Exploring Ajax - Head Rush Ajax and Ajax Hacks

May 19, 2006
Aaman Lamba

Many technologies have a tendency to morph and evolve into forms that their creators never envisaged. Such is perhaps the fate of much of creation. Ajax is one such polyglot technology, borrowing from sources as diverse as Microsoft, the once-written-off JavaScript, and the desire of browsers/readers to interact directly with the interfaces they deal with on a daily basis on the web.

It is a technology agglomeration that seems very easy to use and many developers have ventured into the frothing waters before retreating, befuddled, preferring to remain on the consumption end of the spectrum. This is partly due the complexity introduced into preparing web pages for multiple implementations on different browsers. The conditional checks can be confusing to keep track of for even the most attentive person. Various frameworks and wrappers have sprung up to compensate and mask the complexity.

Sometimes, it helps to look at a problem from multiple perspectives simultaneously. One way to do this for Ajax is to read both Ajax Hacks and Head Rush Ajax together. Ajax Hacks utilizes the by-now popular model of explorations deep and wide into the new burgeoning paradigm of user behavior online. Head Rush Ajax is a meta-cognitive approach to learning Ajax, bouncing the technology between different facets and perspectives until it seems like specific neurons are hardwired to XMLHttpRequest, the DOM and DIVs.

Begin with the first three chapters of Head Rush, which show you how to speak the language of asynchronous web applications. Then switch to the first twenty or so hacks, which give you techniques to consume and tweak the requests/responses between the server and clients.

Once you're through with this, refill your caffeine tanks and try writing your own self-editing rollover-highlight dynamically-generated selection list that orders your favorite blend of Starbucks. If you do it right, the rest is easy going. If you find it easier to use the drive-through lane, make sure you ask for extra-hot tall misto with hazelnut for me.

Both books then hack through the forestry of the Document Object Model, that allows you to access and modify specific elements on a web-page. The Hacks book moves into practical applications like mash-ups between Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, and Web Remoting. Head Rush digs into different formats for sending and receiving data like XML and JSON. You continue to drive and develop an actual web application that grows progressively more complex, and helps you order pizzas.

The Hacks book is more comprehensive in terms of providing efficient real-world tips and tricks, as well as exploring hot topics like Ruby on Rails, Ajax libraries like Prototype, Rico, and, while Head Rush focuses more on getting your brain to internalize the essentials of the technology,leaving the toolkits and utilities for a brief appendix. The twofold approach, should, for the truly attentive, enable an unfolding of new insights, and understanding how these technologies can be applied in your own technological situations.

Aaman Lamba is the Publisher of, a Blogcritics network site. He also blogs, more infrequently nowadays, at Audit Trails Of Self
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May 19, 2006
10:30 AM

Interestingly Ajax was a greek warrior- Achilles cousin (as described in Iliad). Just for the information. He represents virtues of hard work and to those who persevere.

May 30, 2006
02:07 AM

After getting terribly disappointed(due to wrong expectations) by books like "Professional Ajax" and "Ajax in Action", the combination that worked for me was "Head Rush Ajax(HRA)" and "Ajax Hacks(AH)"(released simultaneously in my town). Both the books gave good return on investment.

For an absolute beginner on Ajax development model, I would recommend reading HRA right from the start to the finish. For someone fairly knowledgeable about Ajax, I felt HRA to be needlessly verbose(unlike the "Head First" series books), hence a direct jump to AH is what I would recommend. Books like "Professional Ajax"(especially for the AjaxMail example, now a project) can be picked up from there.

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