class Ajax.Request

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Initiates and processes an Ajax request.

Ajax.Request is a general-purpose class for making HTTP requests which handles the life-cycle of the request, handles the boilerplate, and lets you plug in callback functions for your custom needs.

In the optional options hash, you usually provide an onComplete and/or onSuccess callback, unless you're in the edge case where you're getting a JavaScript-typed response, that will automatically be eval'd.

For a full list of common options and callbacks, see "Ajax options" heading of the Ajax.

A basic example
new Ajax.Request('/your/url', {
  onSuccess: function(response) {
    // Handle the response content...
Request life-cycle

Underneath our nice requester objects lies, of course, XMLHttpRequest. The defined life-cycle is as follows:

  1. Created
  2. Initialized
  3. Request sent
  4. Response being received (can occur many times, as packets come in)
  5. Response received, request complete

As you can see under the "Ajax options" heading of the Ajax, Prototype's AJAX objects define a whole slew of callbacks, which are triggered in the following order:

  1. onCreate (this is actually a callback reserved to Ajax.Responders)
  2. onUninitialized (maps on Created)
  3. onLoading (maps on Initialized)
  4. onLoaded (maps on Request sent)
  5. onInteractive (maps on Response being received)
  6. onXYZ (numerical response status code), onSuccess or onFailure (see below)
  7. onComplete

The two last steps both map on Response received, in that order. If a status-specific callback is defined, it gets invoked. Otherwise, if onSuccess is defined and the response is deemed a success (see below), it is invoked. Otherwise, if onFailure is defined and the response is not deemed a sucess, it is invoked. Only after that potential first callback is onComplete called.

A note on portability

Depending on how your browser implements XMLHttpRequest, one or more callbacks may never be invoked. In particular, onLoaded and onInteractive are not a 100% safe bet so far. However, the global onCreate, onUninitialized and the two final steps are very much guaranteed.

onSuccess and onFailure, the under-used callbacks

Way too many people use Ajax.Request in a similar manner to raw XHR, defining only an onComplete callback even when they're only interested in "successful" responses, thereby testing it by hand:

// This is too bad, there's better!
new Ajax.Request('/your/url', {
  onComplete: function(response) {
    if (200 == response.status)
      // yada yada yada

First, as described below, you could use better "success" detection: success is generally defined, HTTP-wise, as either no response status or a "2xy" response status (e.g., 201 is a success, too). See the example below.

Second, you could dispense with status testing altogether! Prototype adds callbacks specific to success and failure, which we listed above. Here's what you could do if you're only interested in success, for instance:

new Ajax.Request('/your/url', {
  onSuccess: function(response) {
      // yada yada yada
Automatic JavaScript response evaluation

If an Ajax request follows the same-origin policy and its response has a JavaScript-related Content-type, the content of the responseText property will automatically be passed to eval.

In other words: you don't even need to provide a callback to leverage pure-JavaScript Ajax responses. This is the convention that drives Rails's RJS.

The list of JavaScript-related MIME-types handled by Prototype is:

  • application/ecmascript
  • application/javascript
  • application/x-ecmascript
  • application/x-javascript
  • text/ecmascript
  • text/javascript
  • text/x-ecmascript
  • text/x-javascript

The MIME-type string is examined in a case-insensitive manner.

Methods you may find useful

Instances of the Ajax.Request object provide several methods that come in handy in your callback functions, especially once the request is complete.

Is the response a successful one?

The Ajax.Request#success method examines the XHR object's status property and follows general HTTP guidelines: unknown status is deemed successful, as is the whole 2xy status code family. It's a generally better way of testing your response than the usual 200 == transport.status.

Getting HTTP response headers

While you can obtain response headers from the XHR object using its getResponseHeader method, this makes for verbose code, and several implementations raise an exception when the header is not found. To make this easier, you can use the Ajax.Response#getHeader method, which delegates to the longer version and returns null if an exception occurs:

new Ajax.Request('/your/url', {
  onSuccess: function(response) {
    // Note how we brace against null values
    if ((response.getHeader('Server') || '').match(/Apache/))
    // Remainder of the code
Evaluating JSON headers

Some backends will return JSON not as response text, but in the X-JSON header. In this case, you don't even need to evaluate the returned JSON yourself, as Prototype automatically does so. It passes the result as the headerJSON property of the Ajax.Response object. Note that if there is no such header — or its contents are invalid — headerJSON will be set to null.

new Ajax.Request('/your/url', {
  onSuccess: function(transport) {



Instance methods