AJAX when obvious is not so obvious

This days one of the most mentioned terms is AJAX, it seems that everybody knows what does it mean but as my friend Sebastian Rosenfeld says, the obvious is not so obvious, so let’s take a look to the Wikipedia definition.


Ajax, shorthand for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, is a web development technique for creating interactive web applications. The intent is to make web pages feel more responsive by exchanging small amounts of data with the server behind the scenes, so that the entire web page does not have to be reloaded each time the user makes a change. This is meant to increase the web page’s interactivity, speed, and usability.

The Ajax technique uses a combination of:

XHTML (or HTML) and CSS, for marking up and styling information.
The DOM accessed with a client-side scripting language, especially ECMAScript implementations such as JavaScript and JScript, to dynamically display and interact with the information presented.
The XMLHttpRequest object to exchange data asynchronously with the web server. In some Ajax frameworks and in certain situations, an IFrame object is used instead of the XMLHttpRequest object to exchange data with the web server.
XML is sometimes used as the format for transferring data between the server and client, although any format will work, including preformatted HTML, plain text, JSON and even EBML. These files may be created dynamically by some form of server-side scripting.
Like DHTML, LAMP and SPA, Ajax is not a technology in itself, but a term that refers to the use of a group of technologies together.

The first use of the term in public was by Jesse James Garrett in February 2005. Garrett thought of the term while in the shower, when he realized the need for a shorthand term to represent the suite of technologies he was proposing to a client.

Although the term “Ajax” was coined in 2005, most histories of the technologies that enable Ajax start a decade earlier with Microsoft’s initiatives in developing Remote Scripting. Techniques for the asynchronous loading of content on an existing Web page without requiring a full reload date back as far as the IFRAME element type (introduced in Internet Explorer 3 in 1996) and the LAYER element type (introduced in Netscape 4 in 1997, abandoned during early development of Mozilla). Both element types had a src attribute that could take any external URL, and by loading a page containing JavaScript that manipulated the parent page, Ajax-like effects could be attained. This set of client-side technologies was usually grouped together under the generic term of DHTML. Macromedia’s Flash could also, from version 4, load XML and CSV files from a remote server without requiring a browser refresh.

Microsoft’s Remote Scripting (or MSRS, introduced in 1998) acted as a more elegant replacement for these techniques, with data being pulled in by a Java applet with which the client side could communicate using JavaScript. This technique worked on both Internet Explorer version 4 and Netscape Navigator version 4 onwards. Microsoft then created the XMLHttpRequest object in Internet Explorer version 5 and first took advantage of these techniques using XMLHttpRequest in Outlook Web Access supplied with the Microsoft Exchange Server 2000 release.

The Web development community, first collaborating via the microsoft.public.scripting.remote newsgroup and later through blog aggregation, subsequently developed a range of techniques for remote scripting in order to enable consistent results across different browsers. In 2002, a user-community modification to Microsoft Remote Scripting was made to replace the Java applet with XMLHttpRequest.

Remote Scripting Frameworks such as ARSCIF surfaced in 2003 not long before Microsoft introduced Callbacks in ASP.NET.

Since XMLHttpRequest is now implemented across the majority of browsers in use, alternative techniques are used infrequently. However, they are still used where compatibility with older Web sites or legacy applications is required.

In addition, the World Wide Web Consortium has several Recommendations that also allow for dynamic communication between a server and user agent, though few of them are well supported. These would include:

The object element defined in HTML 4 for embedding arbitrary content types into documents, (replaces inline frames under XHTML 1.1)
The Document Object Model (DOM) Level 3 Load and Save Specification

Bandwidth utilization

By generating the HTML locally within the browser, and only bringing down JavaScript calls and the actual data, Ajax web pages can appear to load quickly since the payload coming down is much smaller in size. An example of this technique is a large result set where multiple pages of data exist. With Ajax, the HTML of the page, e.g., a table control and related TD and TR tags can be produced locally in the browser and not brought down with the first page of data. If the user clicks other pages, only the data is brought down, and populated into the HTML generated in the browser.

Ajax applications are mainly executed on the user’s machine, by manipulating the current page within their browser using document object model methods. Ajax can be used for a multitude of tasks such as updating or deleting records; expanding web forms; returning simple search queries; or editing category trees

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