XML documents contain regular but flexible structures. Developers can use those structures as a framework on which to build powerful transformative and reporting applications, as well as to establish connections between different parts of documents. XPath and XPointer are two W3C-created technologies that make these structures accessible to applications. XPath is used for locating XML content within an XML document; XPointer is the standard for addressing such content, once located. The two standards are not typically used in isolation but in support of two critical extensions to the core of XML: Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT) and XLink, respectively. They are also finding wide use in other applications that need to reference parts of documents. These two closely related technologies provide the underpinning of an enormous amount of XML processing.
Presumably, if you're browsing a book like this, you already know the rudiments of XML itself. You may have experimented with XSLT but, if so, haven't completely mastered it. (You can't do much in XSLT without first becoming comfortable with at least the basics of XPath.) Similarly, you may have experimented with XLinks; in this case, you've probably focused on linking to entire documents other than the one containing the link. XPointer will be your tool of choice for linking to portions of documents — external to or within the document where the XLink reference is made.
As support for XPath is integrated into the Document Object Model (DOM), DOM developers may also find XPath a convenient alternative to walking through document trees. Finally, developers interested in hypertext and other applications where references may have to cross node boundaries will find a thorough explanation of XPointer, the leading technology for creating those references.
If you don't yet understand XML (including XML namespaces) and have never looked at XSLT, you probably need to start with an XML book. John E. Simpson's Just XML (Prentice-Hall PTR) and Erik Ray's Learning XML (O'Reilly & Associates) are both good places to start.