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The Client Guide to AJAX

Published on 24th September, 2008 by Stephen Lewis

Ajax, the Greek hero

No, not that Ajax.

AJAX is an acronym used to describe the practise of updating the content of a web page without reloading the entire page.

By sending and receiving information “in the background”, web sites using AJAX can feel very responsive, and much more akin to a desktop application than a traditional web site. For this reason, AJAX is heavily used by web-based applications such as Google Mail.

AJAX suffers from a number of potential usability and accessibility problems, which should be carefully considered before it’s used on a web site. The principal issues are:

What’s in an acronym?

AJAX stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. Here’s what that means.

Asynchronous
Web sites are traditionally “synchronous”, meaning that events happen one at a time — you click a link, you wait for the page to reload, you continue. Asynchronous web pages can send and receive information “in the background”, enabling you to continue with other tasks (even if that’s just reading the page) without waiting.
JavaScript
JavaScript is a scripting language. It is used to send and receive information, and update content, without reloading the page.
XML
XML is itself an acronym, standing for “eXtensible Markup Language”. XML is used to structure the information being sent and received by JavaScript.

Examples of AJAX in action

Further reading

Each “Client Guide” typically includes a few links to further (non-technical) information on the subject in hand.

Unfortunately, AJAX is pretty nerdy stuff, and we were unable to find any non-technical information out there. If you stumble across something worthwhile, please let us know, and we’ll update this article.

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