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AJAX: A Gift from the Computer Gods

Technology has enabled mankind to make great strides from landing on the moon, to speaking on cell phones, to the advent of the Internet. Speaking of the web, software and applications are being originated with great alacrity. It is as if you need your brain to be running at high cable speeds in order to internalize all of the options and advancements being offered. Well, it is too late to slow down now.

"All appears to change when we change."
New Evolution
AJAX, short for asynchronous Java Script and XML, is a web development technique for engineering interactive web applications. It was invented with the hopes of allowing web pages to react quickly by exchanging small amounts of data with the server (in a covert fashion) without the need of the entire web page to be reloaded with every change request. This ability facilitates interactivity, speed, and usability.

An example of AJAX in action is the applications of Google Suggest and Google Maps. In using the former, suggested terms appear and modify themselves as the user types instantaneously. The latter allows the user to zoom in, use the cursor to apprehend the map and scroll around without the page needing to be reloaded.

AJAX represents a synergy of technologies infused together to allow powerful possibilities.
AJAX entails:

- Standards-based presentation using XHTML and CSS

- Versatile display and usability using the Document Object Model

- Data interaction and modification using XML and XSLT

- Asynchronous data retrieval suing XMLHttpRequest

- With JavaScript enabling it all to congeal

How it Works
Before AJAX, web application worked by:

- User actions in the interface prompting an HTTP request back to the server

- Then the server undergoing processing: gathering data, manipulating numbers, communicating with other systems, etc.

- Then returning to the HTML page

The process needs to be celebrated as an event of technology, but while the server is working the user is waiting. Again, we cannot completely frown on these events with our hindsight of 20/20. It was a marvel at the time, but AJAX has enabled something better. When an interface is loaded why does the interaction have to come to a halt with each request from the user? Why does the application have to go to the server at all? Now it doesnt.

"There can be change without progress, but not progress without change."

An AJAX application is equipped with an AJAX engine filling the gap between the user and the server. This middle man does not prolong the process but expedites the process. An AJAX engine written in JavaScript and remaining incognito behind a frame is responsible for presenting the interface the user views and interacting with the server for the user. The interactions happen asynchronously (independent of relations with the server). The user never views a blank browser window or hourglass icon.

User actions that would warrant an HTTP request is replaced by a JavaScript call to the AJAX engine. Data validation, editing data in memory, and some navigation is handled solely by the AJAX engine. The engine will make requests for information from the server asynchronously (usually using XML) without prolonging the users interaction.

Whos Hip? Google has taken great stock in AJAX. All major products Google has released recently (Orkut, Gmail, Google Groups, Google Suggest, and Google Maps) use the AJAX approach. Do you like some of the more fancy features present in Flickr?

Guess what is responsible for the usability technology? AJAX is versatile enough to use in small to large applications and is technically sound. AJAX is an exciting development for web applications. Its proliferation is only going to grow as time goes on. There are many web developers that already know how to use the technology, so we expect other organizations to follow the moves of Google.

The limitations for AJAX are not in relation to the applications; they are in relation to taking advantage of the possibilities. It will be up to innovative web designers to revolutionize the possibilities that will take place in the near future.

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