Head First Servlets and JSP: Passing the Sun Certified Web Component Developer Exam

Bryan Basham, Kathy Sierra, Bert Bates (2008)
Review date: March, 2009

This fat, counting 911 pages, book is a lightly written study guide for the SCWCD exam (CX-310-084). Its first three chapters give a light introduction to some networking concepts, web applications and MVC. Then the servlet technology is introduced in the next six chapters. JSP, JSTL and custom tags occupy chapters 7-10. By then, the reader has read 600 pages.

The last chapters are about the remaining topics, such as: web application deployment, security, filters, and design patterns. All chapters end with roughly 10-20 review questions, and the last chapter contains a complete mock exam. What's interesting about both the review questions and the exam is that the number of correct alternatives isn't listed. This makes them more difficult that the ones on the exam.

The book is written in a special style that's supposed to make learning easier. A typical page doesn't contain too much text, important topics are highlighted and repeated in a different font, and there are plenty of photographs of people asking questions or making statements about the contents.

Aadditional exercises like "Code magnets", or "Be the container" are also scattered throughout the book.


This was my first "Head First" book, and I can't say that I approached it with an open mind. To me, the variety of fonts, graphic elements, and pictures of people seemed incredibly stupid. I really expected this to make the reading difficult. In a way I was right. Reading the book the first time was an experience; I had to adjust to the style.

When reading it the second time I really started appreciating what the authors are trying to accomplish, and I even found a favorite person in the book. It's a block-haired negative and sarcastic girl, who always trashes the solutions, and even manages to use the word f**k on page 318. Of course, the authors don't admit to using this word, but a couple of pages later we see the familiar phrase "WTF". Things like this always win me over. Based on this book, I'd say that Head First books are not bad.

How about the contents' value when preparing for the exam? Well, there are pluses and minuses. The book covers pretty much everything, though I had a question or two on my exam that I don't think was covered. These things happen. We can't expect to have third-party books that match the exam objectives to 100%.

A plus is the disposition of the book. A single page doesn't contain that much information, and covers at most one topic. This turned out to be quite good for learning, since I always knew: "I'm on the filter configuration page now", for example.

Another good thing is that the book doesn't shove the API in your face. The exam is API-intensive, but the book manages to spread descriptions of functions and class diagrams evenly throughout its contents.

Not everything is good though. There are two distinctive flaws with this book.

The simple layout and narrative style make reading a pleasure, but finding a particular topic is a pain. The structure of the book doesn't always follow an intuitive view of the API, and the index is poor. There are very few keywords per letter.

Secondly, again due to the reading-friendliness, the book manages to omit gory API details that will hit you on the actual exam. Hard.

Apart from that, I give this book a very high score, and the recommendations to approach it with an open mind and separate notes on the API and JSTL.

Who should read this book

As this is the most frequently recommended book for the SCWCD exam, this is a natural choice for those who study for it.


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