Ajax to cleanse Web development

Web interaction is getting a facelift through the Ajax Web development approach, which boosts client-side interaction in Internet applications.

Coined by Jesse James Garrett, founder of consulting firm Adaptive Path, the term Ajax stands for Asynchronous JavaScript plus XML. Cascading Style Sheets also is a key technology applied to Ajax.

"What it is, is it's a way of constructing Web applications on the client side," Garrett said on Tuesday. "The benefit is we're able to deliver a much more responsive experience to the user."

In the traditional Web interaction model, the browser pushes data to the server, which then pushes data back. "In the interim, the user is essentially staring at a blank screen. They're waiting for something to happen," Garrett said. With an Ajax application, users continue to interact with the application while it is communicating with the server, Garrett said.

When developing via Ajax, developers write an Ajax engine in JavaScript, which provides rendering of an application's user interface and communicates with the server. This engine enables interactions with the application to occur asynchronously.

Ajax has been used by companies such as Google with its Google Maps application, according to Garrett. He was interviewed during the Adaptive Path O'Reilly Ajax summit meeting in San Francisco. The session attracted about 30 developers.

Elements of Ajax have been around since 1998, said Garrett, who published a white paper on Ajax in February.

While Macromedia's Flash can be viewed as a competing technology to Ajax, since both deliver rich Web experiences, Garrett said Ajax and Flash actually are compatible. Ajax enables development of smaller Flash components that reduce the load time normally needed for Flash.

Kinks are still being worked out of Ajax, such as concerns about compatability of browser implementations. Extra work is required by the developer to ensure consistency across browsers, said Garrett.

Security also is a concern, since Ajax puts more business logic on the client. "People have to make smart choices," about which logic goes on the client and server sides, Garrett said.

Tools for Ajax have included the Ruby on Rails development environment. But there are opportunities for commercial vendors to provide frameworks, toolkits and components for rapid development based on Ajax, Garrett said. Ajax toolkits are being developed to communicate with a wide variety of server platforms, including PHP and ASP.Net, he said. Ajax does requires closer attention to design issues, Garrett said.

Garrett is convinced of Ajax's benefits. "This allows us to deliver richer, more dynamic experiences to users building on Web technologies and techniques that are already well understood by Web developers," he said.

Ajax might be the next big breakthrough in Web development. A growing movement could be afoot.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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