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  • Ajax

What is AJAX?

Even if you're not well-versed in coding or scripting, if you have a website, it's helpful to understand Asynchronous JavaScript and Extended Markup Language (XML)—AJAX, for short—and its importance in creating effective pages for your website.

AJAX is a scripting method that uses JavaScript and to give your pages modular data processing. It's called asynchronous because it allows for single or multiple parts of the page to be updated without requiring the whole page to be updated; the parts of the page do not have to “sync” with one another, but can receive and process information independently from one another.


So what, exactly, would the average website owner use AJAX to create? Well, it's very useful when combined with a customer's login information to provide customized shipping information based on that customer's physical location. Or let's say your company has several real-world locations, and you provide an interactive map that allows site visitors to plot their course from home to your nearest retail store.

AJAX is what allows users to interact with the map and receive custom results without needing to refresh the entire page every time they click another part of the map or enter new information.

You can also use AJAX to serve multimedia content in a custom player, or pull information from a new user's social media profiles on Facebook or Twitter to create a new customer account on your site. The possibilities are limited only by your server resources (and your budget for the same).

Because it can be used with any scripting language that supports JavaScript (including PHP HyperText Preprocessor (PHP), Python, Perl, etc.), AJAX enjoys nearly universal support, and doesn't add to your monthly hosting budget.

However, in order to take advantage of its capabilities, you will need to be familiar with HyperText Markup Language (HTML), XML, and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) in addition to JavaScript and XML, so make sure you've either done your homework or hired a trusty code-savvy pro to help before you begin using it to build your site.

Pros and cons of using AJAX

Like all tools in the developer’s arsenal, AJAX comes with its share of pros and cons.

We already listed a number of potential benefits – AJAX can improve the user experience by speeding up page rendering and improving response times. It can reduce server and network loads through better efficiency and resource utilisation, offer multibrowser support ‘out of the box’ and help in the development of platform- and architecture-agnostic web based applications.

However, the list trade-offs is just as extensive. If not properly optimised, an AJAX implementation can cause performance issues by creating a nearly constant interaction between the browser and server. It also requires internet access, which may be an issue in certain niches.

While AJAX provides developers with a greater level of freedom and a range of features for web-based applications, it is still relatively limited. AJAX’s local data storage and hardware interaction capabilities remain limited.

Dealing with multimedia rich content and real-time graphics is an issue, too. Therefore it often necessary to resort to other platforms to fill the gaps. For a long time Flash fulfilled this purpose, but the industry’s love affair with flash ended a few years ago.

Since it depends on JavaScript, a serious and feature-rich AJAX implementation requires relatively good knowledge of JavaScript, thus limiting its appeal. Support for JavaScript in mobile and desktop browsers can be an issue, negating some of the advantages of web-based apps. Reliance on JavaScript also results in indexing issues and SEO concerns, i.e. lack of SEO-friendly URLs.

Security may be another issue. Although there is nothing inherently insecure about AJAX, it is still affected with most security problems associated with web-based appse. Luckily AJAX has been around for years and the risks can be mitigated, but less experienced developers still need to exercise caution.

From an end-user perspective, AJAX can cause some navigation and accessibility issues. For example, AJAX navigation does not depend on changing the URL, thus rendering ‘back’ and ‘refresh’ browser commands useless. This problem is usually addressed by designers and AJAX friendly user interfaces.

Another potential problem is JavaScript support, which may be disabled on the user side for a number of reasons. This issue is usually addressed by developing a non-AJAX version of the website, which is a practical solution, but it still requires web developers to expend valuable resources and time.

Ajax Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is AJAX and how is it different to JavaScript and XML?

    It’s not different, AJAX stands for asynchronous JavaScript and XML, and it’s a set of development techniques used to create web applications. The asynchronous element means that the applications and send or retrieve data from the server asynchronously, in the background. This means only certain elements of the website can be updated, without refreshing the whole browser window.

  • What exactly is AJAX used for?

    AJAX is a widely used group of technologies used in various combinations to create content rich websites and applications. It can use JSON, HTML, CSS and other standards to deliver a better user experience and more interactivity. AJAX can also be used to serve audio or video content, integrate with social networks and more.

  • Why is AJAX so popular? Why is it widely used?

    AJAX is the de-facto industry standard because it can be used with practically any scripting language capable of supporting JavaScript, such as PHP, Perl, Python and others. In the style department, AJAX relies on HTML, CSS, XML and JavaScript, allowing developers to create content-rich environments without too much coding.

  • How many AJAX frameworks are out there? What about server support for different frameworks?

    Hundreds of different frameworks are used for AJAX development. JavaScript is the most commonly used frameworks for browser-side development, while Java frameworks are used for server-side AJAX operations. PHP, Ruby, Python and .NET frameworks are available as well. Most of them are cross-platform solutions and since they are widely used, you should have no server compatibility issues.

  • How demanding is AJAX in terms of hosting?

    It really depends on what you plan to do, and how you do it. If you fail to properly optimize AJAX sites, you could create a lot of performance issues. Basically, a poor AJAX implementation will use the asynchronous approach to creating too much interaction between the browser and server. However, if it’s done right, you should have no problems.

  • What about storage and bandwidth?

    All content rich sites tend to eat up a lot of bandwidth and storage, and AJAX is no exception. Using a lot of content can obviously take a toll on bandwidth and storage, while poor optimization can lead to higher CPU loads, even more bandwidth waste, and other issues. Luckily, AJAX is still very popular and you should have no trouble finding skilled developers who will make the most of your server’s resources.

  • Can AJAX reduce bandwidth usage?

    Yes, a good AJAX implementation can significantly reduce the number of requests by using the browser to generate HTML. This also results in lower response times, improving user experience. This is especially true if you need to update only certain elements on the site since AJAX can target those elements instead of reloading the whole page.

  • Are there any compatibility issues I should be aware of?

    Not really. AJAX relies on widely used standards and technologies. However, it used to have problems with some browsers in the past. Most of these issues have been ironed out over the years, so you shouldn’t experience any compatibility issues on the client or server side.

  • My business revolves around SEO. Why is AJAX not that good for search engine rankings?

    Dynamically rendered content is usually not visible to search engines, so AJAX sites that rely on a lot of dynamic content don’t tend to score that well in search rankings. Web crawlers don’t execute JavaScript. Some URL tweaks are necessary as well.

  • What are the most common hosting problems associated with AJAX?

    It’s hard to say – AJAX relies on a number of different standards and technologies. If any of these components starts to misbehave, you could be in trouble. Fortunately, most of them tend to run like clockwork and most hosts frequently update all AJAX-related components.

  • Is AJAX free? Will it add to my hosting bill?

    Yes, AJAX is a web standard and is free. It’s a collection of several web technologies which are free to use, such as HTML, CSS, XML and so on. Using AJAX should not cause any additional costs.

  • What about AJAX development, the learning curve?

    AJAX can greatly increase application development because it can be used with a range of different technologies. The downside is that the learning curve for AJAX applications can be steep, depending on what you plan to use it for.

  • I am concerned about security. Since AJAX is handled by the client-side, won’t this create potential security issues?

    These risks can be mitigated, but client-side security is always a concern. It shares the same vulnerabilities associated with other web based apps. It’s always a good idea to use experienced developers for AJAX, and serious developers who keep track of the latest security updates.

  • What do I need to look out for when choosing an AJAX host?

    This depends on your choice of various components which you will use in your projects. There is no simple answer, you just have to pick a host that caters to your specific needs and provides the latest versions of technologies used in AJAX development.

  • Can AJAX be used for complex websites rather than playful web apps?

    Yes, AJAX serves as the backbone for many big services such as Google Maps, and vBulletin forums.

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