Ruby On Rails Framework Adds AJAX Tools In Major Update

The star addition to Rails 1.1 is RJS, which enables JavaScript calls in Ruby code and simplifies AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML)-style programming. Tasks that previously required more extensive coding and server calls can now be handled more concisely with RJS.

"It makes Web application programming a lot more like desktop GUI [graphical user interface] programming," said Jeremy Voorhis, lead architect at Planet Argon, a Portland, Ore., services firm that specializes in Ruby on Rails development. Planet Argon has already used RJS on several client projects. Because Rails is an open source project, developers can start working with new features before they make their way into a formal release.

Rails is a relative newcomer on the application development scene. The two-year-old framework is the brainchild of programmer David Heinemeier Hansson, who built it to use for application development at 37signals, a Chicago ISV that makes software-as-a-service applications. The framework caught on and is now used by Web applications such as community Web site 43 Things and scheduling software CalendarHub. Devotees are drawn to the specialized system for its tight focus on optimizing for Web application development, which allows it to avoid the scale and complexity of more broadly used programming languages.

A full description of Rails 1.1's new features is available on the Rails Web site. Rails has a conservative release history (it moved to 1.0 in December, after more than a year of widespread use), and 1.1 is an extensive package of updates that encompasses many initiatives previously released piecemeal.

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"Moving to 1.1 is really a formality," Voorhis said. "It's a measurement of quality, and a statement that everything is stable."