Matt Raible has been building web applications for most of his adult life. He started tinkering with the web before Netscape 1.0 was even released. For the last 16 years, Matt has helped companies adopt open source technologies (Spring, Hibernate, Apache, Struts, Tapestry, Grails) and use them effectively. Matt has been a speaker at many conferences worldwide, including Devoxx, Jfokus, ÜberConf, No Fluff Just Stuff, and a host of others. Matt is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 149 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Ajaxified Body

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Implementing an Ajaxified Body consists of the following steps:

  1. Adding SiteMesh and moving common elements to a decorator.
  2. Remove common elements from each individual page (if you're using includes).
  3. Configure SiteMesh so decoration is disabled when the requested URL contains "ajax=true".
  4. Write JavaScript that modifies all <a href=""> links (and buttons with onclick='location.href') in the PCA to have an onclick handler.
  5. The onclick handler should call a JavaScript function that loads the link's URL + ajax=true using XMLHttpRequest (XHR).
  6. Add XHR success handling to replace the PCA with the loaded content.
  7. Add XHR error handling to go to the URL normally when response.status != 200.
  8. Inspect the response HTML for <title> element and replace document.title if exists.
  9. Inspect the response HTML for <head> element and append to current if exists.
  10. Inspect the response HTML for <script> and <link> elements (JavaScript and CSS) and evaluate them if they exist.

As a proof of concept, I created a prototype using AppFuse Light (Prototype/Scriptaculous for Ajax). You can see a demo at the following URL. You can also download a patch or the source for this project.

Below are a number of things I discovered while writing this prototype:

  • The hardest part of implementing this seems to be coding the exceptions. It's possible you'll have some links with existing onclick handlers and you may have to disable "ajaxifying links" for those links.
  • A progress indicator is important or the page might load so fast that the user doesn't visually detect it changed. This can lead to a worse user experience because they don't see the flash of the blank page they're used to when a page load occurs.
  • While forms can be submitted via Ajax, there's no harm in leaving existing form behavior in place where the full site is reloaded after submitting a form.
  • If a particular page needs to change the common elements (header, menu, footer), it should be possible to do that with JavaScript after the PCA content loads.
  • If the success/error indicator is outside the PCA, it may need to be populated and displayed/hidden with JavaScript after the PCA loads.

I'm sure my implementation can be improved, but I'm also curious to see what you think of this idea. I know it's not revolutionary, but it's something I'm considering adding by default to AppFuse and AppFuse Light. Do any Ajax frameworks do something like this out-of-the-box?


Published at DZone with permission of Matt Raible, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Fernando Ortigosa replied on Mon, 2008/10/06 - 5:17am

Hmmm. I guess AjaxAnywhere should be enough. I myself like that library, but found many things I didn't like about it, so I made a different library using the same concept, someday I'll publish it on some forge and hope anybody uses it :). Have fun.

Andrew Crawford replied on Tue, 2008/10/07 - 9:44pm

Personally, I've found writing my own custom component enough for my needs. It's a little bit of Javascript to do a call to the server, and the server then returns a tag (to place the response) and the HTML fragment itself. HTML is then populated in the tag on the page using the .innerHTML methods.

It's simple enough to do and works well when what you really want to do most of the time is just change small fragments around on the page from a user request.

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