JS Questions: What is AJAX?

This is the third in a series of posts I’m writing that aims to provide concise, understandable answers to JavaScript-related questions, helping me better understand both foundational concepts and the changing landscape of language updates, frameworks, testing tools, etc. 

What is AJAX?

Websites used to be composed of static HTML pages. Each time a user interacted with the DOM, the entire page reloaded. AJAX, short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, is a bundle of technologies that allow web pages to be updated without completely reloading.

AJAX uses a functionality built into modern browsers called the XMLHttpRequest object, which has certain methods and properties that let web pages get data from a server.

The flow of an AJAX request and response cycle begins with an XMLHttpRequest object being created. Then the .open method is called on the object, which takes in three parameters:

  1. the type of request, GET or POST
  2. a URL to the requested data
  3. a boolean value of whether to send the request asynchronously. An asynchronous request means that other JavaScript functions can run while the response is being prepared and sent back from the server.

The .send method is then called on the XMLHttpRequest object, sending it to the server. The server processes the request and creates a response, returning data to the browser.

The data can be returned as XML (hence the XML part of the acronym), though it’s now more common to convert the data to JSON format, which simply allows developers to interact with data as if it’s a JavaScript object.

Using that JSON data, a portion of a web page’s HTML could be updated. For example, a JavaScript function could use HTML to create an unordered list, and append list items with text from the data.



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