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Foundations of Ajax by Ryan Asleson, Nathaniel T. Schutta

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Joined: Feb 15, 2002
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<pre>Author/s : Ryan Asleson, Nathaniel T. Schutta
Publisher : Apress
Category : Web design, HTML and JavaScript
Review by : Ernest J. Friedman-Hill
Rating : 9 horseshoes

</pre>
Ajax is an unusual beast. It's not a product. It's not a standard. It's not a tool. It's not a proper noun -- it's an acronym. Instead, Ajax is a collection of techniques for building highly interactive Web based applications using industrial-strength JavaScript and asynchronous communications, and it's taking the Web development world by storm. This is one of the first books to appear on this hot topic, and it's a good one.

"Foundations of Ajax" takes you through the whys and wherefores of Ajax, as well as the meat and potatoes, at a brisk pace. The examples are crystal clear. Multi-language code as used in Ajax is hard to describe clearly. Choosing a particular language for server-side code might have alienated some readers unfamiliar with that language. This book uses fixed XML files to sidestep the problem, which leads to startlingly simple descriptions.

I found the second half of the book even more valuable. The last few chapters talk about tools and techniques for building real-life professional-grade applications. There is excellent, detailed information about documenting, unit testing and debugging for JavaScript, debugging Ajax communications, and using some of the newfangled Ajax frameworks that have begun to appear. These chapters credibly demonstrate that it's possible to treat JavaScript as a Serious Programming Language.

In sum, I think that "Foundations of Ajax" is an excellent piece of work which belongs on every Web developer's bookshelf.


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<pre>
Review by : Lasse Koskela
Rating : 8 horseshoes
</pre>
"Foundations of Ajax" is the first book I've read about the technology, regardless of the astonishing hype it has received lately. It was an easy read, I learned a lot, and, while I was left wanting something more, still, I'd say this is a great book for getting started on Ajax.

The first half of the book runs through a quick history of web technologies and gives a pretty balanced view on the "why" and "why not" of Ajax, explains the fundamental technologies and techniques, and showcases some typical Ajax features like auto-completion, auto-refreshing pages, and a file upload progress bar. While at times the pace of the discussion seemed a bit slow even for myself (not being too familiar with JavaScript in general), I found the fundamentals given on XMLHttpRequest and DOM to be very valuable in terms of understanding what's happening "under the hood" when using those fancy Ajaxian features.

The second half of the book is more focused on tooling. The authors have done a huge favor to the reader by showing how to debug and test JavaScript code, although I had to re-read a page or two of the jsUnit chapter after falling off the sled on how and where the tests are actually executed. The first appendix gets an honorary mention as well, as I found the list of cross-browser compatibility tips to be extremely useful.

The downside to the book, in my opinion, is that while the second appendix does enumerate a long list of Ajax frameworks, only Taconite (the authors' own framework) is presented in any detail. Frankly, I would've wanted to see the authors present even short examples of more "mainstream" frameworks such as Dojo and Prototype. Somewhat related to this, while after reading the book, I feel I have a good foundation for Ajax and would certainly be capable of putting together some fancy Ajax widgets, I'm afraid I wouldn't get as much "done" as I could if the book would've allocated more inches on using state-of-the-art Ajax frameworks. Having said that, I knew that that wasn't a goal for the book so it's not really too big an issue for me.

In summary, a great book for building a foundation on Ajax technology. Get it, read it, hack on some JavaScript, and then go learn the latest and greatest Ajax framework.


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<pre>Review by : Gregg Bolinger
Rating : 8 horseshoes
</pre>
The first round of Ajax books have hit the shelves and Apress is trying to make their mark with Foundations of Ajax. A thin book with only 273 pages including the index, Foundations of Ajax hits the mark with its recipe style format and examples.

Foundations of Ajax starts out the way most tech books do with a bit of history and primer for what's to come. Most people familiar with web applications and design can probably just skip chapter 1 and possibly 2. But don't skip anymore. Chapter 3 jumps right in with your first fully functional Ajax enabled web page and it doesn't let up. Some of the examples are dynamic tool tips, textfield autocomplete, dynamic drop down lists, and my favorite, the progress bar. The elements of each example are well explained and easy to understand but aren't diluted with pages of theory and why's. This book is all how.

The last few chapters all deal with tools for the developer to help make Ajax development easier. It talks about Firefox extensions, JSUnit, and lightly touches on some Ajax frameworks though no working examples of any of the frameworks are shown.

The book was not without its faults, however. There are syntax errors lightly scattered throughout some of the examples. This was frustrating because I had to debug javascript for someone else's errors. The book also assumes a fair amount of Servlet knowledge and J2EE web app deployment know how. While I'm all for examples in Java, this does limit the books potential customer base. Ajax is pretty much server side technology agnostic. It can be used with ASP, PHP, J2EE, Ruby, and many others. And while the book does touch on this fact, newbies to Servlets will find running the examples difficult.

I whole heartedly enjoyed this book and it really wet my appetite for Ajax and how I can use it to improve my own applications UI and provide a better experience for the end user. I'd highly recommend this to anyone wanting to learn the "Foundations of Ajax".


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