The XMLHttpRequest object to exchange data asynchronously with the web server. In some Ajax frameworks and in some situations, an IFrame object is used instead of the XMLHttpRequest object to exchange data with the web server.
Like DHTML, LAMP, or SPA, Ajax is not a technology in itself, but a term that refers to the use of a group of technologies together. In fact, derivative/composite technologies based substantially upon Ajax, such as AFLAX, are already appearing.
Ajax applications are mostly executed on the user's computer; they can perform a number of tasks without their performance being limited by the network. This permits the development of interactive applications, in particular reactive and rich graphic user interfaces.
Ajax applications target a well-documented platform, implemented by all major browsers on most existing platforms. While it is uncertain that this compatibility will resist the advent of the next generations of browsers (in particular, Firefox), at the moment, Ajax applications are effectively cross-platform.
While the Ajax platform is more restricted than the Java platform, current Ajax applications effectively fill part of the one-time niche of Java applets: extending the browser with portable, lightweight mini-applications.
Ajax isn’t a technology. It’s really several technologies, each flourishing in its own right, coming together in powerful new ways. Ajax incorporates:
* standards-based presentation using XHTML and CSS;
* dynamic display and interaction using the Document Object Model;
* data interchange and manipulation using XML and XSLT; * asynchronous data retrieval using XMLHttpRequest;
Google is making a huge investment in developing the Ajax approach. All of the major products Google has introduced over the last year — Orkut, Gmail, the latest beta version of Google Groups, Google Suggest, and Google Maps — are Ajax applications. (For more on the technical nuts and bolts of these Ajax implementations, check out these excellent analyses of Gmail, Google Suggest, and Google Maps.) Others are following suit: many of the features that people love in Flickr depend on Ajax, and Amazon’s A9.com search engine applies similar techniques.
These projects demonstrate that Ajax is not only technically sound, but also practical for real-world applications. This isn’t another technology that only works in a laboratory. And Ajax applications can be any size, from the very simple, single-function Google Suggest to the very complex and sophisticated Google Maps.
At Adaptive Path, we’ve been doing our own work with Ajax over the last several months, and we’re realizing we’ve only scratched the surface of the rich interaction and responsiveness that Ajax applications can provide. Ajax is an important development for Web applications, and its importance is only going to grow. And because there are so many developers out there who already know how to use these technologies, we expect to see many more organizations following Google’s lead in reaping the competitive advantage Ajax provides.
The biggest challenges in creating Ajax applications are not technical. The core Ajax technologies are mature, stable, and well understood. Instead, the challenges are for the designers of these applications: to forget what we think we know about the limitations of the Web, and begin to imagine a wider, richer range of possibilities
AJAX definitely has the buzz right now, but it might not be the right thing for you. AJAX is limited to the latest browsers, exposes browser compatibility issues, and requires new skill-sets for many. There is a good blog entry by Alex Bosworth on AJAX Mistakes which is a good read before you jump full force into AJAX.
On the other hand you can achieve highly interactive rich web applications that are responsive and appear really fast. While it is debatable as to whether an AJAX based application is really faster, the user feels a sense of immediacy because they are given active feedback while data is exchanged in the background. If you are an early adopter and can handle the browser compatibility issues, and are willing to learn some more skills, then AJAX is for you. It may be prudent to start off AJAX-ifying a small portion or component of your application first. We all love technology, but just remember the purpose of AJAX is to enhance your user's experience and not hinder it.
Absolutely. Java is a great fit for AJAX! You can use Java Enterprise Edition servers to generate AJAX client pages and to serve incoming AJAX requests, manage server side state for AJAX clients, and connect AJAX clients to your enterprise resources. The JavaServer Faces component model is a great fit for defining and using AJAX components.
You may be benefiting from AJAX already. Many existing Java based frameworks already have some level of AJAX interactions and new frameworks and component libraries are being developed to provide better AJAX support. I won't list all the Java frameworks that use AJAX here, out of fear of missing someone, but you can find a good list at www.ajaxpatterns.org/Java_Ajax_Frameworks.