Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

WordPress, web development, and world domination.

Old wine in a new bottle

The topic of Ajax is pretty hot right now. And some people are getting a little hot over the naming. As I pointed out yesterday, and as Ian Hickson and Dare Obasanjo have also said, Ajax is not a new technology. Web developers have been doing this stuff for years under various names. JavaScript Remote Scripting, Remote Scripting with IFRAME, JPSPAN. But for whatever reason, the name “Ajax” has stuck.

So, what is Ajax? It’s a combinination of tricks which allow web developers to dynamically communicate with a backend server from the web browser without requiring a page refresh. This provides a more seamless experience to the user by making a web page behave a bit more like a normal software application. Typically, this is accomplished by some JavaScript code which exchanges data with the server by means of either a hidden <iframe> element, or by use of the XMLHttpRequest object in more modern browsers.

Again, this is not something new. Brent Ashley was doing this stuff five years ago with JSRS. So why all the hoopla now? Why did the name “Ajax” stick? Why the sudden Ajaxmania?

I think it’s just a “right time, right place” thing. It’s only been recently that big commercial companies have started using the technique for applications that are in the public eye. And that’s because it’s only been (fairly) recently that you could count on a significant percentage of web users to have browsers that supported it. Five years ago, there were still a significant number of Netscape 4.7 browsers out there. Internet Explorer 5.0 was still fairly young, and there were plenty of IE 4 and even IE 3 users. But now? IE 6 and Mozilla 1.0 dominate the browser landscape, and Safari is the king of the Macintosh hill. Basically, the web environment is much better able to support remote scripting now than it was five years ago.

So, sure, Ajax is “old wine in a new bottle”. Let’s not get hung up on the name. But, personally, I think that “Asynchronous Remote Scripting Engine” would have been great. Then if you were debugging your rich client application, you could complain, “I’ve got bugs in my ARSE!”

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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