|By Brian J. Dillard||
|April 14, 2008 06:00 AM EDT||
Sure, it's possible to develop AJAX apps in a siloed team environment. But it's not the easiest way, and it rarely provides the strongest results.
Shawn M. Lauriat's "Advanced Ajax: Architecture and Best Practices" (Prentice Hall, 2008, 360p) bridges the gap between developers with exclusive client- or
server-side skills. By exploring tools, technologies and best practices
for every layer of the AJAX programming model, this solid new
programming manual promises to plug the holes in any developer's
resume. Lauriat's tops-to-tails approach offers something for almost
any developer, but it also guarantees most readers will find some
sections remedial. As this review will demonstrate, that's not
necessarily a liability.
The book's first four chapters focus almost exclusively on the client-side technologies that are my own personal speciality. Lauriat's announces his goals early, shortly after pointing out the introductory nature of many existing AJAX books and tutorials:
"This book, instead, looks at using Ajax to create rich, browser-based interfaces for enterprise-level web applications, taking into account the flexibility, reusability, scalability, and maintainability necessary for such an undertaking. Ajax does not exist in this book as the latest and greatest acronym to hit web development. It instead exists as a tool like any other - extremely useful in some instances and totally wrong in others."
This focus on AJAX as a means rather than an end continues in the author's examination of user-focused application design:
Having established his mission statement, Lauriat dives right into the specific technologies and approaches that client-side Ajax demands. He makes the case for semantic markup, web standards, progressive enhancement and accessibility in a way that should compute for server-side developers who may be encountering these concepts in depth for the first time. Advanced AJAX doesn't tackle these concepts to the level that, say, Jeffrey Zeldman would, but Lauriat doesn't scrimp on the real-world details. He provides compelling examples of the way high-contrast design, resizable page layouts, easily targeted controls and even the draft ARIA spec can enhance accessibility and usability for everyone, not just disabled users.
Having covered client-side technologies and architecture, Lauriat finally turns to development and debugging tools. Validators, browser consoles and plug-ins, profiles and unit-testing frameworks all get their due. Here, as elsewhere, Lauriat delves into the nitty-gritty of developing applications for IE, Safari, Firefox and Opera. He suggests tools and techniques for each browser environment without getting into political asides. As with the earlier chapters, I came away with a more complete, holistic understanding of topics in which I already considered myself well-versed.
Taken as a whole, the client-focused chapters of Advanced AJAX are
worth skimming even for senior client-side developers. For programmers
just getting acquainted with the UI layer, these chapters provide an
extremely concise, yet thorough treatment of a huge number of important
topics. I'm extremely impressed with Lauriat's book, and I haven't even
gotten to the sections that will cover the most new ground for me
The book's remaining chapters deal with everything from security and database optimization to server-side architecture and game development.
The server-side portion of Advanced AJAX uses PHP code to illustrate its many and varied lessons about AJAX architecture. It's not that I have anything against the popular web-development framework and scripting language. It's just that, after spending my career in the ASP Classic and JSP trenches and slowly ramping up on Rails in the last year, I'm not the ideal target audience for these code samples. Adding "PHP" to the title of the book might have limited its potential audience, but it also would have been more accurate.
That said, there's a lot of value here for adherents of any server-side framework. Lauriat discusses each topic from a general perspective before diving into the code. The technical approach to a given problem would obviously differ by framework, but the high-level approach wouldn't. If you don't mind skimming past the content that doesn't apply to you, Lauriat's advice about developing stable, scalable, accessible and secure AJAX applications transcends framework allegiance.
Overall, Advanced AJAX proved to be a worthwhile read despite my lack of PHP
mojo. Of its 11 chapters, 5 1/2 are full of examples that could be
applied to any development framework, while the other 5 1/2 are full of
sage advice that requires translation for non-PHP platforms.
The publisher has made a sample chapter of the book available on its website.
Full disclosure: The author received a free promotional copy of this book for review.
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