ASP.NET AJAX, currently code-named "Atlas," is a free framework from Microsoft that allows developers to create AJAX-enabled ASP.NET sites rapidly. What would normally be code-intensive is now as simple as implementing a framework and making your AJAX requests, without having to worry about how to make the request model work. I’m not an expert when it comes to ASP.NET, but this framework makes it so easy to create AJAX sites that it’s hard to pass up.
Although you don’t need to understand the inner workings of how Atlas makes AJAX requests, I do recommend that you have a basic understanding of how a standard AJAX request model works. If you would like to learn the basics of AJAX, take a look at my article "How To Use AJAX."
This article explains where to get Atlas, how to install it, and how to create a C# project that makes AJAX requests to a custom web service. You must have a copy of Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 or the free version of Microsoft Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition. The source code for this project can be downloaded here.
Getting and Installing the Atlas Framework
The home page for the Atlas framework can be found here and the latest version of the installer can currently be downloaded here. This web site also has valuable resources that I recommend reviewing, in order to learn more about the power of this framework and how to use it in various situations.
Once you have downloaded the Windows installer (.msi), run it to install the appropriate files onto your computer. You’ll go through a series of prompts that allow you to install the Atlas project templates and starter kits in Visual Basic and/or C#. For purposes of this article, you’ll have to install at least the templates in C#. Another option that’s offered is registering the .asbx file extension with IIS. The .asbx file is called an Atlas bridge file because it allows you to communicate with remote web services. It works by retrieving data from other web sites to be used in your own, which is called "mash-ups." I recommend registering this extension just so that you can get an idea of the power behind it.