Simon P. Chappell writes "There's always a danger when a new technology buzzword hits the ground running. The danger is that when it finally slows down enough for us to take a good look at, it'll be found to be empty hype with less value than a mime performance on a radio show. This time the buzzword is Ajax and it's moving so fast that you can almost hear the sonic boom. The authors of Manning's new Ajax in Action have managed to catch up with Ajax long enough to take a look at it for us. Their book explains what Ajax is, how to use it and how, for once, the hype may be underselling the prospects for this new buzzword." Read on for Simon's review.
The majority of the book is for programmers engaged in the development of web applications; especially those who are interested in taking their applications beyond the traditional ``click and wait for the response from the server'' model that we've become accustomed too.
The first section, and particularly the first chapter, would be suitable for anyone who is curious about Ajax. The first chapter answers the questions of what it is, and why it deserves all of the positive press that it's received. If you're introducing Ajax at work, this might be the chapter of recommended reading for your managers and software architects.
Perhaps it's also possible to view Ajax as the natural resting place of the pendulum of application development. Programmers, since the beginning of application development have been trying to balance user experience and ease of installation and maintenance. First we had mainframes with their centralized usage model. Next we got the PC with it's entirely disconnected usage model. This was followed by the Client/Server model that tried to be connected yet offloaded it's processing to the client. The world wide web came next and browsers as the ultimate thin clients forced all of the processing back onto the server again. Finally now, with Ajax, we have what seems like a good balance of server side processing, with responsive clients that provide the rich user interface that users want. The pendulum of centralized versus decentralized has found it's rest point.
The structure of the book is fairly standard. The first section, three chapters, concentrates on imparting the concept of Ajax to the reader. The first chapter begins with the concepts, chapter two takes the reader through some very simple first steps, while chapter three explores how the Model View Controller pattern (MVC to it's friends) applies in the Ajax world and looks at third party, free and open-source Ajax libraries available today.
Part two of the book explores the core techniques of Ajax. Chapter four explores the difference between a web application and a desktop or Ajax application, that of a single page being the entire application. Chapter five explores the role of the server, looking at what resources are available for the server-side coding, including available languages and frameworks as well as ways and means of exchanging data with the server.
Part three looks at what the authors call ``Professional Ajax'', the techniques that make a difference when creating real world applications. Chapter six covers the design of the user experience. The user experience for a major application basically is the application for the user and so getting this right is of fundamental importance. Chapter seven explores security and some of the actions that the developer can take to both ensure access control and protect confidential data. Once the basics of Ajax are mastered, this may well be the most important chapter in the book. Chapter eight covers performance and what can be done to assist application speed and resource usage in practical use. Perhaps the most important measure for an Ajax application is the perceived speed and responsiveness that it delivers. The asynchronous processing is a huge factor in achieving these user perceptions.
Part four shows Ajax by example, with four chapters of example applications and a fifth chapter addressing building stand-alone applications using Ajax.
There is much to like about this book, but top of the fold for me is the clear and concise explanation of just what exactly Ajax is and why it has the power to make a difference in the web application arena. At a time when more people speak of Ajax than actually understand it, this book has the power to bring forth understanding.
Other than the standard book page over at the Manning website, there is no dedicated book website. This is perhaps unusual, but 30 seconds on your search engine of choice should get you started. Failing that there is a good Ajax page available at Wikipedia.
This is a magnificent book. Not because it's well written and has good example code in it, although it is and it does. Rather, it is magnificent because of the high speed target that they have accurately hit and described in a clear and hype-free fashion; for this the authors are to be commended. If you want to create dynamic web applications, get this book."
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