my latest project and more cool buzz words AJAX

17 Nov 2006

My latest project is tool that prospective clients can use to determine what product they should buy from TSYS.

It looks like a periodic table – only upside down. It is very strange but supposedly very useful. I don’t deal with that stuff so I would not know. It was fun to make though.

All of the data that this tool uses would fit neatly in a relational database. Because of constraints in sharepoint, it can not live in a database. Sharepoint uses something called a list, to store user created data.

So where was I going to store all this data? An idea came to me: you could create several lists in Sharepoint then enforce a relationship between then. With out the help of a DBMS your program needs to maintain this relationship.

This wasn’t too hard. Instead of your traditional insert, edit, delete and select statements, I created functions that did this for me. These functions also ensured that foreign key were correct and that I wasn’t inserting a string when it should be an int.

The hard part came when I started running joins against this data. This involved lots of loops and it was very slow (I have learned to respect anyone that creates a true dbms – it must be very difficult). A general rule in web development is pages shouldn’t take longer than 3 seconds to load. Mine took up to 10 seconds to load.

I had read in several articles that web services and javascript, called AJAX, can make a better user experience. This was my reason for using web services. Until now, all my web services used SOAP to send data back and forth. I was always the consumer of the web services and never created any. Since SOAP is a lot of work to parse with javascript, I really didn’t want to do that. I quickly found out that you don’t need xml/soap/.net at all. It’s just a web page.

In the end I took those same pages that were slowly creating this heatmap and started calling them with my javascript. Because the web service calls were asynchronous, I could display a progress bar while the page loaded. This distracts users. They forget something is slow when they see a progress bar. It’s like dangling keys in front of a baby.

All that’s left now is creating a better administrative tool and making it look pretty. :)