Set - 2

Question 1 :

Do Ajax applications always deliver a better experience than traditional web applications?

Answer :

Not necessarily. Ajax gives interaction designers more flexibility. However, the more power we have, the more caution we must use in exercising it. We must be careful to use Ajax to enhance the user experience of our applications, not degrade it.


Question 2 :

What JavaScript libraries and frameworks are available?

Answer :

There are many libraries/frameworks out there (and many more emerging) that will help abstract such things as all the nasty browser differences. Three good libraries are The Dojo Toolkit, Prototype, and DWR.

* The Dojo Toolkit contains APIs and widgets to support the development of rich web applications. Dojo contains an intelligent packaging system, UI effects, drag and drop APIs, widget APIs, event abstraction, client storage APIs, and AJAX interaction APIs. Dojo solves common usability issues such as support for dealing with the navigation such as the ability to detect the browser back button, the ability to support changes to the URL in the URL bar for bookmarking, and the ability to gracefully degrade when AJAX/JavaScript is not fully support on the client. Dojo is the Swiss Army Knife of JavaScript libraries. It provides the widest range of options in a single library and it does a very good job supporting new and older browsers.
* Prototype focuses on AJAX interactions including a JavaScript AJAX object that contains a few objects to do basic tasks such as make a request, update a portion of a document, insert content into a document, and update a portion of a document periodically. Prototype JavaScript library contains a set of JavaScript objects for representing AJAX requests and contains utility functions for accessing in page components and DOM manipulations. Script.aculo.us and Rico are built on top of Prototype and provide UI effects, support for drag and drop, and include common JavaScript centric widgets. If you are just looking to support AJAX interactions and a few basic tasks Prototype is great. If you are looking for UI effects Rico and Script.aculo.us are good options.
* Yahoo UI Library is a utility library and set of widgets using the APIs to support rich clients. The utility library includes support for cross-browser AJAX interactions, animation, DOM scriptging support, drag and drop, and cross browser event support. The Yahoo UI Library is well documnented and contains many examples.
* DWR (Dynamic Web Remoting) is a client-side and server-side framework that focuses on allowing a developer to do RPC calls from client-side JavaScript to plain old Java objects in a Java Enterprise Edition web container. On the server side DWR uses a Servlet to interact with the Java objects and returns object representations of the Java objects or XML documents. DWR will be easy to get up and running and plays well with other Java technologies. If you are looking for a client-side and server-side framework that integrates well use DWR.
* Google Web Toolkit (GWT) is client/server framework provided by Google that allows a developer to write an AJAX application in pure Java. The GWT takes care of the details of generating all the client-side code using a Java-to-JavaScript compiler. One of the key benefits of the GWT Software Developer Kit (SDK) is that it allows you to debug your applications in what is known as GWT hosted mode using an embedded browser (IE on Windows and Mozilla/Gecko on Linux) that is tied to the toolkit. In GWT hosted mode you setup through the code and debug it as it is running on both the client and server. The GWT contains a default set of widgets and widget containers. An application is built by coding a set of widgets and containers together much like would be done in a Swing application. The GWT Software Developer Kit (SDK) is limited to Linux and Windows XP/2000 though the web applications it generates are compatible with the latest generation of the mainstream browsers.

There are many new and emerging libraries for JavaScript and this list only reviews some of the more common libraries. When making a choice choose the library which suites your needs the best. While it might be better to choose one, there is nothing stopping you from using more than one framework. For a more extensive list of client-side frameworks see: Survey of AJAX/JavaScript Libraries.


Question 3 :

What is the difference between proxied and proxyless calls?

Answer :

Proxied calls are made through stub objects that mimic your PHP classes on the JavaScript side. E.g., the helloworld class from the Hello World example.
Proxyless calls are made using utility javascript functions like HTML_AJAX.replace() and HTML_AJAX.append().


Question 4 :

Should I use XML or text, JavaScript, or HTML as a return type?

Answer :

It depends. Clearly the 'X' in AJAX stands for XML, but several AJAX proponents are quick to point out that nothing in AJAX, per se, precludes using other types of payload, such as, JavaScript, HTML, or plain text.

* XML - Web Services and AJAX seem made for one another. You can use client-side API's for downloading and parsing the XML content from RESTful Web Services. (However be mindful with some SOAP based Web Services architectures the payloads can get quite large and complex, and therefore may be inappropriate with AJAX techniqes.)
* Plain Text - In this case server-generated text may be injected into a document or evaluated by client-side logic.
* JavaScript - This is an extension to the plain text case with the exception that a server-side component passes a fragment of JavaScript including JavaScript object declarations. Using the JavaScript eval() function you can then create the objects on the client. JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), which is a JavaScript object based data exchange specification, relies on this technique.
* HTML - Injecting server-generated HTML fragments directly into a document is generally a very effective AJAX technique. However, it can be complicated keeping the server-side component in sync with what is displayed on the client.

Mashup is a popular term for creating a completely new web application by combining the content from disparate Web Services and other online API's. A good example of a mashup is housingmaps.com which graphically combines housing want-ads from craiglist.org and maps from maps.google.com.


Question 5 :

Are there Usability Issues with AJAX?

Answer :

The nature of updating a page dynamically using data retrieved via AJAX interactions and DHTML may result in drastically changing the appearance and state of a page. A user might choose to use the browser's back or forward buttons, bookmark a page, copy the URL from the URL bar and share it with a friend via an email or chat client, or print a page at any given time. When designing an AJAX based application you need to consider what the expected behavior would be in the case of navigation, bookmarking, printing, and browser support as described below.

* Navigation - What would be the expected behavior of the back, forward, refresh, and bookmark browser buttons in your application design. While you could implement history manipulation manually it may be easer to use a JavaScript frameworks such as Dojo that provides API's history manipulation and navigation control.
* Bookmarking and URL sharing - Many users want to bookmark or cut and paste the URL from the browser bar. Dojo provides client-side for bookmarking and URL manipulation.
* Printing - In some cases printing dynamically rendered pages can be problematic.
Other considerations as a developer when using AJAX are:
* Browser Support - Not all AJAX/DHTML features are supported on all browsers or all versions of a browser. See quirksmode.org for a list of browser support and possible workarounds.
* JavaScript disabled - You should also consider what happens if the user disables JavaScript. Additionally, there are several legitimate reasons why JavaScript and CSS support may be unavailable on a user's web browser.
* Latency - Keep in mind latency in your design. A running application will be much more responsive than when it is deployed.
Latency problems: myth or reality?
* Accessibility - Guaranteeing your site is accessible to people with disabilities is not only a noble goal, it is also requited by law in many markets. Some marvelous enabling technology is available to help people use the Web in spite of disabilities including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. With a little forethought, and comprehension of some well documented best practices, you can assure that your application is compatible with that enabling technology.
Degradability is the term used to describe techniques used by web applications to adapt to the wide range of web browser capabilities. Many AJAX libraries have automatic degradability built in. But if you are coding your own custom AJAX functionality, simply taking some care to follow the best practices promoted by standards bodies like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and grass root movements like the Web Standards community and many others, your application can run usefully on browsers that are incapable of AJAX behaviors. Granted, your application may loose some of the "wow factor" on these less capable browsers, but your application will still be usable.
Remember to not design with AJAX just for the sake of coolness. The reason you built your application is so people will use it. And people will not use your application if your application is not compatible with their web browser.


Question 6 :

Are there any frameworks available to help speedup development with AJAX?

Answer :

There are several browser-side frameworks available, each with their own uniqueness...


Question 7 :

Is Adaptive Path selling Ajax components or trademarking the name? Where can I download it?

Answer :

Ajax isn't something you can download. It's an approach — a way of thinking about the architecture of web applications using certain technologies. Neither the Ajax name nor the approach are proprietary to Adaptive Path.


Question 8 :

Should I use an HTTP GET or POST for my AJAX calls?

Answer :

AJAX requests should use an HTTP GET request when retrieving data where the data will not change for a given request URL. An HTTP POST should be used when state is updated on the server. This is in line with HTTP idempotency recommendations and is highly recommended for a consistent web application architecture.


Question 9 :

How do I debug JavaScript?

Answer :

There are not that many tools out there that will support both client-side and server-side debugging. I am certain this will change as AJAX applications proliferate. I currently do my client-side and server-side debugging separately. Below is some information on the client-side debuggers on some of the commonly used browsers.

* Firefox/Mozilla/Netscape - Have a built in debugger Venkman which can be helpful but there is a Firefox add on known as FireBug which provides all the information and AJAX developer would ever need including the ability to inspect the browser DOM, console access to the JavaScript runtime in the browser, and the ability to see the HTTP requests and responses (including those made by an XMLHttpRequest). I tend to develop my applications initially on Firefox using Firebug then venture out to the other browsers.
* Safari - Has a debugger which needs to be enabled. See the Safari FAQ for details.
* Internet Explorer - There is MSDN Documentation on debugging JavaScript. A developer toolbar for Internet Explorer may also be helpful.

While debuggers help a common technique knowing as "Alert Debugging" may be used. In this case you place "alert()" function calls inline much like you would a System.out.println. While a little primitive it works for most basic cases. Some frameworks such as Dojo provide APIs for tracking debug statements.


Question 10 :

How do I provide internationalized AJAX interactions?

Answer :

Just because you are using XML does not mean you can properly send and receive localized content using AJAX requests. To provide internationalized AJAX components you need to do the following:

* Set the charset of the page to an encoding that is supported by your target languages. I tend to use UTF-8 because it covers the most languages. The following meta declaration in a HTML/JSP page will set the content type:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">

* In the page JavaScript make sure to encode any parameters sent to the server. JavaScript provides the escape() function which returns Unicode escape strings in which localized text will appear in hexadecimal format. For more details on JavaScript encoding see Comparing escape(), encodeURI(), and encodeURIComponent().
* On the server-side component set the character encoding using the HttpServletRequest.setCharacterEncoding() method. Before you access the localized parameter using the HttpServletRequest.getParameter() call. In the case of UTF this would be request.setCharactherEncoding("UTF-8");.
A server-side component returning AJAX responses needs to set the encoding of the response to the same encoding used in the page.

response.setContentType("text/xml;charset=;UTF-8");
response.getWriter().write(" <response>invalid </response>"); 

For more information on using AJAX with Java Enterprise Edition technologies see AJAX and Internationalization and for developing multi-lingual applications see Developing Multilingual Web Applications Using JavaServer Pages Technology.