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Following the trail to slim clients

Blogger : BitWorking
All posts : All posts by BitWorking
Category : XML
Blogged date : 2004 Oct 29

Jon Udell has a new InfoWorld article Under Gmail`s hood . (On a side note, check this page to see why you don`t put smart quotes in your page titles.) This leads to Johnvey Hwang`s more detailed writeup of Gmail internals, which in turn leads to this little gem on XMLHttpRequest, and at the end links to a small tutoral on using JavaScript and HTTP requests to dynamically update SVG documents.

What I found most fascinating was the Gmail JavaScript UI Engine:

As early adopters discovered long before I did, there`s an architecture behind this JavaScript/ DHTML wizardry. The best description I`ve found is from Johnvey Hwang, who deconstructed Gmail`s JavaScript code and created a .Net-based Gmail API. As Hwang described in his July 5 write-up, Gmail loads a JavaScript "UI engine" into your browser at the beginning of each session. Oddpost, he noted, was the first Web mail application to perfect this technique. That was a prophetic statement: Just four days later, on July 9, Yahoo acquired Oddpost.

Because Gmail`s behavior is embedded in the UI engine, all subsequent interaction between the browser and the Gmail service is just an exchange of data. What Hwang calls the DataPack format is not XML, though; it`s JavaScript. When you make a request to the Gmail service, whether to refresh your inbox or to modify the list of labels you can attach to messages, the response is a minimal set of JavaScript function calls and associated data objects that the engine uses to update the display.

Later Jon goes on to ask:

So is Gmail a rich Internet application Sure. Although that label most often applies to Java, .Net, and Flash clients, Gmail shows that Web clients can join the club too. But crucially, Gmail`s architecture is open to other kinds of rich clients, too. It doesn`t have to be a zero-sum game.

It`s interesting that Gmail is manuevering between the categories of thick and thin clients. Maybe there should be a whole new category for `slim` clients andGmail and Oddpost are just the first entries.

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