AJAX Experts Tackle Security, Other Issues

A panel of experts broke down many of the key issues around Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (Ajax) taking on issues ranging from security, tooling, support for devices, and big question of what will Microsoft do.

SAN FRANCISCO—A panel of experts broke down many of the key issues surrounding AJAX—including security, tooling, support for devices and, not a small question, what will Microsoft do—at the AJAX Experience conference here May 10.

A panel of 10 Asynchronous JavaScript and XML experts, including the two moderators, Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith, who are co-founders of Ajaxian.com, which is helping to put on the conference, took questions from the audience for an hour.

Security ranked among the chief concerns among the audience, with some questioning whether reports that AJAX opens users to security problems are true.

Panelist Alex Russell, co-founder and project lead for The Dojo Toolkit, a popular AJAX framework, said, "Its worth noting that the fundamental problems with browser security and Web application security havent changed in five years—most rely on a single root of trust, and AJAX doesnt change that. Wider spread use of cross-domain content distribution," which is not new with AJAX, is part of the issue. "The short version is still, Dont trust the client."

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Brent Ashley, a consultant and scripting specialist who focuses on AJAX development, said there are some recent developments, such as a new JSONRequest proposal, that mitigate the cross-domain problem. "There are JSON [JavaScript Object Notation] requests that dont exchange cookies during the request. And [Adobe] Flex and ActionScript have a cross-domain file that says, These sites are allowed to cross-domain with me. That gives some control back to the server side. So while there are issues now, heres a new set of constraints."

When asked what tools they liked to use to do AJAX development, the panelists listed the programming editors often referred to as tools for "real men" programmers: Vi, Vim (also known as "Vi Improved") and Emacs. However, after some prodding from Almaer, the group listed a few tools specific to AJAX-style development.

"For a while there was virtually nothing; now there are some interesting things," said Glenn Vandenburg, an independent consultant and JavaScript expert. "I think were in an intermediary period where theres a whole bunch of tools that give you 30 to 40 percent of what you need, but no tool that does most of the job."

David Geary, a JavaServer Faces expert and president of Clarity Training, said he uses Venkman, a JavaScript debugger. "You cant do AJAX without it," he said. "I also use Selenium, an awesome tool for testing."

When asked whether there is a need to continually provide hacks to make things work better with Microsofts Internet Explorer, Joe Walker, creator of DWR (Direct Web Remoting), a popular AJAX tool kit, said, "The whole of AJAX is a hack, so I dont think we should get too purist about it."

"IE is a significant disappointment," said Russell. "We should be making noise about it. To get anything better out of IE is to start burning barricades outside offices in Redmond. We should make a lot of noise."

Russell later said that despite a large and growing number of AJAX frameworks in the industry, he expects a "peaceful coexistence" among them.

"Its remarkable how easy it is to mix them" and use the best features of different frameworks, said Stuart Halloway, co-founder of Relevance.

Asked whether the browser is ready to be used as a platform for all-day use, Walker said, "That is a problem; its a work in progress. … There are some tricks you can use and pick the right browser—like not IE."

"IE sticks out in some ways," said Halloway," but these problems are going to be there regardless of doing AJAX. … This issue should really drive you to use frameworks and libraries because they are tested."

Vandenburg said, "I said I used to think JavaScript was a misbegotten toy. And early applications were toys, but theres still some work to be done, and memory model is a big part of that. The installed base of IE will take a long time to outgrow these issues."

However, Vandenburg later said that he sees "a lot more of the logic of my application running in the browser than ever before. Im doing less programming on both server and client to achieve more. These frameworks have sprung up, and Im doing less JavaScript programming than ever before."

The issue of mobile AJAX came up, and Greg Murray, a systems engineer at Sun Microsystems, said Sun is looking at this area.

"Were starting discussions at Sun next week around AJAX for mobile devices," Murray said. Suns annual JavaOne conference is next week in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, panelists took a few shots at Microsoft, which was not represented on the panel.

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A questioner asked the panel what they thought of Atlas, Microsofts AJAX offering. Halloway said he has tested the technology, "and we find it to be pretty impressive. With Atlas its painless to get AJAX into your apps. Its fronted by WCF [Windows Communications Foundation], and its a great product."

Asked why Microsoft was not represented on the panel or not a sponsor of the event, Galbraith, who helped moderate the panel, said there was no anti-Microsoft bias during planning for the panel.

"We wanted them to sponsor the show, but they ran out of budget for the end of the year," he said to laughter from the audience.

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