Web Applications with AJAX
page 5 of 7
by Arindam Ghosh
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Flash web applications

Flash is a capable platform that compares adequately to Ajax in terms of web application features. Behind the scenes, the workhorse is ActionScript which also has a direct lineage to EcmaScript. Flash supports XML, as well as transferring XML between the client and server. So a server-side component designed to talk to Ajax clients can also talk to Flash clients without modification.

Flash probably has the upper hand when it comes to the range of web applications it can implement. Flash applications will probably be more usable and user friendly than its Ajax equivalent, owing more to its past uses as a glitzy presentation interface.

Flash's disadvantages lie in its development tools. Yes, Macromedia Flash is known to be an extraordinary rich development tool, but it is expensive.

XUL web applications

XUL applications are going to be a hot topic in up coming years. One project in particular will offer the underpinnings, XulRunner. XUL applications have a stack load of useful components. Recently, a very interesting milestone has been added: rewrite Firefox as a XulRunner application.

XUL and Ajax

The technology behind XUL is almost identical to Ajax except the structure of the front end can be done in HTML, XUL, or a combination of both. Like Ajax, XUL uses JavaScript, CSS and DOM. XUL and Ajax are so closely aligned that switching between the two is far easier than trying to get your head around Flash.

XUL and Ajax score major points over Flash because it requires nothing more than a text editor to develop an application. (In terms of deployment, XUL probably would require a zip application like WinZip). Flash scores on its user interface capabilities, which easily outperform HTML and CSS.

Desktop widgets

Another web application area that has seen an incredible rise of popularity is that of desktop widgets. These are tiny applications that sit on the users desktop doing small tasks like checking for new mail, checking the local weather, football scores and the ubiquitous news ticker.

The surprising feature of these desktop widgets is that they are typically nothing more than HTML (or XML if you prefer) with CSS and JavaScript, along with a smattering of XML (or JSON) for data transfer; everything that comprises a typical web-based application.

The first step is to create an XML file with some data. We will call this file data.xml. It is a simple XML file and would most certainly be more complex in a real-world application, but for clarity our examples will be simple and concise.

Listing 1

<?xml version="1.0"   encoding="UTF-8"?>
This is some sample data. It is stored in an   XML file and retrieved by JavaScript.


Now let us create a simple web page containing some sample data. This is the page that all our JavaScript will be in and the page that users will visit to see the Ajax script in action. Let us call this file ajax.html.

Listing 2

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML   4.01//EN"
   <html lang="en" dir="ltr">
       <meta http-equiv="Content-Type"   content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1">
       <title>Developing Web Applications with Ajax -   Example</title>
       <h1>Developing Web Applications with
       <p>This page demonstrates the use of
   Asynchronous Javascript and XML (Ajax) technology to
       update a web page's content by reading from a remote
   file dynamically -- no page reloading
       is required. Note that this operation does not work
   for users without JavaScript enabled.</p>
       <p id="xmlObj">
       This is some sample data. It is the default data for
   this web page. <a href="data.xml"
       title="View the XML data."
   onclick="ajaxRead('data.xml'); this.style.display='none'; return
   false">View XML data.</a>


Note that we link to the data.xml file for users without JavaScript. For users with JavaScript, the function “ajaxRead” is called, the link is hidden, and the link does not redirect to the data.xml file. The function “ajaxRead” is not defined yet, so if you test the example code above, you will get a JavaScript error. Let us go ahead and define that function (and another) so you can see how Ajax works. The following SCRIPT goes in your HEAD tags.

Listing 3

<script type="text/javascript"><!--
 function ajaxRead(file){
   var xmlObj = null;
       xmlObj = new XMLHttpRequest();
   } else if(window.ActiveXObject){
       xmlObj = new ActiveXObject("Microsoft.XMLHTTP");
   } else {
   xmlObj.onreadystatechange = function(){
     if(xmlObj.readyState == 4){
     xmlObj.open ('GET', file, true);
     xmlObj.send ('');
   function updateObj(obj, data){
    document.getElementById(obj).firstChild.data = data;

That is quite a bit, so let us take this one piece at a time. The first function is “ajaxRead” – what we call from our “View XML data” link on the web page. In the function, we define an “xmlObj” variable – this will be the middleman between the client (user viewing the web page) and the server (the web site itself). We define this object in an if/else chunk.

Listing 4

    xmlObj = new XMLHttpRequest();
 } else if(window.ActiveXObject){
    xmlObj = new ActiveXObject("Microsoft.XMLHTTP");
 } else {

This is just a test for the availability of different objects; some browsers implement the XMLHttpRequest object differently, so when we define “xmlObj” as our XMLHttpRequest object, we have to define it depending on what browser implementation is available. If no XMLHttpRequest object is available, we end the function with a “return” statement to avoid errors. Most of the time this check will return an XMLHttpRequest object; this particular code should work in almost every browser out there, with the exception of some older browsers (it works in IE 5.01, but will cease to function in Netscape 4).

Next is this block.

Listing 5

xmlObj.onreadystatechange = function(){
   if(xmlObj.readyState == 4){
       updateObj('xmlObj', xmlObj.responseXML.getElementsByTagName('data')[0].firstChild.data);

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User Comments

Title: Great Article   
Name: Raul
Date: 2007-05-10 9:38:23 AM
Wonderful article.Easy reading and very interesting and informative
Title: S.E.   
Name: Anil pandey
Date: 2007-04-28 1:10:19 AM
this artiale is realy very intresting. it simplyfies the use of AJAX in our projects
Title: call a serverside method from client site without postback using Ajax   
Name: Ritesh
Date: 2007-03-13 11:03:58 AM
How i will call a serverside method from client site without postback using Ajax ? This is the main use of Ajax which is not described.

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