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Coding in Ajax. What is AJAX Programming Anyway?

If you use AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript and XML), you're in good company. Google has opted for it at points along the way, to develop or improve products like Google Suggest, Google Maps, and Gmail.

AJAX is also used in applications where the user creates something online. This includes some photo-editing sites and some sites where products are designed to be fashioned or printed on demand. Zazzle is a very well-known company that based its success on AJAX.

AJAX was used to develop many RSS feeds and readers, the most famous of which is surely Google Reader.

For a list of other sites that use, or have used, AJAX, you can visit AJAX Impact. You’ll see RSS feeds and readers, the most famous of which is surely Google Reader. You’ll also find a few web-based word processors like Writely.

Among the functions of Ajax is search. With AJAX, a search box can make suggestions as the user types – a good example of asynchronicity! "Asynchronous" means that the server and interface are in constant communication, but only part of a webpage is updated. AJAX allows for dynamic interfaces where data is delivered without refreshing the page (or interrupting the user). Less bandwidth is used. In short, AJAX is a big part of what makes Web 2.0 what it is.

AJAX can be helpful if you want to work for a Web 2.0 or e-commerce company or if you want to create a startup of your own. Are there any downsides to working in AJAX? A programmer may do well to add it to their bag of tricks, but doesn't generally use it to create a whole site! There are now workarounds that allow AJAX to be read by some search engines, but it's generally considered a non-indexable computer language. There's also a danger of page views not being recorded.

AJAX is a big part of what makes Web 2.0 what it is.

History of AJAX

Ajax is open source and thus accessible. As the name implies, AJAX combines Java and XML – or at least it used to. Web technologies are constantly evolving, and Mozilla Developer Network reports that JSON is now more common than XML. CSS and HTML or HXTML are also part of the mix. The term AJAX was not used until 2005, but development had been underway for several years; it can’t be credited to just one organization or individual. Development of asynchronous technologies began around 1996. In the late 90’s, Microsoft used a forerunner to AJAX. Google, meanwhile, used asynchronous technologies heavily in applications like Google Maps in the first decade of the 21st century.

In 2005, developer Jesse James Garrett wrote a paper “Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications” describing this group of new technologies. He felt that the conglomerate needed a short name that summed it up. “Asynchronous JavaScript+CSS+DOM+XMLHttpRequest “ he noted with a touch of humor, was difficult to discuss with clients. (He also reported that while he had discussed Google’s use in some depth, no one really owned the set of technologies.)

It’s not just different languages that have “cooperated” to create Ajax – it’s also some of the biggest names in the computer industry. In 2006, the Open Ajax Alliance was formed with companies like Google, Red Hat, and IBM on board. The mission was – and is – to provide users with interoperable Ajax solutions. It’s a good site to bookmark if you want to stay current.

Ajaxian, meanwhile, is not an official site, but it’s been kept current on into 2012. (The web may not be as friendly to computer languages as they are to it; often the resources that come to the top of search are years old.)

Learning AJAX

You don't have to enroll in classes to learn AJAX, though. The Mozilla Developer Center has an attractive and well organized set of resources – you can even find a link to Garret’s 2005 paper. IBM’s AJAX Resource Center is another spot to visit. On SitePoint, you’ll find articles about specific uses of AJAX.

You generally attempt AJAX after you've got the basics of programming down. [Check out undergraduate computer science programs]

The OpenAJAX Alliance is an authority site that will interest you long after you’ve learned the language. If your company works with AJAX technologies, it may become part of the Alliance.

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