web programmers, administrators, and application developers.
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VINE VOICEon October 26, 2011
Who would have thought you could write a 600+ page book about HTTP? The official specification itself is less than 200 pages - what else is there to say? As it turns out, quite a bit. This book traces the history of HTTP from 0.9 to the current version (1.1) and talks about the proposed HTTP-NG extensions as well. Part 1 covers the basics of HTTP: what it actually does and is for. Part 2 talks about the components that make HTTP work: servers, proxies, caches, etc. Part 3 covers HTTP security, including authentication headers and a brief overview of HTTPS. I would have liked to have seen some coverage of SSO here - SAML is close enough to HTTP as to be on topic in a book section about HTTP authentication - but they stuck with what's "baked in" to HTTP. Part 4 was my favorite part: this is where they talk about encodings, chunking, compression, internationalization, etc. This is the stuff that will get you when you're trying to deal with HTTP at a low level, and they cover it in a lot of detail, but manage to keep it interesting. Part 5, on the other hand, seemed like sort of an afterthought, which was a shame, because there was a lot of potentially great material in there. This is where they cover web publishing (as it relates to HTTP). Unfortunately, there's not much information here that you can't get from official specifications - the 30 pages they devote to WebDAV, for example, are just a dry repetition of the mechanics of WebDAV with no discussion of how it's used, or what problems you might run into trying to get it running. The final chapter on logging was OK, but again, it seemed like they could have gone into a lot more depth on actually using log files to troubleshoot problems than just telling you what was in the Apache/Netscape/Squid/etc. log files.

Still, for such a long book, it's amazing that they kept their focus on HTTP so well - there's a lot of good advice and information in there. I'd recommend it to anybody who deals with the web at a technical level, from programmers to website administrators.
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on June 27, 2015
The HTTP protocol is the backbone protocol of the World Wide Web. If you need to understand it in all the details HTTP: The Definitive Guide: The Definitive Guide is the easiest way how to do it.

When I looked for a guide to HTTP, the only cons of this book was its age. Printed, now (2015) 13 years ago, I hesitated if the book is up-to-date. 13 years in IT is like a millennium of human history. Fortunately, my fears soon had disappeared. The book fully covers HTTP 1.1, which is still the most up-to-date version of HTTP protocol. It simply means that the book 13 years since its publication is still perfectly valid.

One thing that can strike a potential buyer is the book size. The HTTP protocol is a relatively simple protocol that was designed as a human readable protocol. In fact, its basic structure can be described in few pages. So why to have 500 pages? It's because the protocol has a lot of very important subtleties that the book covers to the details. Things like TCP connection management, caching, proxies, encodings, authentications, redirection, and even Web robots are covered there. And not just covered, but described on virtually hundreds of figures. For me these figures are the best thing of the book. I can't remember the other text that would have so well-designed figures. The figures are intuitive and easy to follow. Many times they helped me to understand the following text.

As a SW developer I can say, the book is not just and an excellent study material and a great manual of the protocol, but using the text, it's easy to implement your own HTTP parser with things like optimal connection management that are essential for an effective browsing.

Even now in the advent of HTTP 2.0, HTTP: The Definitive Guide: The Definitive Guide is still an essential guide to everyone who needs to understand this protocol.
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