Bulletproof Ajax (Book review)

Everybody wants Ajax these days. Designers, developers, and clients alike all want the perceived slickness that Ajax can add to a website or Web application.

And done the right way, Ajax can enhance the usability of a site for most visitors. But sadly, Ajax is rarely used the right way, and more often than not it is implemented in an obtrusive and inaccessible manner with little or no real usability improvements. And that’s where this much needed book comes in.

In Bulletproof Ajax, Jeremy Keith (Adactio, DOM Scripting) explains how to use Ajax the right way. He does so by relentlessly reminding the reader that accessibility needs to be considered throughout development, especially once you start adding JavaScript.

After explaining what Ajax is (hint: it is not JavaScript animations, which some people seem to think) and how to use it properly, Jeremy uses two chapters to take a closer look at the usability and accessibility problems that you get when you use Ajax. “Ajax challenges” discusses things like backward compatibility, giving the user feedback, and how Ajax breaks the browser behaviour users are accustomed to. The chapter “Ajax and Accessibility” gives you a good insight into the problems Ajax can cause for people who use screen readers. In short, there are no easy solutions.

It’s refreshing to read a book where the author has enough courage to say that the technology the book is about isn’t always the right tool for the job. Because Ajax isn’t always the best choice, despite what you may think if you listen to the hype.

I love this book. I love it for its simplicity and how Jeremy encourages the use of unobtrusive Ajax. I love it because I fully agree with nearly every word in it. And I love it because it is a quick read, since I think that will make it more likely to be picked up by the people it is aimed at.

If you are a front-end developer or a designer with a solid understanding of HTML and CSS, but aren’t quite sure when and how to use Ajax, you want this book.

Bulletproof Ajax
Author: Jeremy Keith
ISBN-10: 0321472667
ISBN-13: 978-0321472663

Posted on May 31, 2007 in Accessibility, JavaScript, Reviews


  1. May 31, 2007 by Erik Töyrä

    Haha… aren’t you a busy bee in the morning Roger? Posting articles as early in the morning as 06.52… impressive! ;)

    This book seems like one of those every web developer should have in his/her bookshelf. I’m with you all the way in your opinion that AJAX should be used to enhance the usability - not to add some cool bling bling stuff. I prefer to use it in the applications I’m developing to simplyfy the administration. And thats it. If it helps the usability using AJAX - use it, otherwise don’t.

  2. May 31, 2007 by Tobias

    As I read your review I have to think about how much coworkers and myself are spending on books. Did you ever consider signing up to O’Reilly’s Safari? It might spare me much money in the future. Any experience with this online library?

  3. Mmm, been thinking of buying that book as I’d like to implement some AJAX features but I’m conscious of wanting to learn it using good habits!

    Jeremy Keith’s other book ‘Dom Scripting’ is great so I’m sure this will be good too.

  4. This looks great. I have his book on DOM Scripting which is an excellent example of well written training.

    He speaks well and clearly and I definitely identify with his push on the accessible front. I’ll add this to my wish list :)

  5. Cool read. I’ve been considering buying this ever since Jeremy first mentioned it on his blog. The thing is, I’m already aware of unobtrusive javascript and that ajax should not be used everywhere(i consume all of his presentations). I don’t want to buy a book only to tell me what I’ve gathered in his blog and others alike.

    In your opinion, and seeing that you have reviewed both, which would you recommend to someone who’s already familiar with these topics but want to learn best practices and go deeper in the javascript world, specially finding out how to solve those usability issues caused by ajax you mentioned:

    Thank you.

    ps:i’m inclined to jeremy’s.

    pps: or i could get both…? haha

  6. I totally agree with you. It’s a great book not only it explains how to use the technology it shows the correct, unobtrusive way to use it.

  7. Hey Roger,

    (sorry for veering off-topic..)

    Good to see you’re using the hreview microformat. I know you’ve got the mandatory ‘item’ marked up, but isn’t it a bit of a waste not to wrap ‘hreview’ round the actual review?

  8. May 31, 2007 by Michael McLoughlin

    @Andre: Having read this book, I would say there isn’t much in it for someone who is already familiar with Jeremy Kieth’s message on accessability and unobtrusive javascript. I had read his previous book, including the last chapter on ajax, as well as followed his blog, and I didn’t feel there was much more in Bulletproof Ajax.

    If you know what is meant by Hijax, and are aware of some of the usability/accessability issues associated with Ajax, then I wouldn’t of thought you would gain much from the book.

    It is very well written and refreshingly short, but ultimately doesn’t say that much. Also, it definately doesn’t focus on the programming side of Ajax. I didnt find this is a problem, but you might be looking for more of a guide on how to structure ajax applications?

    I’ve not read ppk on javascript, but would be interested in Roger’s opinion on the relative merits of these books.

  9. RE: Andre The books are 2 completely different books. Completely. I would recommend getting them both, but one focuses on AJAX geared to the designer, while the other focuses on every element of Javascript. PPK is more of an advanced Javascript book - while Bulletproof AJAX is a quick read of code, philosophy, and understanding of AJAX (specifically).

    So, if you are looking to understand more about AJAX - get Jeremy’s book. If you are looking to get a more in-depth knowledge of Javascript - get either PPK on Javascript or Pro Javascript Techniques by John Resig - both are excellent reads.

    Im sure Roger will have some good insight too…

  10. I have both of Jeremys books (DOM Scripting and Bulletproof Ajax) and they’re both great. They’re a joy to read, easy to understand and still keeps everything interesting.

  11. Thank you for the review. I have been thinking about buying this book after looking at it in one of the local bookstores. This book is excellent in its clarity with plenty of great examples and is also relatively easy to follow.

  12. Thanks for the review Roger. I just bought this book and eagerly awaiting it! :)

  13. i love your book reviews, i just learned proper HTML and CSS recently by reading a few books, because i learned the old way with tables.

    I am looking forward to learn more and more, i love reading and learning new things when it comes to web design.

    this book seems interesting and i will def. check it out.

    thanks for the review, and keep more coming :)

  14. Your taste, Roger, is clearly impeccable. ;-)

  15. I bought this book a couple of weeks ago, and I totally agree with your review Roger—it’s a great read!

    Definitely recommended for anyone that ever wanted to learn how to use Ajax the right way.

  16. i totally agree, I bought this book some momths ago and its really fun to read while still explained well and the most usable book about ajax basics AND how and when to use them - I know.

  17. Well, after a review like that, I think I want this book. AJAX is neat, but two things have really made me keep it at arms length: Security and accessibility. Three things, actually, if you include my lack of JS know-how.

    Maybe upon reading this book I’ll bring it in little closer. I’ve seen good implementations, it is slick, I can see how it could save some bandwidth and even enhance usability, so maybe this will help me get with the program so to speak.

  18. This book is good on UI part and overall great one. Tons of sample code to begin from scratch.

  19. I have just read this book and really enjoyed the clear concise style. Chapter two is the best introduction to JavaScript I have read anywhere, for those new to programming languages.

  20. June 2, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Sorry for being so slow to respond to comments on this. I got caught up in other things.


    Haha… aren’t you a busy bee in the morning Roger? Posting articles as early in the morning as 06.52… impressive! ;)

    Heh ;-). Yeah, that doesn’t happen every day.


    Did you ever consider signing up to O’Reilly’s Safari? It might spare me much money in the future. Any experience with this online library?

    I don’t even know what O’Reilly’s Safari is, so nope, I don’t have any experience with it :-D.

    André, Michael: I agree with what Nate says about “Bulletproof Ajax” and “PPK on JavaScript”. They are completely different, so I would recommend getting both.


    Good to see you’re using the hreview microformat. I know you’ve got the mandatory ‘item’ marked up, but isn’t it a bit of a waste not to wrap ‘hreview’ round the actual review?

    Maybe it is - I didn’t realise you could do that. Actually I find it hard to wrap my head around most of the Microformats syntax. I’m currently reading John Allsopp’s Microformats: Empowering Your Markup for Web 2.0 to learn more.


    thanks for the review, and keep more coming :)

    I’m happy you like my book reviews! I’ve got several written already and a huge pile of books to get through, so there will be more ;-).

    Jeremy: ;-D

  21. Thank´s for a great site!

  22. Thanks for letting me know about this book. I will buy it for sure!

  23. June 4, 2007 by David Tremblay

    Great Review Roger ! I was wondering if you got any plans of reviewing Sitepoint “The Art & Science of CSS book” in a near future?

  24. June 4, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    David: Nope, that book is not in my pile (yet) :-).

  25. Another GEM from Jeremy Keith. Dom Scripting Book has changed the way I used to look at Javascript and now Bulletproof AJAX is a great read. I think its so well written that a layman can learn AJAX. Must read for every ajax developer.

  26. @David I have completed reading “The Art & Science of CSS” book. I have written a review on it. May be you can have a look at it. Art & Science of CSS book review

  27. I was actually looking to buy this book the other day, but hesitated for some reason. Your review might just make me go out and buy it. I’m a bit new to AJAX, and I’m hoping this will help.

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