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10.7. Tables

Perhaps as a result of a generic need to be able to describe table layout -- something CSS1 lacks -- CSS2 includes a handful of features that apply directly to tables and table cells. First, there are 10 new table-related values for display:


While the effects of most of these are obvious from their names, at least two may not be familiar to you. table-header-group and floated so far up that it intrudes into a paragraph that has already been displayed by the user agent. In this case, it's up to the user agent to decide whether or not the document should be reflowed. The CSS specifications explicitly state that user agents are not required to reflow previous content to accommodate things which happen later in the document. In other words, if an image is floated up into a previous paragraph, it may simply overwrite whatever was already there. On the other hand, the user agent may handle the situation by flowing content around the float, even though doing so isn't required behavior. Either way, it's probably a bad table-footer-group are used to mark the header and footer of a table. These are displayed, respectively, above or below all the rows of the table, but not outside of the table's caption.

Another interesting effect is that you can align text on a character by using the text-align property. For example, if you wanted to line up a column of figures on a decimal point, you might declare:

TD { text-align: "." }

As long as a set of cells are grouped into a column, their content will be aligned so that the periods all line up along a vertical axis.

Far from relying on existing properties, CSS2 provides a whole array of brand-new properties in the table section. Here are a few of them:

There are also properties describing how visibility and vertical-align are applied to tables. There is also a caption-side property, which functions exactly the same as the ALIGN attribute on the <CAPTION> tag, and the property speak-header-cell, which controls how header cells are handled by speech-generating browsers (more on that later).

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Web-based applications are similar to app servers, except for one thing: Web-based applications don't have client apps, instead they use web browsers on the client side. They generate their front ends using HTML, which is dynamically generated by the web-based app. In the Java world, Servlets are best suited for this job.

Web-based apps might themselves rely on another app server to gather information that is presented on the client web browser. Also, you can write Servlets that get information from remote or local databases, XML document repositories and even other Servlets. One good use for web-based apps is to be a wrapper around an app server, so that you can allow your customers to access at least part of the services offered by your app server via a simple web browser. So web-based apps allow you to integrate many components including app servers, and provide access to this information over the web via a simple web browser.

Web-based apps are very deployable, since they don't require special Java VMs to be installed on the client side, or any other special plug ins, if the creator of the web-based app relies solely on HTML. Unfortunately, this can restrict the level of service that can be offered by a web-based app when compared to the functionality offered by custom clients of an app server, but they are a good compromise when it comes to providing web-based access to your information. In fact, in a real world scenario, both a web-based app and app server may be used together, in order to provide your customers access to their information. In an Intranet setting, you might deploy the clients that come with the app server, and in an Internet setting it would be better to deploy a web-based app that sits on top of this app server, and gives your customers (relatively) limited access to their data over the web (via a simple web browser).

Web-based apps and app servers integrate very well, and this is another reason why Java and XML make a powerful combination for developing systems that give your customers access to their information from anywhere, using any browser over the web. In the future, you can imagine various different web-based apps servicing different kinds of clients, e.g. web browsers on desktops, web browsers on PDAs, and web browsers on all kinds of different consumer electronics devices. By keeping your information structured in a pure way (by using XML), and by allowing access to this information through app servers, you can write many different web-based apps that render this information by customizing it uniquely for each different device that is allowed access to this information. This is more a more scalable solution that storing all this information in web pages, even if these web pages are dynamically generated. So you can have one app server that stores all the data in XML format. You can write a web-based app (which sits on top of this app-server) that allows PalmPilots to access this information over the web. You can write another web-based app (that also sits on top of the same app server) that allows conventional web browsers to access this information over the web. XML and Java have the potential to make this truly platform independent and device independent computing a reality.

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