The "Hello World" Exercise with jQuery and PHP

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jQuery is a JavaScript library that greatly simplifies JavaScript programming.

AJAX is an acronym formed from "Asynchronous JavaScript and XML."  AJAX refers to any communication between client and server, when the human client does not observe a new page load.  An HTTP request occurs, but it occurs as a result of a JavaScript event, rather than an explicit page load or form submission.  As a result, the web page takes on an appearance much like a desktop application, with smooth transitions as data is added or removed from the viewport.  This is often referred to as the "Web 2.0" effect.

I found myself looking around for a jQuery/AJAX "Hello World" example (that simplest of scripts to prove that the essential moving parts are working correctly).  There are lots of partial examples in many different places all over the WWW, but nothing seemed complete and well-documented, so I decided to write my own.  Here is the result of that effort.

The Server-Side of the Exercise
To make my example, I decided the essential parts would be the ability to send some data to the server and get a response back, so the first part of the exercise is the server-side script that produces a response containing the data it received from the AJAX request.  AJAX provides a RESTful interface.  The data for the request is sent via GET or POST and the response from the server is sent in the form of browser output.  As a result, it is very easy to test the back-end script.  Just type its URL into a browser address bar and you can see the RESTful interface in action.  Here is that script.
<?php // RAY_ajax_server.php


echo '<pre>';

echo date('r');
echo  PHP_EOL;

echo 'GET: ';

echo 'POST: ';

echo '</pre>';
echo  PHP_EOL;

$response = ob_get_clean();


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When you run that script from the browser you see something like this:

Thu, 13 Sep 2012 13:32:35 -0500
GET: array(0) {
POST: array(0) {

Once I had the server side working, I turned to the client side and began looking at jQuery.

How jQuery Syntax Works
In the simplest of terms, jQuery does two things: (1) Select HTML page elements, and (2) Perform actions on them.  The process of finding page elements is accomplished through the use of "selectors" that enable the programmer to choose one or more elements of the document.  Selectors can be HTML tags or named CSS elements, such as div or class.  The "actions" process consists of reading or changing these elements.  It may include accessing the content such as a form input, changing the CSS attributes (location, color, visibility), or changing the contents (text, HTML markup) of the page element.  The syntax looks like this:


The Client-Side of the Exercise
I coded the jQuery client-side example shown below.  A few explanatory notes follow each important line of the code.

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://code.jquery.com/jquery-latest.min.js"></script>

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This loads the latest version of the "minified" jQuery library.  The jQuery library is a very large and elaborate JavaScript library.  We choose the "minified" version because it uses minimalist syntax and variable names to shrink the size of the code, and thereby improve the performance of your web page by reducing the time it takes to load the jQuery file.


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This tells jQuery to wait until the document is ready.  The reason for this waiting period is because inline JavaScript (not part of a function) is run as soon as the browser encounters the code.  By waiting, we ensure that all of the needed parts of the web page have been loaded.  The document.ready event occurs after the onLoad event, but usually before the entire web page is loaded.  Images, for example, do not have to finish loading before the document is ready.  As a practical matter, this is frequently the first line of jQuery code.


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This tells jQuery to run the following function when there is a mouse click in the page element named with the id="signal" attribute.  If you look into the HTML below, you can see this element on line 23.

        indata = $("#xinput").val();

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This copies the value from the page element with the id="xinput" attribute and assigns it to the JavaScript variable named "indata."

        $.post("RAY_ajax_server.php", {myArg:indata}, function(response){

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This makes a POST-method request to the URL Ray_Ajax_Server.php, passing the input data in a request argument named "myArg" and receives the response from the server in a JavaScript variable named "response."

            $("#output p#target").html(response);

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This tells jQuery to select the page element identified by the id="output" and look inside it for the

tag having the id="target" attribute.  The response variable from the server will replace the HTML and text in that paragraph.

In the HTML tags of the body, you can see the id= attributes associated with our jQuery selectors.  Here is the entire client-side script:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html dir="ltr" lang="en-US">
<meta charset="utf-8" />
<title>Ajax Example Using jQuery</title>
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://code.jquery.com/jquery-latest.min.js"></script>

        indata = $("#xinput").val();
        $.post("RAY_ajax_server.php", {myArg:indata}, function(response){
            $("#output p#target").html(response);


<input id="xinput" value="Enter your name here" />
<div   id="signal">This is not a link, but Click Me Anyway!</div>
<div   id="output">
   <p  id="static">This element remains unchanged</p>
   <p  id="target">This element gets the AJAX response</p>


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The Initial Page Load
On the initial page load, you will see an input box followed with something like this:

This is not a link, but Click Me Anyway!
This element remains unchanged
This element gets the AJAX response

After the AJAX Request Completes
When you put in your name and click, you will see something like this:

This is not a link, but Click Me Anyway!
This element remains unchanged
Thu, 13 Sep 2012 14:05:50 -0500
GET: array(0) {
POST: array(1) {
  string(3) "Ray"

Executive Summary
Once you have that much working, you have mastered the Hello World exercise of a jQuery AJAX request.  You have sent information from the client browser to the server and received the server's response.  You have placed the response into the document in a way that lets it appear in the viewport.  Starting with that foundation, you can begin using jQuery to build interactive and lively web applications with the look and feel of "Web 2.0."

References and Further Reading

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Author:Ray Paseur
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