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Chat rooms have been with us for a very long time now. In fact, it is chat rooms, those gathering places where you can talk in real time with your fellow computer users, that draw many people to the Internet in the first place (email tends to be the biggest draw, but chat rooms are not too far behind for many people).
If you think about what a chat room application must require, it becomes clear that we'll need a server component. There has to be some broker in between all the chatter that deals with keeping track of the various chat rooms available, who is logged in and chatting in what room, and those types of system-level considerations. More important, though, is some arbiter of messages—a way for all the people currently chatting in a given room to see the various messages.
In a "real" chat application, such as those you might find on AOL, for instance, it is likely that the server actually pushes new messages out to the users in the room. That way, there is no delay between when someone says something and when everyone else in the room sees it.
If you were going to build a purely HTML-based chat application, as we are about to do, you'd have to consider all of these points. However, because the Web is based on a pull model of client-server interaction, ignoring things like applets and such, you clearly need to go about things a little differently. Could you have a meta refresh tag on a page that periodically asked the server for any new messages? Yes, but then you would be redrawing the entire screen each time, which would be rather inefficient, especially if you built it with something like JSP (JavaServer Pages) or another dynamic rendering technology where the server would be responsible for that redrawing.
There must be a better way, and of course there is: AJAX!
The AjaxChat application will have a number of requirements based on these, and a few others, as follows:
This should be a fun project! Let's now figure out how we are going to accomplish all that we have set out for ourselves.
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