Ajax (web technology)

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Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) is a JavaScript programming technique that allows JavaScript running in a local web browser to fetch content from a web server in the background. The JavaScript then places the newly fetched information into the web page without reloading the entire page. Use of XHTML, an XML-conform version of HTML 4, instead of the more relaxed HTML means that JavaScript can use the standardized XHTML DOM to correctly identify the sections of the web page to be updated. Recent progress in JavaScript standards, and browser support of those standards, has made Ajax'd web pages more common. The term Ajax (also written as AJAX) was coined by Jesse James Garrett in an article called "Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications",[1] who defines it as a combination of several technologies that come together in powerful ways to enhance the web browsing experience of the user.

The user interface improvement that an Ajax approach can bring is the reduction of the "refresh cycle" - pages do not need to be refreshed for each interaction, which enables designers to produce richer interfaces.

To simplify the development of web sites and applications using the Ajax approach, many turn to a variety of JavaScript libraries, like jQuery, the Yahoo! UI Library, Prototype and Dojo. Some back-end web frameworks also come with built-in techniques to make developing Ajax components easier - for instance, Ruby on Rails lets you create "partials" which can be called via XMLHttpRequest.

Browsers implement Ajax in different ways. Most browsers do this by having a native XMLHttpRequest object, although one can simulate this object in older browsers using the XMLHTTP ActiveX object, or by using Flash or frames. The World Wide Web Consortium and the WHAT WG have been pushing for better standardization of XMLHttpRequest as part of the push towards HTML 5.


[edit] Related standards

Ajax programming may require familiarity with a range of standards, including:

Although the Ajax acronym includes the word XML, it is important to note that Ajax calls do not necessarily use XML as the wire format (data encoding for the HTTP request and response). The wire format could just as easily be JSON(JavaScript Object Notation), HTML, or plain text, depending on the situation.

Despite its name, Ajax does not have to be asynchronous, and sometimes it is erroneously applied to be a simple function in a JavaScript library. An "Ajax" call to a web server is usually an asynchronous (non-blocking) call; thus, a callback function must be specified which will execute when the web server responds.

Except perhaps for JavaScript,the above mentioned technologies are not mandatory for creating an Ajax-like functionality. For instance, one could use an IFrame that contains a document that uses META Refresh to poll and update content on a portion of the IFrame's parent element.

[edit] What makes Ajax different?

Difference between the classical web application model and the Ajax web application model

In the classical web application model, the user makes an http (hyper text transfer protocol) request to a server using a browser. The server receives the user's request and takes the appropriate actions - interacting with the data stores, doing back end processing, talking to various legacy systems etc. The content thus generated is sent to the user (in HTML) as the response. This is how the basic Client-Server Model works on the web. This model makes a lot of technical sense, but it is not that great for the user. This is because after a user makes a request to the server, he had to wait till the time the server finishes the required processing and sends an HTML page as the response.

An Ajax application is different from the tradtional page based web application as Ajax introduces an intermediary between the user and the server - An Ajax engine, which eliminates the start-stop-start-stop nature of client-server interaction. When a web page loads and a new session starts, the browser loads and Ajax engine (written in JavaScript and residing in a hidden frame). This engine becomes responsible for what the user sees and what is sent to the server on behalf of the user. The Ajax engine allows the asynchronous interaction of the user with the web application (independent of the communication with the server). Thus, the user does not have to wait for the server to process any request. The user can actively interact with the web application after making request(s), while the server does the required processing in the back.

[edit] Critique

[edit] Benefits

Ajax has come a long way since the time it was introduced. It has become so popular because of the benefits it has over the traditional page wise style of website creation. Some of its major benefits are:

[edit] Drawbacks

In addition to the benefits, Ajax has some drawbacks as well:

[edit] Applications of Ajax on the Web

The popularity of Ajax has become enormous since the time it was introduced. This is clear by the number of Ajax-based web applications that have crawled on to the World Wide Web.

The web applications described in this section demonstrate that Ajax is practical for real-world applications, in addition to being technically sound. Ajax applications can be any size - from the very simple, single-function Google Suggest; to the very complex and sophisticated Google Maps.

[edit] Gmail

Gmail was one of the first mainstream applications to use Ajax (even though the term had not been coined by then).The many features of Gmail that make use of Ajax include:

[edit] Facebook

Facebook Ajaxed their website in a number of ways. Then number of ajaxed features on facebook has increased rapidly since the time it was first implemented. Some features of facebook that include Ajax are as follows: -

[edit] Implementation Example of Ajax

[edit] Ajax implementation using XMLHttpRequest

The XMLHttpRequest object provides the most complete option for making Ajax calls.It is not supported by all browsers.Older versions of Safari and Opera do not have XMLHttpRequest support.ActiveX must be enabled in IE 5 and 6.

The XMLHttpRequest class is a generic HTTP client for JavaScript, originally designed by Microsoft to allow Internet Explorer to load XML documents from JavaScript(in IE, XMLHttpRequest is an ActiveX object).The method allows for JavaScript to make GET and POST HTTP requests.Synchronous as well as asynchronous forms of communication are possible.Due to security restrictions HTTP(S) requests can only be made to the same domain as the currently loaded page.Although a limitation,it not only enhances security but also provides a simpler programming model.This lets JavaScript code implicitly trust any data it loads from XMLHttpRequest.

An object is declared using the new XMLHttpRequest() call.In IE an ActiveX object needs to be declared( new ActiveXObject("MSXML2.XMLHTTP.3.0")).

The main methods associated with this object include:


Other methods like serRequestHeader,getResponseHeader,abort are also quite useful.Some methods are browser specific.

XMLHttpRequest also provides a number of properties like status,statusText,readyState etc.Mozilla Firefox provides event handlers like onerror,onprogress and onload.

An example JavaScript code which uses open to set up a synchronous GET request to index.html:

  var request=new XMLHttpRequest();       //Object Declaration
  request.open('GET','index.html',false); //False means it is not asynchronous
  request.send(null);                     //Payload is Null for GET
    alert('Access denied');
    alert(request.responseText);          //The responseText is String type

[edit] References

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