Getting Started With jQuery - Ajax The Basics
Getting Started With jQuery - Ajax The Basics
Written by Ian Elliot   
Monday, 24 August 2015
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Getting Started With jQuery - Ajax The Basics
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Ajax is the technology that turned the web page into the web app. Since Ajax was invented there have been lots of innovations and frameworks that make web apps easier but a mastery of basic Ajax technique is still important and jQuery makes it easy and cross browser.  



Chapter List 

  1. The DOM
  2. CSS Selectors
  3. Filters
  4. Advanced Filters
  5. Manipulating The DOM
  6. Promises & Deferred
  7. Promises, Deferred & WebWorkers
  8. Ajax the Basics - get
  9. Ajax the Basic -  post
  10. Ajax - Advanced Ajax To The Server 
  11. Ajax - Advanced Ajax To The Client
  12. Ajax - Advanced Ajax Transports And JSONP
  13. Ajax - Advanced Ajax The jsXHR Object
  14. Ajax - Advanced Ajax Character Coding And Encoding
  15. jQuery - Easy Plugins
  16. jQuery UI
  17. jQuery UI Custom Control - Widget Factory
  18. Getting Started With QUnit Testing

Wanting to make use of Ajax is one of the prime reasons for adopting jQuery. Working with Ajax raw in the browser isn't very difficult but exactly how it works varies according to the browser and jQuery does a very good job of covering up these differences. It isn't difficult to write JavaScript code that works in a wide range of browsers without jQuery but why bother when you get so much extra with jQuery.

First we have to deal with what exactly Ajax is all about and how we might use it. 

Before Ajax a web page loaded and then loaded all of the resources, image files, JavaScript files and so on and that was about it. After the initial load there was no way a JavaScript program could download more data until the page was replaced by a new page. The web worked entirely in terms of whole pages and new behaviour or new data from the server 

The Ajax idea is to allow JavaScript to upload and download data to the server under program control. Web pages have always been able to upload data to the server using the HTML form mechanism but this has a limited but very useful applicability. 

With Ajax you can, for example, download data from the server to a string say and then use it for what ever purpose you like. Often the new data is HTML which you can then use with jQuery to modify the DOM. In other words the page can be modified without the need to reload the entire page. This gives rise to the idea of the single page web app. A single HTML page can use JavaScript to update itself without ever having to load another page.

If you are planning to write a single page web app then there are frameworks that will make your task easier. You could do the whole job using nothing but jQuery and JavaScript but it would be a lot of work and you would have to reinvent the wheel many times. 

jQuery Ajax isn't sufficient to build a complex one page web app. It is incredibly useful when you just need to augment an existing web page to have additional dynamic content. 

Similarly you can get by using the standard HTML form to deliver data to the server in many cases. However some times it is just more direct to handle the transfer of data yourself. The main reason for this is when the data doesn't originate in a simple user form. 

The bottom line is that jQuery makes Ajax as easy as it can be for small tasks but for anything like a single page application or an MVC style website you need to look for and use a ready build framework.

In this chapter we start off by looking at the basic architecture of an HTTP request and introduce the simplest of jQuery's Ajax method - get. 

Starting off with get means that we can avoid dealing with the complications of implementing a program on the server side. Our examples can simply retrieve a file stored on the server. For more complicated situations see the next chapter. 

Ajax From The Server's Point Of View

An HTML server only responds to a small number of request types. The only two transactions that are of any interest to Ajax are the Get and Post. 

Get is the standard way a web page and other resources are delivered to a client browser. Without going into details what happens is that the client puts together a get request with the URL of the resource it wants and the server finds the file corresponding to the path in the URL. 

For example if the client does a get

then the server retrieves myPage.html from the local file system from the folder that is the root of the website and sends it to the client. 

It really is that simple. 

The Post is a little more tricky. When the client sends a Post request its sends a URL to the server and data consisting of name value pairs in the body of the HTTP message. In this case the web server isn't expected to return the web page corresponding to the user but to use the web page to process the data. In fact the web page is returned to the client but if this is all that happened the data passed to the server would be ignored. 

For example a Post to

does exactly the same as a Get to the same URL, i.e. it returns myPage.html to the client but a payload of data was delivered, and in this case, ignored by the server. 

To be of any use the URL specified in a Post has to correspond to some sort of program that can process the data and optionally send a response back to the client. For example the URL often corresponds to a php web page which can access the data the server has received and send some HTML back to the client.  

That is the URL in a Post usually specifies a program that will accept the data from the client and send back a response. 

Note: if you are working with Netbeans and are trying things out with the embedded server it is important to know that its implementation of Post doesn't return a static file specified in the URL. However it does work if you use the PHP embedded server. 

To summarize:

  • Get - the server returns the specified file.

  • Post - the server returns the specified file and receives the specified data in the body of the HTTP request. 

Notice that it is also possible to pass the server data as part of the URL sent to the server - usually by using the query string. This works but it is limited in the amount of data that can be sent by the maximum length of a URL. For the moment we will ignore the query string approach to sending data to the server - see the next chapter for an example. 

jQuery Get

jQuery has an extensive and sophisticated set of Ajax methods but in many cases the "shortcut" methods are all you need as these perform the most common operations. However this said there are often cases were you need the full Ajax method but let us start simple.

The most basic get method is:


where the url is the resource you want to get and the function is the callback that is run if the request is successful. 

For example to get the contents of a file called "mydata.txt" stored in the same directory as the current page you would use:

          function (data) {

The data contained in the file is passed to the callback function in the parameter - data in this case. When the Ajax call is complete the callback displays the data. 

We have a lot to say about the data and the way it can be generated by the server but for the moment let's concentrate the basics.

It turns out that including a callback as a parameter is the "old" way of doing things. Modern JavaScript and modern jQuery prefer to use Promises.


If this is as complicated as you Ajax use is and is going to be then you can get way with simply using the callback form of get and the other Ajax methods.

However in the latest jQuery and in the latest version of JavaScript the best practice is to use a Promise object. If you want to know about Promises in jQuery then see jQuery, Promises & Deferred

For the moment all you need to know is that all jQuery Ajax calls return an jqXHR object which is a superset of a Promise object. 

A Promise object (in this case) has three important methods 

done(function) used to set a function that is called when the Ajax task has completed successfully.

fail(function) used to set a function that is called when the Ajax task has failed

always(function) used to set a function to be called always i.e. irrespective of success or failure.

There are a number of good things about using a Promise and the main one is that you can define as many handlers as you like and at any time. If the Ajax task has already completed then any handler you set will be called immediately. If it hasn't completed then it will be called when the data is ready or there is an error condition.

As all Promise methods return a Promise object you can chain method calls. 

For example the previous load of "mydata.txt" can be written:


Things get a little more interesting when you also define what is to happen if things go wrong and/or a clean up routine: 

                    function (data) {
                    function () {
                    function () {


Of course you don't have to define a handler for each of the events but this is the easiest way to do the job.

The details of the three functions are: 

  • done(function( data, textStatus, jqXHR )

  • fail(function( jqXHR, textStatus, errorThrown )

  • always(function( data, textStatus, qXHR ) if done
  • always(function( jqXHR, textStatus, errorThrown ) if fail

data is the returned data.  

textStatus is object with a string value equal to one of:


errorThrown is a string containing the message returned by the server. Obviously the range of possible responses depends on the server.

jqXHR is an object that can be used to find things out about the Ajax request. It is a superset of the browser's XMLHttpRequest object and has at least the following properties. 

responseText - the data returned. 

responseXML - the data if it is HTML or XML 

status - HTTP result code

statusText - HTTP result code text e.g. OK

and methods:

getAllResponseHeaders()  get all headers as a single string

getResponseHeader("header") get the specified header as a string

For example:


      function (data,textStatus,jqXHR ) {


Last Updated ( Sunday, 30 August 2015 )

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