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Using Ajax for Web Application Development: What Businesses Need to Know
Francis Wong
Francis Wong is an independent consultant and senior technical trainer for WestLake Training and Development. He has developed software applications for many well-known companies such as AOL, Hitachi, FannieMae, and Marriott for over 19 years. Mr. Wong has also developed online and on-site technical training for programmers and managers and delivered courses throughout the United States as well as Bangalore, India. He can be reached through WestLake or contacted directly at 
by Francis Wong
Published on 7/31/2007

Ajax is a hot topic today when it comes to web application development projects. Because it's become such a buzzword, businesses may be wondering how they can incorporate this form of web programming into their websites and what the benefits could be. This article will help you understand the origins of Ajax as well as the pros and cons of its use.

Learn the pros and cons of incorporating Ajax into your web application development projects.

Lately, you may have been hearing more and more about Ajax and begun to wonder how it could be beneficial to your business's web application development projects. First, it is important to start with an understanding of this type of web programming. While the concept is not new - it has existed since 1998 - the term did not come into being until February 2005, when Jesse James Garrett coined it as a way to shorten the combination of three technologies that he was going to be using for web application development: Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. This recent phrasing may partially explain why Ajax programming has become such a hot concept for businesses to explore.

Today, Ajax is being used in web application development by many major players on the web, including Google, which pioneered its use in a mainstream manner with its Google Maps service, as well as many web-based email systems. This is as a direct result of the updating of computer technology in general - today's average computer user has a faster network connection, a faster machine, and a higher level of computer knowledge than those that used computers ten years ago, opening the door for more complex technologies to be used by a wider array of websites. On the other hand, web programming using Ajax is not necessary for a site to be successful; sites such as Amazon and eBay, which are clearly doing well in the business arena, are either not using this form of web programming at all or are using it sparingly.

Still, web programming with Ajax has quickly been incorporated into web application development as a new style.

The Basics of Web Programming with Ajax

At its core, Ajax web programming enables a web application development team to create a site that allows users to perform certain functions without the need for redrawing or reloading an entire screen. For example, Google Maps allows users to scroll through a map seamlessly - a technique so revolutionary that it was later adopted by other map sites such as MapQuest and Yahoo Maps. Web-based Email programs using Ajax web programming allow users to open a message without reloading their entire interface. Sites that allow voting or rating, such as Netflix and YouTube, let users click on an array of stars to rate a film or video without ever leaving the initial screen. And even shopping sites such as use Ajax programming to give users the feel of a true virtual shopping cart - users place items into their cart without leaving the product page.

In addition, web programming with Ajax can be used to create what are known as "mashups" - situations where content from two different web applications can be combined into a third, newly useful application. For example, the apartment listings from Craigslist were crossed with Google Maps to create a site that allows users to see apartment locations on the map.

Benefits of Using Ajax for Web Application Development

Web programming with Ajax offers a business several key benefits in its web application development. It offers site developers an extra level of innovation that can make a site easier to use for all visitors. When implemented correctly, Ajax will also give users the feeling that a web application is more responsive than a traditional web site.  It can also allow a business to give its site new functionality and new services to be used by partners or clients. Finally, it simply can give parity to a business. Competitors may already be using Ajax on their sites, and it may be in a business's best interest to have its web application development team implement Ajax on its own site as well. Customers may also be asking for the new services if they have seen them on other competitor sites.

Caveats for Businesses Considering Ajax Programming

However, there are many things to be careful of when implementing web programming with Ajax as well. While it does seem like the latest thing, a business should not go overboard in its use during web application development. Primarily, this type of web programming can make a site more difficult for visitors to use. The web is at its core a very user-friendly system, but Ajax can introduce new behaviors that people may not be ready for or may be confused by. This can cause visitors to leave your site quickly, without actually performing the tasks, making the purchases, or reading the information that you had provided. Ajax programing can also create a host of other problems with which businesses should be concerned.

First, and rather simply, using Ajax web programming can cause the back button to behave differently than a visitor might expect. The bookmark function may also not work as it does on more traditionally programmed sites. There are ways around these issues that can be implemented during web application development, but the fixes require a bit of extra time and skill when adding in the additional code.

Ajax programming can also interfere with search engine optimization efforts. Search engines will not see content that may be hidden until revealed by a user's actions. If a business wants to combine Ajax with SEO, its web application development team will have to be careful to make sure that any optimized content is always immediately visible, and that hidden content is not critical to the success of an SEO campaign.

Importantly, Ajax can open up a webserver to have an increased attack surface. This form of web programming unfortunately gives a hacker more ways to get into the server than there were before. The solution to this is to make sure that the web application development team is more vigilant about security and testing, and to constantly keep watch on the activity occurring on the site. In addition, since different browsers read Ajax differently, the web application development team will also have to do additional testing for accessibility.


The issues with Ajax are rather widely known. Now the critical issue is how this type of web programming can be useful for businesses that are creating and updating their websites. The most important thing to remember when exploring the use of Ajax with web application development is to use it with caution and with care. Overuse or improper implementation can cause major issues to a website, but when used judiciously it can bring new functionality and new features to a site. And that can lead to more, happier visitors, which is always the goal.