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AJAX "leaves click-and-wait Web paradigm in the dust"

AJAX is a combination of programming tools and Web technologies that allows content on Web pages to update immediately, unlike an HTTP request.

If you're a Web developer, you've already started hearing a lot about AJAX. AJAX is a combination of existing programming tools and Web technologies that, according to Nate L. Root of Forrester Research, "leaves the click-and-wait Web paradigm in the dust and enables sleek online apps that feel more like thick client software than Web pages — all without running afoul of the standards police."

What AJAX does, basically, is allow content on Web pages to update immediately when a user performs an action, unlike an HTTP request, during which users must wait for a whole new page to load.

Here's how it works: Applications created with AJAX use an engine that acts as an intermediary between a user's browser and the server from which it is requesting information. Instead of loading a traditional Web page, the user's browser loads the AJAX engine, which displays the page the user sees. The engine continues to run in the background, using JavaScript to communicate with the Web browser. User input or clicking on the page sends a JavaScript call to the AJAX engine, which can respond instantly in many cases. If the engine needs additional data, it requests it from the server, usually using XML, while it is simultaneously updating the page.

Perhaps the best-known application to use AJAX is Google Maps. The interface allows the user to change views and manipulate the map in real time.

Some observers suggest that AJAX may be overhyped. Forrester's Root calls it "more like a different flavor of Java Applets than a complete Web revolution." Blogger Alex Bosworth thinks its power may lead to dangers for Web developers, as far as introducing UI and server load problems.

While you'll undoubtedly be hearing more about AJAX on in the months ahead, you can already read several stories to bring you up to speed. In fact, we've already had our first AJAX-related tip.

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