What is Ajax?

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What is Ajax? Ajax is a methodology that fuses existing Web development technologies to produce highly functional and responsive Web sites and services.

Why is it worth watching? Two words: Web services. It is difficult to understate Ajax’ impact on both Web development and Web browsing. As developers have come to embrace it, our expectations of what a Web site can do are undergoing yet another profound shift. Building Web sites that look and feel like desktop applications is one of the key reasons Ajax is amazing. Faster online experiences is another.

When is it coming? It’s already here; in fact, you’ve probably already used dozens of Ajax-enhanced Web sites.

Tell me more. As far as buzzwords go, Ajax takes the cake. Everyone is talking about it. Everyone is doing it, or thinking about doing it. Google is doing it. Microsoft is doing it. Yahoo is doing it. Chances are, most of your favorite Web sites are doing it, even if you’re not aware of it.

Short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, Ajax is not a technology per se. It’s a philosophy. A style. A frame of mind, if you will. The functionality is twofold. By using JavaScript’s client-based functionality and XML’s ability to efficiently and directly deliver specific data, developers have been and will be able to build Web pages with the responsiveness of desktop applications.

The key to developing in the Ajax style is efficiency in requesting and retrieving data. As reported on TechWeb, the idea is for sites to update their content in a background cache so that specific pieces information are ready to display as needed. Rich micro-interactions (managed through the combination of XML and JavaScript) mean that the entire page doesn’t have to reload — only the portion with fresh data actually changes.

This stands in marked contrast to the standard, old-school method of refreshing entire pages to present the user with the few new pieces of data requested.

Google Maps is a classic example of an Ajax Web application. Response times are fast, and the site is able to deliver a surprisingly rapid-to-respond experience that looks and functions more like a “traditional” localized app than a Web page.

Yahoo is also using Ajax in its Flickr photo service. And in the very near future, Microsoft will launch Windows Live (now in beta), an ambitious Web service that will offer users the ability to use several Windows-based applications from a browser window.

The new world of Web services — another twenty-dollar buzzword with actual real-world potential — pretty much owes everything to Ajax developers.

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