The basics of XSLT appear very simple on the surface, but they get more complex as you delve into development. XML and XSLT work wonders together. With XPath you can build some very intriguing applications. It all seems confusing at first but it’s easy to understand with a bit of reading.
But this language has largely fallen by the wayside in favor of newer formats. Most API data is transmitted over JSON rather than XML and very few developers are willing to risk an XSLT conversion in a stable CMS.
Yet while XSLT has lost popularity it still lives on in niche circles, and many developers want to find the best ways to learn this transformation language. I’ve compiled the top 10 books for teaching yourself XSLT from scratch. It’s not easy but it can be very fun to learn, not to mention it’s an integral part of managing XML documents.
1. A Student’s Guide to XSLT
Author Andrew Whitmore put out this fantastic book which is perhaps the ultimate reading for beginners. A Student’s Guide to XSLT is very short coming in at just over 80 pages long.
You’ll learn all the fundamentals of XML/XPath development along with XSLT for stylesheets. You’ll get live code examples which you can copy and reuse for practice projects.
Even if you’re long out of college this book can still help you pick up the basics of XSLT. The biggest thing is its length; being less than 100 pages means it’s pretty much a introductory-only publication. It’ll get you started but you’ll likely be left wanting more.
2. Beginning XSLT 2.0
On the flip side we have Beginning XSLT 2.0: From Novice to Professional currently in its 2nd edition. This book contains over 800 pages of instructional texts, documentation, tutorials, and live code examples.
This is a great book for absolute beginners and highly advanced programmers. The first few chapters cover HTML/XML basics so nobody gets left behind. This is an intro book but it can also be used as a reference when building larger applications.
Every new feature has some example code to explain how it works. The structure is very easy to follow and it’ll be difficult to get lost reading this book. If you follow all the lessons you should walk away with intimate knowledge of XSLT 2.0 and how to apply it to a real project.
3. Sams Teach Yourself XSLT in 21 Days
Every book in the “Sams Teach Yourself” series is phenomenal, and Sams Teach Yourself XSLT is no different. The book is 670 pages long full of the most clearly-explained examples you’ll find anywhere.
If you need to learn XSLT fast then this book is for you. It’ll cover how XSLT transforms XML data while explaining each point with a live example. A complete novice would be able to follow along cover-to-cover without much confusion.
The author Michiel Van Otegem wrote this book in a way that flows very naturally between chapters. I would highly recommend this book for any beginner or intermediate developer who wants to understand the pragmatic application of XSLT.
4. The XSLT Handbook
Here’s a much more recent publication written by Samantha Spence.
The XSLT Handbook is meant to be the most updated resource in print(or Kindle) to help you reference XSLT and XML while developing.
Each chapter breaks down individual segments into snippets of code which are explained in great detail. But it’s also meant to be the go-to resource for an XSLT developer who just needs a handy reference book. It’s fairly small and it would be simple enough to keep this stashed away near your desk while working.
5. XSLT 2.0 and XPath 2.0 Programmer’s Reference
Michael Kay’s book is one of the most recommended books for learning to write XSLT code. In XSLT 2.0 and XPath 2.0 Programmer’s Reference you’ll get everything you ever needed to know crammed into one publication.
The book literally measures over 1,000 pages in total. It’s effin’ huge.
But it’s also very thorough and goes into detail about every part of XPath development. In the newest edition Michael updated some sections with new code snippets, plus added a section talking about the history of XSLT/XPath.
This is undeniably the tome of XSLT. However it is not an introductory book.
If you’re a complete beginner you shouldn’t expect this to teach you anything. You may fall in love with this resource once you actually understand the language, but to get started as a beginner you’ll want something else. I’d recommend the Sams Teach Yourself XSLT book for getting started and then Michael Kay’s book for getting more advanced.
6. Learning XSLT
Learning XSLT by Michael Fitzgerald is a no-nonsense approach to learning XSLT for development. The book doesn’t assume you have much prior knowledge, although some understanding of XML can help you move through it quicker.
This book does a great job of walking you through individual concepts and functions of XSLT. However it doesn’t really explain everything in clear detail. If you end up with a question while reading you might have an easier time Googling the answer.
But the examples are fantastic and they feel realistic enough to learn from, but not too complicated for entry level developers. Studying from these examples will help you apply XSLT in a more rigid fashion.
7. XSLT: Mastering XML Transformations
It’s no secret that XSLT is a verbose language. There’s a lot of repetition and overly-detailed tags mixed into the code. XSLT: Mastering XML Transformations attempts to clarify these details by making the subject as simple as possible.
I really enjoy the author’s instructional process with this book. It covers lots of examples and they all tend to build on similar knowledge.
However absolute beginners might struggle to understand the foundations because this book moves quick. I’d recommend this to someone who knows a little about XML/XSLT but really wants to solidify their knowledge.
8. XSLT and XPath On The Edge
Once you understand the fundamentals of XSLT you’ll want to move into more advanced pragmatic concepts. This is where XSLT and XPath On The Edge will be your best friend.
This book was written specifically for people who already understand the basic & intermediate fundamentals of XML, XSLT, and XPath. The book gives you real-world practical code snippets while explaining how they work in a production setting.
All the examples in this book are organized by chapter and function. These are basically recipes that you can copy and reuse for your own purposes. But this isn’t a boring technical reference guide.
It’s a practical approach to solving real problems with XPath and XSLT.
I’d highly recommend this book for developers who already know some XSLT and want to dig far deeper into the language.
9. XSLT 1.0 Pocket Reference
Cheap, lightweight, and simple to read. Three things that define any great technical guide including this XSLT Pocket Reference .
You’ll notice the title indicates this book was made for XSLT 1.0. There are many other books out that talk about XSLT 2.0 and they might be better options if you’re using version-specific code.
However all the tutorials and explanations in this book are still useable and easy to understand. You can pick up lots of tidbits about XPath, XSLT functions, and even XSLT extensions. This is the best guide for XSLT if you’re willing to pick it up with v1 specs.
I have not seen a small pocket reference guide for XSLT 2.0, so if you need a related book for that I’d recommend the XSLT 2.0 Programmer’s Reference by Michael Kay.
10. XSLT Cookbook
Lastly we come to one of the best books for proficient XSLT developers. Once you understand the basics you’ll want to work on your own projects with real-world applications.
The recipes in XSLT Cookbook: Solutions and Examples for XML and XSLT will prove invaluable to anyone serious about XSLT/XPath development. You get over 100 unique recipes that you can copy and rebuild for your own purposes.
Clocking in at just under 800 pages, this is also one of the largest XSLT reference guides you can find. It’s meant for people who are just past the beginner’s phase but still not experienced enough to feel comfortable building projects from scratch.
The XSLT Cookbook may feel like a reference guide based on its thickness. But this is more like a Q&A resource for solving common problems that you’ll face in XML/XSLT development. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to go further than the basics.
I certainly hope you find something in this post that can help advance your knowledge of XSLT. It’s a difficult language to pick up and there’s not as much chatter about XPath/XSLT development anymore.
But between legacy projects and XML-specific development there’s still a real need for learning XSLT. And these books are the best resources to not only get you started, but also to push you far beyond that point to truly master the language.
Author: Alex Turner
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.