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The buzzword “AJAX”… Get more familiar with it.


I decided to write about Ajax because so many people don’t know anything about it. Most of them never heard about it. At least that’s what I find when asking my colleagues and friends in Kuwait University even computer engineering students. The buzzword “Ajax” seems to be a strange word around our community. I wonder if even “Web 2.0” or “Mash-up” is known among computer engineering students here?

If you have been one of the users of the internet for many years, you have noticed the tremendous improvement in web experience. From static ugly looking web pages to fully dynamic web pages with rich user experience and social contribution wikis. From a fully static text web pages to highly user friendly drag and drop web applications.

There are many ways to create RIAs (Rich Internet Application). The most two common methods are JavaScript (with Ajax technique) and Adobe Flash. Those two methods have played a tremendous part in shaping the way the web can be used interactively in modern website. Recently Microsoft announced SilverLight as a new development tool to create RIA which aims to compete with Ajax and Flash.

What is Ajax?

Ajax is the acronym for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. It is based on an XML DOM (Document Object Model) which is an XMLHTTPRequest object, and it is supported by almost all browsers lately. “Ajax isn’t a technology. It’s really several technologies, each flourishing in its own right, coming together in powerful new ways.”(1). It is not a new technique; it has been used before the term was introduced, but only recently it gained popularity. In fact, XMLHttpRequest (XHR) has been used since 1999 when Internet Explorer 5 released.

Why Ajax?

• Less Resource Consumption
The main advantage of Ajax is less resource consumption on the server side. That’s right; you don’t have to load the whole page every time a user clicks on a link. Let’s take Gmail for instance, when you click on one of the links on the menu, it does not reload the whole page. Only part of the page will be reloaded. That’s called “Call on demand”, and it means it only loads what needs to be changed on the webpage. That’s how Google saves bandwidth, by sending less data to users when navigating, and also saves CPU, RAM, and many other resources. Therefore, Google will pay less for providing its email service to users which means that Google will economically gain more profit with their system.

• Faster Browsing
Browsing the website is much faster and less tedious since you are loading only part of the page that is needed to be loaded rather than loading the whole page. It is a big advantage for companies that rely on users to browse their websites to boom their business. The faster the website is loading, the more the user will be comfortable browsing it.

• A Web 2.0 Standard
Ajax is a web 2.0 key component which was defined by O’Reilly. Using it is a big plus. Many companies hire web designers just because they are familiar with web 2.0 standards like Facebook and Flicker. After all, web 2.0 is business hype.
Ajax developers get paid more than non-Ajax developers. Few days ago from the time I write this article, a principal USA Department of Defense agency was looking for Ajax developer, offering salary of $200K a year with no taxes. That’s around $16,500 (5000 K.D) a month.

• Cross Browser and Cross Platform
Ajax works on all servers, even the simplest one. All you need is a server that can show/run html web pages. Ajax can work on your local computer by just opening the webpage file!

Ajax also works with many browsers despite of some inconsistency among popular browsers because Ajax is based on open standards.

• Competes Flash/Flex
I really love Flash ever since Flash 4. But I have to admit it, Ajax in many situations, is much better. Can flash run without plug-in? Hell no! And Ajax in many cases produces a smaller size files than Flash and sometimes runs faster than Flash.

• Compatible with many programming languages
Ajax is compatible with any server-side language such as PHP, ASP, Ruby, Perl and so forth. Heck, Ajax can even work with Adobe Flash/Flex effectively by a JavaScript bridging tool provided by Adobe lately.

and Disadvantages
At the same time, there are number of disadvantage to Ajax. One is that Ajax is based on open standards. That means browsers can freely change how XMLHttpRequest works. But that can be easily overcome by a method commonly used by developers. Some consider open standards as an advantage because it is supported by many browsers and there is no vendor lock-in or monopolizing.

Another disadvantage is the integration with the browser; the common ‘back’ button problem with Ajax and bookmark problem. Making XHR request does not modify the history stack of your browser. Therefore, the ‘back’ button will have some issue and bookmarking the page will not work properly.

There are many advantages and disadvantages for Ajax. Ajax is neither perfect nor bad to be used as a web application. It has gained popularity among top websites and the industry seems to be agreed on using Ajax, no doubt it fueled the web 2.0 movement. Ajax has become a phenomenon that shaped the web and made the internet a happier place. JavaScript 2.0 is being developed by the time I am writing this article, we are looking forward to see what will happen to Ajax when JavaScript 2.0 is out.

(1) by Jesse James Garrett of web design firm Adaptive Path

Foundations of Ajax, by Ryan Asleson and Nathaniel T. Schutta. Apress.
Ajax in Action, by DAVE CRANE and ERIC PASCARELLO. Manning.
Ajax for Web Application Developers , By Kris Hadlock. Sams.
Ajax for Dummies, by Steve Holzner. Wiley.

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