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Saturday, September 02, 2006

An Introduction to AJAX and Atlas with ASP.NET 2.0

Traditionally, web applications have left a lot to be desired from a user experience standpoint, due primarily to the "request/response" lifecycle. Any interaction with a page typically requires a postback to the web server (a "request"), which then performs any server-side tasks needed and returns the updated page's markup (the "response"). Outside of intranet-based applications, such behavior adds a bit of a lag when interacting with a page. One approach to improving the end user's experience is to use AJAX. AJAX is a technique for using JavaScript and the XMLHttpRequest object to make light-weight HTTP requests back to the web server from client-side script. Once a response is received, the web page's layout can be seamlessly refreshed using JavaScript to message the page's Document Object Model (DOM) and CSS settings. AJAX-enabled pages provide a slick, responsive user experience, making web-based applications function more like desktop-based ones.

In the past adding AJAX type behaviors to your web application was difficult and came with a steep learning curve since AJAX encompasses a bevy of technologies (JavaScript, XML, XmlHttpObject, HTTP requests, DHTML, and so on). With the advent of the ASP.NET Atlas framework, however, there is much less of a reason to feel so overwhelmed when it comes to AJAX!

In this article, I will first introduce you to the concepts of AJAX and Microsoft's Atlas framework as it applies to ASP.NET. This will help you understand the basics of the technologies and see why you might want to use it in your web applications. Next, we will step through a very simple example, which will demonstrate the basic concepts learned in the introduction. Lastly, we will work through a slightly more involved example, in which we will employ the power of Atlas to add AJAX-type behaviors to a GridView control. This final example will showcase the ease with which AJAX behaviors can be added to both existing web applications and brand new projects. Read on to learn more!

Basic Concepts of AJAX and Atlas
A Basic Atlas Example
Building an Atlas-Enabled GridView

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