Do end-users know the difference between AJAX and DHTML?

Some users claim to have seen AJAX-enabled websites. Do end-users and developers know the difference between AJAX and DHTML?

Last Updated: August 14th, 2006 • Opinion •

There have been some web sites and discussions regarding users saying that a particular site is AJAX-enabled. However, when I get there, I don't see the AJAX functionality on the site. As a matter of fact, I only see DHTML or JavaScript widgets that interact with data on the screen. I swear its like tracking down an imaginary animal ("Dere it goes!").

Do end users believe that if you are using JavaScript on a page, then AJAX is involved? Sure, the JavaScript interacts with data on the page, page refreshes occur, and widgets change shape, but where is the AJAX?

Now, I agree that you use JavaScript for DHTML and AJAX, but there is a difference between the two. Heck, I've even seen JavaScript widgets. This means that even though a page contains JavaScript code and/or widgets, it does not mean that AJAX is used on the page. Bottom line, the web page isn't refreshing.

When I mean refreshing, I don't mean its a breath of fresh air. I mean the web page doesn't require any data from the server.

Let's draw up a scenario: You want to recommend an article to a friend through the web site's email function. You arrived at the web page and start filling out your name and email adresss, and their name and email address and maybe a little comment. All thats left is to press the Send button. Bottom line, you HAVE to contact the server to send the email.

If you wanted to jazz up the site, you could use AJAX to send the data back to the server without doing a complete page refresh. The key to AJAX is the XMLHTTPRequest function. For web developers, this is the hinge pin for AJAX. If you use this function anywhere on your site, more than likely, you are using AJAX.

So how do you know when a site is using AJAX? Let's get back to our example. When you press the Send button (or user event of some kind), your current page requires data from the server, and you receive an immediate response to the screen without a page refresh, you are using AJAX. If you press the Send button and the page refreshes completely, you are not using AJAX.

I think at this point in the AJAX game, AJAX is used primarily for smoothing out the rough user interactions between the client and the server. If an end-user doesn't see the difference between what an AJAX call is and a JavaScript widget, you might as well just focus on the goal of the site and leave the programming to the experts.


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Picture of Jonathan Danylko

Jonathan Danylko is a freelance web architect and avid programmer who has been programming for over 20 years. He has developed various systems in numerous industries including e-commerce, biotechnology, real estate, health, insurance, and utility companies.

When asked what he likes to do in his spare time, he replies, "Programming."

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