Microsoft has been working away in the background for quite some time now on a set of frameworks to support AJAX-style development on top of ASP.NET. The project at Microsoft produced a set of tools under the banner of Atlas in the form of a CTP (Community Technology Preview).

Community Technology Previews generally don’t live up to the same quality bar as Beta releases of software, but Atlas despite a few issues was pretty good. Microsoft has decided to take what they have learned from the CTP process and push forward for an official release of their AJAX tools in the December timeframe.

As part of their plans they broke up the way that the AJAX tools shipped and there are now three seperate components that web application developers should be interested in.

  • ASP.NET AJAX 1.0 Beta 2 (Download)
  • ASP.NET AJAX Futures November CTP (Download)
  • ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit (Download)

I list them out above with links mostly because it is hard to find a page that lists the three important downloads together and its even harder to find one page which explains what the heck they are. Let’s see if I can do a reasonable job here.

ASP.NET AJAX 1.0 Beta 2

This is a set of extensions to the core ASP.NET engine which provide support for things such as partial page rendering, JSON serialization, and server controls such as the ScriptManager which integrate the client-side experience with the existing ASP.NET infrastructure along with a fairly impressive set of client-side JavaScript libraries that are useful not just on ASP.NET, but any application that is using AJAX techniques. We should see this particular set of tools ship this side of Christmas.

ASP.NET AJAX Futures November CTP

Given that the ASP.NET AJAX 1.0 extensions are going out pretty soon, there are still some bits and pieces which aren’t quite baked, these were ripped out of the core set of extensions and placed into this package.

The vast majority of AJAX technology is going into the ASP.NET AJAX 1.0 build but there are some things such as an AJAX aware WebPartManager which sit inside this preview. The beauty of Microsoft taking this approach is that when they decide to drop a feature out of the core product people who invested time in getting it working with their sites aren’t left completely high and dry.

The AJAX space – and the Web 2.0 culture it exists within does take calculated risks on new and emerging technology. This packaging is all about providing some continuity on experiments whilst still shipping a supportable product.

ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit

I don’t know if this should be branded as an ASP.NET “product”, it is more of a community thing given that it is hosted on CodePlex. The AJAX Control Toolkit is a set of free standing controls and control extenders which sit on top of the ASP.NET AJAX 1.0 framework.

The controls abstact away a lot of the heavy lifting code that web developers need to write to get certain effects in their AJAX enabled appications. The best way to sample what is possible is to go and check out sample site which shows off each of the controls.

Where is all this heading?

Good question, glad you, err, I asked. ASP.NET has always offered a very productive web-development platform. I remember looking at the framework in awe when I realised that I could simply hook up server side code to an event that happened in the browser and not have to worry about parsing query strings and post content to figure out what the user actually did on the client side. Basically ASP.NET had a fantastic server-side programming model with some client side hooks but other than fairly basic validation, there wasn’t much to write home about.

Now that ASP.NET AJAX 1.0 (Beta 2) is out the picture is looking much more complete and we have a great server side programming model as well as a set of easy to use components which support a better client side experience.


While I am at it I thought I might point out the blogs of a few guys that I work with who I reckon “know their AJAX”:

There we go – that is probably enough link love today 🙂


2 thoughts on “ASP.NET AJAX: The Tools

  1. Mitch Denny Post author

    Wow! The honesty! Actually I forgot to mention that Darren had been doing some AJAX stuff internally.

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