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Head Rush Ajax 122

barryhawkins writes " Programmers are flooded with choices about which technologies to pursue in order to maintain a marketable skillset. Even in a particular area of programming like web applications, one must choose carefully where to invest time. Ajax, to the regret of some and delight of others, has emerged as a means of providing rich, responsive web applications that are highly cross-platform. However, when arriving home after a 10-hour day at the office programming, who has the energy to plow through yet another new facet of emerging technology? If a developer is going to invest their free time in self-driven career development, should it not be at least remotely enjoyable? Judging from the content of O'Reilly's new release Head Rush Ajax, their answer is yes." Read the rest of Barry's review.
Head Rush Ajax
author Brett McLaughlin
pages 413
publisher O'Reilly Associates
rating 9
reviewer Barry Hawkins
ISBN 0-596-10225-9
summary A learner's introduction to Ajax, Asynchronous JavaScript and XML for web application programming

Like its forerunner the Head First series, the Head Rush line approaches learning a given technical topic with the principles derived from studies in cognitive science, neurobiology, and educational psychology. It comes as no surprise that the classic approach of turgid, monotonous, visually-fatiguing tomes is not the ideal way to have someone learn a topic. Learning is aided by having variation in the way content is presented. This book moves between presentation of information, application through interactive exercises, and review questions that stimulate the reader and invite them to continue in the book's journey through Ajax. Each exercise is also tied to a storyline, where the reader has a person with an application that needs to be enhanced by the application of the skills being learned.

Head Rush Ajax scales well. Ready-to-run scripts for the more technical components of the sample applications are provided so that a reader with only a background in HTML and CSS will not experience barriers to participation early in the book. This facility does not come at the expense of the experienced web developer; anyone who knows their way around a PHP script and databases is free to write the server-side code on their own. Some readers may look upon the choice of PHP for the back-end scripts as regrettable, particularly those with Java and .Net backgrounds. However, the focus is on Ajax itself, and not the particular back-end platform providing the HTTP responses. Those who look upon that sort of thing with scorn typically view Ajax as a novelty itself, so the number of complaints about using PHP should be relatively low; the dissenting voices will have probably passed over Ajax for the time being anyway.

The author never takes himself too seriously; the informal tone of the book is comfortable, like having a conversation with one's colleagues at the office. The balance of levity and solid technical content is refreshing, making this volume of some 400 pages reach its end surprisingly soon. Retro cartoon graphics and narrative comments like "Now, everyone hates you. You're an idiot, and all this Ajax stuff was a waste of time" when a URL caching error is uncovered make for a genuinely enjoyable read.

The Document Object Model, or DOM, has long had a reputation for being an unwieldy and problematic interface to manipulate. The tree metaphor used in this book along with the series of progressive exercises present the DOM in a refreshingly approachable manner. By the end of the DOM-specific coverage, an entire application has been created that is highly dynamic yet involves no Ajax-specific coding. The critical role of the DOM in effective use of Ajax is driven home without being heavy-handed.

The choice between using XML and JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) for receiving data via HTTP responses is another entertaining treatment of a topic that is often grounds for argument between practitioners of web development. The author comes across with a pragmatic viewpoint, preferring JSON as the simpler choice that is most often adequate and does not bear the high ceremony that accompanies proper handling of XML via the DOM. Two of the sample applications choose opposite means of receiving their data, once again fleshing out a topic in a concrete manner rather than pontificating about the virtues of either approach.

The progression of the book is masterful. The types of issues that typically plague web applications are addressed in the order they tend surface during the lifecycle of a real-world application. Proper functionality is the first stage, followed by enhanced functionality, then onto issues with synchronicity, security, and more complex domain model requirements. A reader can pass through an encapsulated representation of application lifecycles by working through the book from start to finish.

The goal of Head Rush Ajax is to have the reader learn Ajax, not master it. At the conclusion, the author appropriately offers topics for further exploration in the form of two appendices. The first appendix covers Ajax toolkits, user interface libraries, DOM utilities (most of which are built plugins for the browsers in use on desktops every day), and JSON libraries. Links to the project sites provide easy access to pick up where the book's coverage leaves off. The second appendix provides deeper insight on the internals of two JavaScript utilities provided for use in the exercises throughout the book. One is an Ajax-specific set of common infrastructure for typical Ajax applications, while the other provides convenient methods for DOM manipulation. Head Rush Ajax is a most enjoyable launchpad into the world of Ajax web applications, well worth the investment in time and money."

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Head Rush Ajax

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  • by iplayfast ( 166447 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @02:19PM (#15255719)
    I've no need of learning ajax at the moment, but if it's done by the same people who did the head first series, I may just spend the money. I know that it won't be a waste, because it will be useful somewhere down the line.

    • I agree... sort of. I have one of the Head First books (something about CSS and HTML - needed to learn CSS). As far as teaching goes, it's good. I skimmed the book pretty quickly (because I had some familiarity with the subject matter to begin with). However, the book is now useless. The index is absolutely atrocious (of the HTML/CSS book, that is - I have no experience with the Ajax book). It is completely unusable as a reference - the only way to refer to anything in the book is to go back and read
      • I've read most of the Head First Java books and they do a really good job. Reading them was easy not the least bit tedious. I was already familiar with the topics and that might have helped, but I've yet to read any other books that make reading them as much "fun". If I ever taught programming to beginners (I used to think teaching programming to highschool students might be interesting) I'd definitely use these books.
      • It's taken me a few years and a lot of tech books to appreciate what they're doing; most books make the mistake of trying to mix tutorial with reference.

        That means you end up with a very bloated reference book, and a poorly structured learning experience - i.e. my general experience is that authors will try and structure a book so that they start with simple concepts - primitive types, basic conditional control - before building up to collections, iteration, etc - but suffering from needing to introduce som
  • by FecesFlingingRhesus ( 806117 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @02:22PM (#15255750)
    I would like to see more web frameworks include a mature AJAX framework to facilitate more dynamic interaction. To date the best I have seen so far is Echo2 [] which incorporate an event driven architecture that allows for seamless integration of client side events transmitted to the server side architecture.
  • by msuarezalvarez ( 667058 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @02:29PM (#15255800)
    The Document Object Model, or DOM, has long had a reputation for being an unwieldy and problematic interface to manipulate. The tree metaphor used in this book along with the series of progressive exercises present the DOM in a refreshingly approachable manner.

    Wow. A tree metaphor for the DOM! Now that's a new idea!

  • by neuraljazz ( 307431 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @02:30PM (#15255810) Homepage
    Reviewer says:
    Programmers are flooded with choices about which technologies to pursue in order to maintain a marketable skillset.

    A better skillset is the standard:
    - Bathe frequently
    - Show up on time
    - Learn people skills (don't assume less experience is stupidity)
    - Learn how to LEARN

    Buy the book if you need to learn AJAX, not because you're afraid you're no longer on the bleeding edge of programming languages.
  • by Spinlock_1977 ( 777598 ) <> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @02:36PM (#15255855) Journal
    I "learned" Ajax last month. Well, ok, "enough" to produce a small GUI that did some cool things, asynchronously.

    I beefed up my resume on expecting a flood of Ajax inquiries. Although 2 recruiters have contacted me recently, neither was interested in my Ajax stuff. Just PHP, Oracle, SQL server, etc.

    I'm quite surprised - either I suck (alway a possbility), or Ajax jobs are not the hot thing right now.
    • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @02:42PM (#15255899) Homepage
      I don't think you'll find a lot of jobs that will employ you just for your ajax skills. If you're a web developer, than you'd better learn how Ajax works. Just like it's probably a good idea to know HTML, Javascript, PHP, ASP.Net and other web technologies. Getting into that rut where you only know one thing is where a lot of people go wrong. There isn't a whole lot to learn about AJAX. If you know Javascript, and understand XML, Stylesheets, and HTML, you pretty much know everything you need to know. You just have to learn how to put them together.
    • This is dead right. I've been keeping tabs on the local (Melbourne, AU) market. AJAX is not even on the list of buzzwords people put in job adds. If you check one of the two major sites you get, rounding and averaging for the past few months:

      180 SQL
      100 Java
      50 C++
      40 C#
      5 AJAX
      20 PHP
      2 Python

      To tell some Programmer that they need to learn AJAX is internet meme following BS. If you want a job now, or in the next year or so, solid Java and SQL skills are the main thing you want followed by C++.


  • Enjoy Yourself (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cerelib ( 903469 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @02:43PM (#15255906)
    If Ajax does not seem enjoyable to you, don't try to learn it as a career skill. If somebody hires you because you know Ajax then you might get stuck doing something that you don't enjoy. I do not have a large interest in web apps, but I do have interest in digital audio. So I do digital audio and MIDI stuff on my spare programming time and hope to make a career out of it some day. Follow your interests.
    • Follow your interests to pick a career/job? Are you a HS guidance counselor?

      Terrible advice. Follow the market. Let your interests influence the decision.

      I kinda like computers and really like girls. But, due to market forces, I didn't make enough money to retire in a reasonable time when I was a bikini inspector. So I followed the market and became a coder. Now I have financial security and its not THAT much wors than being a BI. The paperwork's a bitch in both.
      • I think that being happy with your work is very important. There are some people, you might be one of them, who really do not care what they do as long as they make good money doing it because that is something that makes them happy. Each of these is a valid viewpoint. I am not saying everybody is going to get what they want in a job, I am not naive. But, given free time to pursue other subjects I believe that it is important to do something you enjoy. If possible find something you enjoy that is also
        • Re:Enjoy Yourself (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Lord Ender ( 156273 )
          Actually, I think the best strategy is to get into the most lucrative career you can, live cheap, invest heavily, and retire while in your 30's. Then, for the rest if your life, you really can do whatever the hell you want. It's what I'm trying to do. At the rate I'm investing (100% stocks) it looks like it will happen.
  • Other Ajax Books (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sixty4Bit ( 6131 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @02:44PM (#15255913) Homepage
    If you are in the market for some Ajax knowledge, you should check out Relevance LLC's reviews [] of Ajax books. A couple of smart guys. They have reviewed 7 books so far.
  • by Kranfer ( 620510 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @02:44PM (#15255918) Homepage Journal
    While I tend to agree that you need to keep your skillset up, as not to appear at the bottom of the development ladder, I must say from what we have used of AJAX here at work, it is something that I would have to recommend to any developer out there that works with web applications. However, jumping on the bandwagon and learning AJAX just because its the newest and greatest thing does seem rather stupid. Keep your skill setup by Learning to learn new and exciting things while incorporating it into work. Why learn something on your own time when it can make you more productive at work, while learning it on the job?
  • by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @02:46PM (#15255928) Homepage Journal
    ...when arriving home after a 10-hour day at the office programming...

    Dude, if you had just developed it in AJAX you'd get it done in half the time. ;)
  • by heffel ( 83440 ) <`dheffelfinger' `at' `'> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @02:52PM (#15255980) Homepage Journal
    Amazon [] has it about $10 cheaper than BN.
  • by fak3r ( 917687 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @02:54PM (#15255999) Homepage
    Here's a list of 20 AJAX online tutorials: p=2212&#entry2212 []

    It's moving so fast I'd be hesitant to grab a book yet -- YMMV.
  • TEN



    is that what passes for exhausting to the new crowd of code monkeys?
    • by Zarf ( 5735 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @03:28PM (#15256313) Journal
      TEN HOUR DAY?? is that what passes for exhausting to the new crowd of code monkeys?

      I know what you mean. I put in a 10 hour day when I'm on vacation. Geesh. Slackers.
      • Vacation? You get vacation? Why, back in my day we were expected to write code 365 days a year. One year they decided to be nice and give us twenty minutes off for Christmas and an extra crust of bread. We might've gotten that every year, but the young whippersnappers had the nerve to *complain*. Ingrates. Spoiled it for all of us.
    • How did we get into this rut, this "I work harder than you do" bullshit that permeates the programmer culture? When did it become "ok" to work 80 hours a week?

      My company realised along time ago that all this unpaid overtime is a waste -- sloppy code and unhappy employees are worthless bi-products of this mentality.

      You are not permitted to stay after hours unless it is absolutely necessary for maintenance work, in which case, you can either come in late that day or take off those hours the next day.


    • Well, this has a lot to do with the fact that modern codemonkeys tend to have two things which earlier codemonkeys did not.

          They're known as:

          A) A life

          B) A girlfriend.
    • Jeez. You people work waaaay too hard. There are times when long days are warranted and I can certainly sympathize with the desire to know more than everyone else, and have lived the late-night hacker-wannabe lifestyle for years on end trying to learn more than my competition in the job market, raising the bar for them. But it shouldn't be your goal to keep living like that. People in the US need to stop looking at working themselves to death as some kind of badge of honor. Those people have lost sight of t
  • That is the best one can do. Chasing a new skillset as soon as you enter the market can be dangerous for some.

    Once you have understood how programming languages work (the usual combo of C/C++/Java ought to teach you most of it) you will have a fair idea of what to expect from other programming environments. Once you have that you can pick up any new programming language /environment with fair ease.

    I haven't done much Ajax programming at all (I've used a combo of javascript and iframes once. Does that
  • Just don't try to snort it! "Look, it's turning blue!" (I forget what movie that was from.)
  • by reebmmm ( 939463 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @03:05PM (#15256091)

    ... and just about any paradigm will do. However, the problem is that most developers don't have the basic skills in the basic tools of their trade:

    • html
    • javascript
    • css

    If you need a new book every time some new acronym for a combination of those three things, you'd better check your skill set.

  • when the reviews for
    1. allergy SOAP
    2. mental block SOA
    3. fractured XML cast XSL
    4. on rails Ruby
  • Basic AJAX (Score:3, Informative)

    by boristdog ( 133725 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @03:11PM (#15256143)
    I realize this will remove 20 points from my geek rating to say "wow, this stuff is really easy" because we're the wizards with the black boxes that do magic stuff that confuses mortals...but jeez, this AJAX stuff is pretty simple. Do a 10 minute tutorial and say "Huh, so that's it..."

    And basic AJAX skills CAN be acquired with a 10 minute tutorial if you know a little javascript and a little of any CGI-type backend (PERL, ASP, PHP, PLONE etc.)

    Don't be afraid of the hype if you feel you don't have the time to learn. Any web programmer needs to know this, and it's pretty simple. Sure, you can do some weird cool stuff and get complex, but the concept is simple and you don't need to learn anything really new.

    Take a tutorial now. At work. I mean, the stuff on the screen is still just magic inscriptions and incantations to the non-geeks and PHBs anyway.

  • Better Ajax (Score:5, Informative)

    by somethinghollow ( 530478 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @03:54PM (#15256565) Homepage Journal
    I tried Ajax when I first heard about it, which I think was when it was first gathering mass. Initially, the responseXML DOM object was a pain in the ass and that made me stay away from it. After I accepted that it would be difficult, I moved on to sending values back with responseText. That proved to be very easy. Then, I found that constantly creating XMLHttpRequest objects and setting up the proper parameters for IE vs. Everyone Else was a pain in the ass and that made me not like it. Eventually I found out about prototype.js, which was nice. I ended up ditching it because it was a little bloated to be used for Ajax-only stuff. So, I wrote my own JavaScript Ajax "class" to handle all the sending, waiting, receiving, and callbacks. I even have it create an associative array representation of the XML and "trace" so it looks like a print_r'd array in PHP. All I have to do is set the Ajax object to a variable, call a function in the object (that specifies the file to query, the post string, and the callback function), write the callback function, and write some php. It makes Ajax painless.

    My point is: If you want to "learn" Ajax, learn how it works, write a class that does the stuff you will typically do, then use the class. It'll save you tons of time, code, and frustration in the end. Ajax is actually worth using now and has helped my company separate PHP code and HTML in our intranet web apps without using a template engine, which makes our PHP guy happy that I'm not fudging with his code and makes me happy that our PHP guy isn't fudging with my design.
    • How a about you give me that code
    • I think that idea can and should be applied much more generally. For example, I can't speak for others, but I find file reading and writing to be a pain in the ass in Java (the only non-web based programming language I know at the moment). So what did I do? Made a class for opening and saving text files painlessly as arrays of strings. Maybe not the most efficient thing option, but it's a hell of a lot easier and it's really not that bad.

      I think that should apply to pretty much anything. Whenever you encoun
    • i agree. i've written my own wrapper in my own uber hacky way and it's about 500 times smaller and simpler than the frameworks i've seen out there. as anything i've done via AJAX so far (aside from a top secret spreadsheet type app i'm working on, oops, now it's not so top secret, dammit!) is of the form

      "get content and put it in this div"

      and via the cunning use of innerHTML instead of XML/DOM parsing all i need to do with my basic ajax framework is

      fAJAXRequest( sTargetID , sURL , sPost , sWait , sError );

  • Oooh! Ooooh! AJAX reference. That means I can legitimately mention my AJAX message board and viewer counter, that's to be found at []!

    Please try it out before you mod me. It's not bad, if I do say so myself.
    • Nice concept, but you could do a few things to improve end user experience:

      1.) New messages don't appear on new lines in Safari. Someone on there (not sure if it was you) told me it works fine in other browsers, though.

      2.) Change the 'add' hyperlink to an input type submit and add its onclick event to the onsubmit handler for the form and change the form action to an anchor reference on the current page. That way, when the user hits enter, the current message will submit to the handler without having to cli
      • 1. Yes it was me. Can you load /rpc/messages.php and see what the formatting looks like there?
        2. I'll look that up. As I said, I'm not too good with JS currently. More a server-side man.
        3. Every post prefixes the first 2 octets of the IP - is that not what you want?
        • Looks the same. Looking at the source of the php output, I worked out what's happening. You're relying on an innerHtml or other HTML injector to render the HTML you're providing. While Firefox and IE are correctly rendering that as part of the current document, Safari is having trouble rendering it.

          To be blunt, Safari has such a small audience, I'm not sure the fix is worth the trouble, especially when you're new to JavaScript. If you do want to fix it, you could research DOM methods to inject new elements
  • by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:22PM (#15256829) Homepage
    However, when arriving home after a 10-hour day at the office programming, who has the energy to plow through yet another new facet of emerging technology?

    It's called aging, kid. Welcome to the club!
  • is Head Rush Ajax like Atom Heart Mother?
  • The AJAX technique appears to be pretty simple. To me, it looks just like RPC. I've been pouring over the Google Maps JavaScript. It appears to marshall (unmarshal) native data types to (from) XML, which it exchanges with the back-end server over HTTP. The hard parts, I imagine, are in developing the XML style sheet (i.e. the RPC protocol itself) and in creating the user interface (i.e. the RPC client). The only documented samples out there mimic Google Suggest, which is pretty straightforward when com

    • I have to know. Were you able to deobfuscate the Google Maps js code? I looked at that before and it looked like they turn every line into a new function with cryptic names.
  • It's not enough. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stonecypher ( 118140 ) <stonecypher@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:46PM (#15257066) Homepage Journal
    Ajax doesn't matter until we get raw headers and server push []. Until then, it's limited to server-pull, polling, and web servers.
  • Find something else to do.

    I got out of IT completely because of the constant pressure to learn a new skillset every few months. And for what? Increasingly criminal PHBs and diminishing returns.

    I'm a farmer now.
  • web applications that are highly cross-platform.

    Working on Firefox and IE6 only isn't highly cross-platform (and that's the case with most of these apps). That's Medieval Internet ruled by NN+IE.

    Google's apps turn out to be more challange than Acid2 test (Safari and Opera are constantly screwed by not-so-standard and not-so-valid "OMG AJAX" code).

  • Thanks for the excellent review. This type of article is what made /. great.
  • Ajax, to the regret of some and delight of others, has emerged as a means of providing rich, responsive web applications that are highly cross-platform.

    Is it just me, or are highly cross-platform & browser based javascript mutually exlusive concepts? I attended the Sun Dev days here in Melb a few weeks back, where one of Sun's evangilists described AJAX as an exciting emerging technology providing rich clients to the web. I'm sorry, but it's neither exciting, nor emerging. AJAX is a bandaid over th

    • THANK YOU! I've been saying the same thing myself...

      AJAX *can* accomplish some cool things, there's so doubt. But to pretend it's NEW and COOL and the FUTURE is sad. I won't add too much to your post - you said it very well.

    • "Browsers & HTML aren't a platform for building rich, interactive applications."

      True. Unfortunately try telling that to gullible middle management who listen
      sheep fashion to all the marketing evangelists from various vested interests
      trying to flog them WebBaseAppOfTheWeek and then think virtually anything can
      be done easily or efficiently with a browser.
  • I hope we're making headway towards "web 3.0" because although AJAX is nice for document-centric pages with some app functionality, it's still HTML underneath and you can dress up a pig, but....

    AJAX is like a house of cards, and when a browser vendor screws up on a revision it'll all come tumbling down. Div tricks are nice and all, and I expect that there will be a couple javascript frameworks that rise above the rest, but if I'm going to do an app in a browser then I'll just bypass all those headaches and
    • The thing that bothered me about Flash was that I wanted to program in a "real" programming language. Actionscript just didn't do it for me. At the same time, I really like Flash for its capabilities. So, I was pleased to see a new product called Neoswiff come out, from a company called GlobFX. Do a Google search for it...

      In brief, the product allows you to code Flash in C# from Visual Studio, and you get access to a reasonable selection of the .NET framework, ported to Flash. Anyway, it made the dif

    • Ugh , not flash (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Viol8 ( 599362 )
      Flash might make your life easier but its a pain for us users. Slow to low and
      startup , usually with some irritating intro the spotty faced adolescent who
      programmed it thought look "Kool", not to mention the fact that flash on certain
      platforms has bugs that stop it working properly and worst of all , NO HISTORY!
      If I've spent 10 mins navigating something I DO NOT want to end up back at the
      start just because I pressed the back button!

      Flash is fine for games, for grown up stuff its garbage.
      • The point of using Flash in this context is to create an application that is deployable via the web that feels like a regular desktop application and not like a web site. Flash is indeed good for this, or at least better than AJAX in my opinion. Your complaints "i.e. NO HISTORY" aren't very relevant here.
      • You're confused. Flash and WPF/E are for applications, not document-centric websites.

        Flash is fine for games, for grown up stuff its garbage.

        AJAX is monkey feces for grown-up applications.
  • Not another ajax book =/ Macromedia (now Adobe) "Flash", has been doing RIA's long before AJAX ever became a buzzword and is still a better option than javascript trickery if you ask me

"Yeah, but you're taking the universe out of context."