MapJAX: Data Structure Abstractions for Asynchronous Web Applications
Daniel S. Myers, Jennifer N. Carlisle, James A. Cowling, & Barbara H. Liskov
The current approach to developing rich, interactive web applications
relies on asynchronous RPCs (Remote Procedure Calls) to fetch new data
to be displayed by the client. We argue that for the majority of web
applications, this RPC-based model is not the correct abstraction: it
forces programmers to use an awkward continuation-passing style of
programming and to expend too much effort manually transferring
data. We propose a new programming model, MapJAX, to remedy these
problems. MapJAX provides the abstraction of data structures shared
between the browser and the server, based on the familiar primitives
of objects, locks, and threads. MapJAX also provides additional
features (parallel for loops and prefetching) that help
developers minimize response times in their applications. MapJAX thus
allows developers to focus on what they do best-writing compelling
applications-rather than worrying about systems issues of data
transfer and callback management.
We describe the design and implementation of the MapJAX framework and show its
use in three prototypical web applications: a mapping application, an email
client, and a search-autocomplete application. We evaluate the performance of
these applications under realistic Internet latency and bandwidth constraints
and find that the unoptimized MapJAX versions perform comparably to the
standard AJAX versions, while MapJAX performance optimizations can dramatically
improve performance, by close to a factor of 2 relative to non-MapJAX code in
``It is really, really, really hard to build something like
Gmail and Google Maps,'' said David Mendels, general manager of
platform products for Macromedia. ``Google hired rocket
scientists... Most companies can't go and repeat what Google has
Recent months have shown an explosive growth in rich, interactive
content on the World Wide Web -- a phenomenon termed Web
2.0. Central to this growth is a communication technique known as
AJAX, web applications were forced to fetch an entire page from the
server in order to display any new data. By contrast, AJAX allows
the page or blocking the user interface. This has permitted the
development of a new class of highly-responsive, desktop-like
applications on the web. Moreover, support for the underlying AJAX
mechanisms is ubiquitous, having been present in web browsers since
the late 1990s, so these applications can be delivered without the
need for third-party plugins.
The current AJAX programming model has two significant shortcomings,
however. First, AJAX requires that web clients request content from
web servers using asynchronous HTTP requests: the client bundles
any statements that depend on the result of the request into a
callback that will be executed when the response to the HTTP request
arrives. This approach forces programmers to use an awkward
continuation-passing programming style and thread program state
through a series of callback functions. While various
toolkits [9,15] elevate the level of abstraction to that of
an RPC, none has eliminated the use of continuations and callbacks.
Additionally, a programmer using AJAX must develop his or her own
techniques for avoiding delays associated with fetching content from
the server. These delays can be reduced by prefetching content before
it is needed, and by sending requests in parallel. Neither AJAX nor
current tools built on top of it provides direct support for these
This paper presents MapJAX, a data-centric framework for building AJAX
applications without any new client-side software. In place of
asynchronous RPCs, MapJAX provides the programmer with the illusion of
logical data structures shared between the client and server. These
data structures appear to be ordinary objects that can be accessed
complexity of continuations and callback functions. Instead, the code
that causes a fetch of data from the server can be thought of as
running in its own thread. The thread blocks while the call is being
processed and then continues running when the server response arrives.
The MapJAX approach thus allows users to create programs with the
mental model to which they have grown accustomed: threads and objects.
In addition, MapJAX also provides a number of mechanisms that enable
efficient interaction between client and server. Given that the cost
of communication far exceeds the cost of computation in this setting,
we focus on ways to reduce communication delays. First, MapJAX allows application
programmers to decrease the latency involved in data structure access
by using spare bandwidth to prefetch objects.
The MapJAX runtime maintains a
cache of previously fetched objects and avoids communication delay when the requested content is
present in the cache.
Second, MapJAX provides a mechanism that allows a number of fetches to
be sent in parallel. This is provided in the form of a parallel
for statement. A common use case for web applications is to
copy a range of elements to the screen. This is naturally expressed as
a sequential for loop over a shared data structure, albeit
with poor performance. Instead, the parallel for starts up
the iterations in parallel, allowing the requests to be issued
immediately and concurrently.
In order to allow applications to express ordering constraints on
these loops while preserving concurrency, MapJAX provides a new locking
mechanism that allows a thread to reserve a lock in advance of
acquiring it. Lock reservation is non-blocking and simply places the
identifier of the thread into the lock queue. Later, the thread
acquires the lock using an acquisition function which blocks until the
lock is available. As detailed in Section 3.5, this model
allows threads to generate requests in parallel, yet process their
responses in order.
MapJAX also provides a few additional
features to increase the effectiveness of prefetching and parallel
for. It is able to group a number of requests into one
communication with the server, and it allows the program to cancel
requests that are no longer needed.
the system is to require a minimum of programmer retraining. Its
implementation consists of a compiler that translates MapJAX
that provides the needed support for the MapJAX features. Despite
significant work on programming environments for web
we are not aware of any existing work that provides a programming
model like that of MapJAX.
We have used MapJAX to implement three prototypical web
applications-a mapping application, an email client, and a search
autocomplete application. These were all implemented with relative
ease, while benefiting from prefetching and parallel for
Our results show that MapJAX has minimal overhead compared to an
equivalent AJAX program. The results also show that use of our
advanced features resulted in substantial performance improvements.
to as much as a factor of 2 in some cases.
handlers to be registered for activation in response to various
events that can occur on the page, such as the page being loaded, the
user clicking on a link, moving his or her mouse over an image, and so
executing under a single-process, event driven (SPED) model similar to
e.g. Zeus .
using the Document Object Model (DOM), a programmatically-accessible,
tree-structured representation of the elements on the page.
client-side tasks, such as verifying text input into a zip-code
form field. Since the late
programmers to send asynchronously-handled HTTP requests for
XML-formatted data. The realization in the web development community that this
object could be used to fetch new data without
reloading a page gave rise to AJAX, standing for ``Asynchronous
used in place of XML.
This section describes the MapJAX programming model. We begin with the
basic features that allow programmers to write working programs
(shared data structures and non-preemptive threads), then describe
various features that help them to improve performance (data
prefetching, parallel for loops, RLU locks, and
3 Programming Model
MapJAX objects represent logical data structures shared between the
client and server, and are at the core of the MapJAX system. These objects
are collections of elements, e.g., a collection of email messages, or
a collection of grid cells in a mapping application. Each map is
associated with a URL at the server to which requests are sent to
The base representation provided by MapJAX for collections of elements
is a map from keys to values, where the keys are strings, and the
not contain other maps). Maps are supported at the server by this base representation.
At the client side, however, it can be useful to access the shared
structure at a higher level of abstraction, such as an array or tree.
MapJAX provides three higher-level abstractions: one and
two-dimensional arrays, and trees, with the class names ARRAYMAP,
GRIDMAP, and TREEMAP, respectively. One dimensional arrays
use integers as keys, two dimensional arrays use pairs of integers as
keys, and trees use strings where each string represents the path from
the root to the element of interest. Programmers are
free to implement their own abstractions using any of these
primitives, and MapJAX is capable of supporting general object graphs.
Figure 1 shows the interface to MapJAX maps; although
method descriptions to clarify the presentation.
MapJAX maps API.
The constructor takes as an argument the URL to be used to fetch
elements of the map. It also takes a prefetch object, which
defines how prefetching works for this map; prefetching is described
in Section 3.3. The third argument specifies the type
of transport to be used to retrieve elements; we defer discussion of
this implementation detail to Section 4.
The most interesting method of a MapJAX object is access. A
call of this method, e.g., foo.access(``bar''), is a blocking
call: it will not return until the requested element has been retrieved from the
server, although it may return immediately if the value is already
The has, prefetch, and cancel methods
are used for cache management and server functionality; they
are discussed in later sections.
Maps are read-only. Given the
generally read-oriented nature of the web, we do not feel this to be
an overly onerous limitation, but leave write-enabled structures
as an area of future work.
A MapJAX program consists of a collection of threads. A new
thread is created each time an event handler is invoked by the
browser. Threads are also created for iterations in the parallel
for as discussed in Section 3.4.
Threads are scheduled non-preemptively: a thread retains control until
relinquishing it. A thread relinquishes control when it
finishes processing an event or when it makes a blocking call on a MapJAX object.
For example, when a thread calls the
access method of a MapJAX map object, causing an RPC to be made to the server,
it relinquishes control; it will regain control at some point after
the result of the RPC arrives (or the RPC is aborted because of
Threads are implicit at present, and relinquishing
control is also implicit. However, it would not be difficult to
extend MapJAX to support explicit
threads and thread management (e.g., a yield
statement) if this turned out to be useful.
It is worth pointing out that the concurrency in MapJAX programs
also exists in AJAX programs. The difference is that in MapJAX
programmers can think of each event handler as running in its own
thread, with the system switching control among threads automatically,
whereas in AJAX, the programmer needs to write callbacks and
All MapJAX maps support prefetching via programmer-defined prefetching
method, getPrefetchSet, that, given a key, returns a set
of keys that identify elements to prefetch. Prefetching policies are
usually specialized to the kind of MapJAX map in use in the web application.
E.g., for a map-viewing application, the prefetching policy might indicate
to fetch all grid cells adjacent to the one being requested. Additionally,
the prefetching policy can be tailored to a particular higher level
abstraction; e.g., one defined for arrays would expect keys to be
Figure 2 provides an example prefetching
object that implements a ``read-ahead K'' policy for an ARRAYMAP.
Example read-ahead-k prefetching policy for an ARRAYMAP.
The getPrefetchSet method merely identifies elements
of interest. The
MapJAX runtime ensures that elements
already present in the cache will not be refetched, so these policies do
not need to be aware of the state of the cache.
Calls to getPrefetchSet are made automatically as part of
processing a call to the access method. Access calls
getPrefetchSet on the prefetch policy object associated with
the map and then requests a fetch of the original key plus all the
keys returned by the call. A programmer can also initiate
ad-hoc prefetching by calling the prefetch method of a map
object with an array of keys to prefetch. This method informs the
MapJAX runtime of the need to prefetch the elements and then returns
immediately (it is non-blocking). The actual fetching occurs in the
Custom prefetch policies
can be written with a minimal amount of effort from application
programmers, allowing prefetching to be tailored to specific web
applications. We note additionally that these policies need not be
state to adapt based on the request history.
3.4 Parallel for Loops
A common use case for web applications is to copy a range of elements
to the display. The obvious way to program this is to use a for
loop, where each iteration is responsible for fetching and rendering
each element. A sequential execution model is not well suited for the
processing of such a loop, however, since it will force one iteration
to complete before the next iteration begins; in particular, this will
needlessly delay the launch of RPCs to fetch missing data. Prefetching
helps but does not completely solve the problem.
To optimize this common and important case, we introduce a parallel
for statement into the MapJAX language, written pfor. The
semantics of this statement are as follows. Each iteration runs in a
separate thread. Control starts with the first loop iteration; as soon as
it blocks, the next iteration starts to run, and so on. More formally,
we guarantee that each iteration will initially be given a chance to
run in loop order; after the thread corresponding to that iteration
yields control, however, it regains control in an arbitrary order
with respect to other threads in the loop. Locks, described in the
next section, can be used to impose additional ordering constraints if
need be. Control passes to code following the loop only once all
the iteration threads have terminated.
Our parallel for loops are thus similar to standard parallel
for loops in that they require loop iterations not to effect the
termination condition of the loop. They differ slightly, however,
because they explicitly start iterations in loop order. Combined with
our novel locks, discussed below, this allows programmers to
enforce useful ordering constraints that could not be captured with a
standard parallel for.
The use of the parallel for statement can provide
considerable performance benefits, as discussed further in
Any language with concurrency requires some mechanism for its
control. In MapJAX, we provide programmers with a novel type of local
lock. These locks can be used in the normal way: first a thread
acquires the lock and later releases it. However, our locks also
provide the ability to reserve the lock in advance of acquiring it.
We call these RLU locks because of the ``reserve/lock/unlock'' regime
for using them.
Reserving a lock doesn't block the thread; instead it records the
thread on the end of a reservation list. When a thread executes the
lock method, it will be delayed until the lock is available and it is the earliest thread on the list. The interface for MapJAX
locks is given in Figure 3. Note that a thread can call
the lock method without having previously reserved the lock. In
addition, the unreserve method can be called to give up a
MapJAX RLU locks API.
RLU locks are motivated in large part by our pfor
loops. Consider a pfor loop in which the programmer intends for
each iteration to update a shared variable in loop order using data
fetched from the web server through a shared map. While the iterations
are started in loop order, the responses to the fetch requests may
arrive in a different order.
With normal locks, the only solution would be for each iteration to
acquire the lock on the shared variable before performing the
access call, thus preventing the iterations from making their
fetch requests in parallel. With RLU locks, threads reserve the lock
in loop order. They may then immediately call access and
initiate the transfer of remote data, blocking to acquire the lock
only when absolutely necessary (before updating the shared
variable). The code is given in Figure 4.
Finally, we note that RLU locks are useful outside of a pfor
statement as well: the network reordering issues they are designed to
address can arise any time multiple threads seek to synchronize their
accesses to an object, and they can also be used as normal locks.
When bandwidth is limited, applications must manage it
carefully. Request canceling is one mechanism by which they may do
so. Specifically, sometimes an application can
determine that certain data elements are no longer needed.
For example, in our mapping application, a user scrolling
quickly in a low-bandwidth environment can trigger two updates
for the same cell on screen, where only the latter update is
required. If the application can indicate to the runtime that the
first update is no longer needed, considerable bandwidth can be
saved in the case where the RPC for the first request has not yet been
sent to the server.
Request canceling is supported by the cancel method of MapJAX
maps. This call takes a key, k, as an argument. If there is no
outstanding RPC with k as an argument, the cancel request
has no effect. Otherwise, the RPC with k as an argument might be canceled; other RPCs might be canceled as well. If an RPC
is canceled, any call of access that is waiting for the
results of that RPC will return with a failure code. The failure code
allows the thread that is waiting for the result to act appropriately
when it starts running again.
The MapJAX runtime determines what is canceled based on heuristics
about the utility of the outstanding RPCs. Generally, if k was
an argument to a previous access call, the system will cancel
all RPCs corresponding to that call, i.e., requests both for k
and for other keys identified by prefetching. However it will not
cancel an RPC for one of the prefetch keys if it appeared as an
argument to a later access call or contains requests for
non-canceled items. More details about how canceling works can be
found in Section 4.2.4. Note that programmers needn't be
concerned with these details; instead they simply cancel based
on knowledge of what is no longer needed, and the runtime makes the
This section describes the implementation of MapJAX. MapJAX is
language. The MapJAX implementation has three parts: a compiler that
programming model, and a server-side
The current version of MapJAX implements the vast majority of the
programming model described in Section 3, although it is
still an unoptimized prototype. The only features not fully
implemented are some request-canceling corner cases described
in Section 4.2.4.
A major goal for MapJAX is to allow programmers to access data at
servers using normal method calls, thus avoiding the complexity of
programming with continuations and callbacks. MapJAX also
provides support for writing high-performance code, including the
parallel for statement.
Both blocking calls and the parallel for statement require the
program. This code is based on callbacks and continuation functions,
which permit an efficient implementation.
The MapJAX com
piler needs to be able to recognize the features
requiring translation. We accomplish this as follows. Blocking method
calls are indicated by using special names for these methods: these
names always end in ``#'' (e.g., access#, lock#). The parallel
this approach because we wanted MapJAX to remain similar to
able to use MapJAX without much effort.
When the compiler
encounters one of the blocking method calls, it computes the
continuation of the call, packages that code as a continuation
function, and adds that function as an extra argument to the
call. Additionally, the compiler applies this procedure transitively:
any function that calls a blocking method is tagged, and the compiler
applies this procedure for any call to a tagged function. Thus, code
using the MapJAX programming model is converted into callback-based
The code produced for the pfor statement also makes use of
continuations and callbacks. Here the compiler must produce code to
spawn each iteration as a new thread, to produce the next thread when
the previous one blocks, and to ensure that the code after the loop
isn't executed until all iterations have terminated.
version of the compiler used them in the generated code: continuation
functions were nested in the function from which they were generated,
which allowed easy access to variables declared therein. (This would
also be an attractive way to write standard AJAX code.) Due to the
code was quite poor: we found that access to variables
declared in a nesting hierarchy was considerably slower than access to
variables declared in a top-level function. Therefore, the compiler
now performs an optimization pass in which the nested code generated
by the compiler is fully de-nested; variables needed by
formerly-nested functions are stored and passed explicitly in
``closure objects.'' Nested code that existed in the original input
file is not denested.
The majority of MapJAX is implemented in the client-side
runtime. Specifically, the runtime provides support for handling
accesses to MapJAX objects (including RPC transmission and cache
management), creating and scheduling threads of control, and locks.
cache for MapJAX object elements. The cache holds previously fetched
object elements. Each time a new element arrives from the server, it
is added to the cache. Elements are removed from the cache based on
TTLs; these TTLs are provided by the server and are sent in the RPC
replies. TTLs are intended to ensure data freshness, not to manage the
size of the cache. In general, we believe that cache management
policies are relatively uninteresting for these applications, given
the large size of the cache relative to the amount of data that would
normally be downloaded in a reasonable timeframe. Adding sophisticated
management policies would be straightforward and able to draw on the
large body of existing work.
When the access method of a MapJAX map is invoked, it first
computes the set of prefetch keys. Then it passes the requested key,
the set of prefetch keys, and associated callback function (generated
by the compiler) to the MapJAX runtime. The runtime interacts with the
cache to determine which of the requested elements need to be fetched,
and it prunes the list to remove all elements currently present in the
If any elements remain after this pruning, the runtime initiates a
request or requests to the server for the missing elements. Then, if
the cache contains the requested element, the callback function is
invoked immediately. Otherwise, the MapJAX runtime stores the callback
function. When an element arrives from the server, callback
functions pending on that element are invoked in the order they were
The MapJAX runtime maintains information about each pending access
method call: it records the key requested as an argument of that call,
plus any additional prefetch keys, the callback,
and the RPCs generated to satisfy the request.
The communication protocol is abstracted into a separate class,
allowing different transports to be used to fetch objects. For
example, AJAX requests through the XMLHttpRequest object can only be
used to fetch text data. Binary data, such as images, are not
supported. However, by substituting a class that uses the browser's
support for loading images directly, rather than AJAX calls, we can
support image requests using the same model as is used for text
data. The purpose of the third argument of MapJAX object constructors,
left unspecified earlier, is to specify which transport should be used
to service misses for that object.
Request canceling is currently implemented in a simple way; requests
are canceled if they contain a single cancelable element. A full
implementation would be designed as follows. The MapJAX runtime looks
through its list of outstanding access requests and their
associated RPCs. If the key k being canceled is the key
requested by some access request, we cancel all RPCs associated
with that request except for RPCs requesting keys that are listed in
more recent access requests. If k is not a requested key
(i.e., it is a key generated by a prefetching policy), we cancel the
RPC containing the request for it, provided any other keys in the
request have already been canceled (the runtime carries out the
necessary bookkeeping to determine if they have been).
4.2.4 Request Canceling
For performance and scalability reasons, requests to the server for
MapJAX object values should be grouped into single messages when
possible. The MapJAX runtime cannot predict the future and doesn't
know when it receives a request whether it should wait for another.
However, when executing the code corresponding to a pfor loop,
it is clearly advantageous to wait. In this case, MapJAX defers
sending any requests until each iteration of the loop has been given a
chance to run, offering opportunities for combining.
4.2.5 Request Combining
Because the client runtime uses continuations, it is possible for the
call stack to grow excessively deep. In particular, consider a
(non-parallel) for loop over an array where all elements are already
locally cached. In this case, each loop iteration will add another
stack frame, and moderate-sized loops were found to exceed the maximum
compiler inserts code to track the depth of the stack at runtime, and
the MapJAX runtime monitors this value. If the stack depth grows
beyond a given value, the runtime will break the call chain by using
(window.setTimeout) to execute the next call, rather than
allowing it proceed directly.
Implementing MapJAX objects requires cooperation from the server.
Specifically, each object is associated with a URL on the server that
accepts requests for one or more elements in the corresponding shared
data structure and returns the corresponding values and TTLs. MapJAX
provides a library for use in Java Servlets and Java Server
pages for building such servers, but nothing about MapJAX requires the
use of Java on the server-side: any software able to process HTTP
requests with request parameters will suffice.
We have implemented a number of web applications to evaluate MapJAX
based on both programming efficiency and performance. Our chosen
applications replicate three prototypically successful AJAX
applications: Google Suggest, Google Maps, and
Gmail. Each was implemented from scratch using both
standard AJAX techniques and MapJAX. Here, we describe the
applications and their implementations; in Section 6, we
describe their performance under the MapJAX framework.
The search auto-complete application, echoing the functionality of
Google Suggest, is representative of applications where very
low-latency fetching of server data is required. Here, a user types a
search phrase into a text box within a web page, and suggested text
completions are offered in real-time. A TREEMAP MapJAX object
is used to implement a trie providing access to the suggestion set for
each successive keypress. Cache misses must be handled with low
overhead to ensure responsiveness for typists of even moderate speed.
As each keypress generates a new completion set that obsoletes any
previous one, and given that the network may reorder messages, care
must be taken to ensure that the correct data are always
displayed. MapJAX locks provide a simple mechanism to enforce this
constraint: the handling code for a keypress event simply reserves a
lock on the completion display object, accesses the shared trie, then
locks and updates the display object.
Given the speed at which users type, completion set prefetching can
yield a noticeable improvement in application
performance. Figure 5 illustrates the expression of a
custom prefetching policy in the MapJAX framework. The prediction of
the next character that the user will input is based on the last
character he or she has entered: we predict that a consonant will
follow a vowel, and vice-versa, which is an approximation to English
Implementation of a custom prefetching policy in MapJAX. This
policy uses a basic model of the English language to predict future
search queries based on the current query.
Our mapping application closely resembles Google Maps: it provides the
user with a mobile viewport over a large map. By clicking and dragging
the viewport, the user can examine different portions of the map. This
example exhibits the implementation of a complex web application (one
widely claimed to be difficult to implement) with relatively little
effort under the MapJAX framework. The grid nature of the data is well
matched by a two-dimensional array abstraction, provided by the MapJAX
GRIDMAP. While the logical dimensions of this grid are
extremely large (100,000+), MapJAX requires only enough memory on the
client to store the data accessed. Moreover, MapJAX is able to
stream data as they are needed, rather than requiring the entire working
set to be transferred at once.
The map application takes advantage of parallel data fetches from the
server and uses locks to ensure that the proper elements are
displayed. This application presents a particular challenge, however,
because of the bandwidth requirements involved. If prefetching is
implemented poorly, it can increase response times by delaying
requests that satisfy cache misses. Even if prefetching decreases
response times, overly-aggressive prefetching wastes bandwidth,
causing the application provider to incur unnecessary bandwidth costs.
In our experiments we implement a simple omnidirectional prefetch
policy, OMNI, which fetches all tiles within a square of size
of the accessed tile.
When the user moves to another region of the grid, the current set of
tiles will be rendered obsolete as new information is requested.
Often, if the user is moving quickly through the space, tiles that
have been requested for the current display have not yet arrived.
Furthermore, these tiles have associated prefetch sets that have also
been rendered obsolete. Fetching these unwanted tiles to satisfy
outstanding access requests wastes bandwidth. With request
cancellation, these requests can be eliminated.
The mapping application is not actually an AJAX application due to the
inability of AJAX to transfer binary data. Both the MapJAX and
non-MapJAX implementations use native browser support for loading and
caching images. The example illustrates the ability of MapJAX to
provide a uniform interface to data, regardless of its type.
We implemented a two-pane webmail application. The left pane
displays a list of email message headers (sender, date, and subject);
when one of the headers is clicked, the corresponding message body is
displayed in the right-hand pane. The left pane contains at most 40
message headers; additional message headers can be viewed by clicking
a ``next page'' link, which loads the next 40 headers.
5.3 Webmail Application
The usage patterns characteristic of webmail applications provide an
ideal setting for MapJAX-based data prefetching. Users desire low
latency when loading new screens of message headers or viewing message
bodies, but they generally have long ``think times'' while reading
messages, providing a long interval during which the system can
prefetch data. MapJAX permits an implementation of this application
with little programmer effort. The application programmer simply
accesses headers and bodies directly from MapJAX objects, without
considering data transfer explicitly except for choosing a prefetching
This application also illustrates the utility of MapJAX parallel
for loops and locks. When loading a new screen of message
headers, the programmer needs to append new header objects to the
header list in the appropriate order. A non-MapJAX implementation
needs to implement this ordering manually, which complicates program
development by forcing the programmer to manually group object
requests into messages and ensure that responses are processed in
MapJAX implementation for loading a page of email headers.
Non-MapJAX, single-RPC implementation for loading a page of
By contrast, the MapJAX version of the code using a parallel
for loop is correct, simple, and fast. The code in
Figure 6 loads the first 40 headers into
the header list in order, regardless of how many RPCs the MapJAX
runtime chooses to issue to retrieve the headers. We assume that the
header list is represented by a DIV element whose ID is
by the MapJAX compiler in Figure 7.
Figure 8 shows a version of the AJAX code
which retrieves all headers using a single RPC. Already, this code can
be seen to be more complicated than its MapJAX counterpart; adding
facilities for tracking and ordering multiple requests (which might boost
performance) would only
make the situation worse.
We close with a word on our non-MapJAX implementations of
these applications. While the MapJAX applications use the automatic
prefetching and caching features of the framework, we do not implement
manual caching or prefetching in the non-MapJAX applications. Our
rationale is that a manually-tuned application should always be able
to perform as well as MapJAX, given a sufficient time investment:
MapJAX and human programmers both have the same set of primitives
available to them. We thus show the improvement possible given a
programmer unwilling or unable to invest extensive time and energy in
Note that the absence of prefetching in the non-MapJAX examples
greatly reduces their implementation complexity. Had we included this
functionality, the benefits of of MapJAX would have been even more
apparent. Caching on its own, by contrast, would be of little use on
the test workloads presented in Section 6, as they do not
reuse data, and the non-MapJAX applications do not suffer from its
Caching and prefetching aside, we have attempted to write
implementations that, while straightforward, avoid obvious performance
pitfalls. We describe each in more detail below.
The non-MapJAX version of the webmail application takes the one-RPC
approach to fetching message headers as discussed in
Section 5.3 and illustrated in
Figure 8. Message bodies are retrieved using
one RPC per body, as multiple bodies are never fetched simultaneously.
The non-MapJAX version of the suggest application is almost identical
to the MapJAX version, except that it explicitly sends an RPC to fetch
completion requests. In order to cope with network reordering, it
maintains a version number on the completion display field that it
increments each time it sends an RPC. The callback function for each
RPC has a copy of the version number with which it is associated; when
it is run, it checks the version number on the completion display and
only updates the display if the version matches. For compatibility
with the Google version of the application, whose data we use, RPC
The non-MapJAX version of the mapping application is also close in
implementation to the MapJAX version. Using much the same
event-handler code, it moves and updates a collection of image
objects on screen, the primary difference
being that new image data are loaded by setting the ``src''
attribute of these objects to the appropriate URL, rather than using a
MapJAX grid-map. While this implementation does not prefetch, the
browser will cache images, and it also benefits from the
request-canceling functionality that browser image objects support.
6 Experimental Results
In this section, we provide performance results that demonstrate the
advantages of MapJAX. We test the applications described above under
realistic Internet latency and bandwidth constraints and show that the
unoptimized MapJAX versions perform comparably to the standard AJAX
versions, while MapJAX performance optimizations can dramatically
improve performance, by up to a factor of 2 in some cases. Additionally, we
provide microbenchmarks demonstrating the utility of specific features
These results illustrate two points. First, they show that the more
intuitive programming model of MapJAX is provided with little
overhead. Second, the results demonstrate that prefetching and
other MapJAX optimizations are useful tools for these kinds of
applications, and that substantial performance increases can be
achieved with relatively simple-minded prefetching policies. Were one
willing to expend additional effort devising more clever prefetching
policies or tweaking other portions of the application, one might well
achieve better performance than seen here. We do not consider that
fact to detract from our results.
Our experiments were conducted using two PCs with Intel Pentium 4
3.8GHz CPUs and 4GB of RAM, running Fedora Core 4 with Linux kernel
version 2.6.14-1.1656.FC4_smp. The server ran Apache Tomcat 5.5.17
with the tcnative extensions, and the client web browser was Firefox
184.108.40.206. To allow effective prefetching of images, and as recommended
for good AJAX performance, we modified the Firefox configuration
variables as indicated in Table 1, although we note
that these changes are not mandatory. Before executing each
experiment, we executed and discarded a complete run to warm up the
To introduce network delays and bandwidth constraints, we used a 600
MHz Intel Pentium III running FreeBSD 4.11 and the
dummynet  network emulator. This machine was connected
to both the client and server by 100Mbit switched Ethernet.
Firefox configuration variables changed from defaults during
As stated earlier, the search term auto-complete application is
interesting because it represents an application with low bandwidth
requirements but stringent latency requirements: search term
completions that arrive after the user has input additional characters
are of no use.
To evaluate the usefulness of MapJAX in this context, we measured the
average latency of completion retrieval (the average request
latency) of both a MapJAX and standard AJAX implementation under a
range of latency and bandwidth parameters. Specifically, we tested
using bandwidth values ranging from 256Kb/s to 1024Kb/s, which are
typical of home broadband connections, and latencies of both 20 and 70
ms, which correspond to close and average-distance servers. The
standard AJAX version of the application made no attempt to prefetch,
and we tested the MapJAX version with both prefetching enabled (using
the English language policy described above) and prefetching disabled.
To measure average request latency, we used a workload generated by
typing 65 search terms from the April/May 2006 Google Zeitgeist list
of popular search terms into the AJAX version of the application,
resulting in a trace of 423 completion requests. The completions
returned were those that would have been returned by Google's version
of the application (they were retrieved from Google and cached at our
server ahead of time). The average number of suggestions per
suggestion set was 5.71, and the average suggestion set size was 264
bytes. We discarded the first 10 observed latencies to avoid measuring
noise due to the application loading.
The results of this test are shown in
Figure 9. First, we note that the non-MapJAX
(i.e., standard AJAX) implementation average latencies and the MapJAX
(no prefetching) average latencies are always within 3 ms of each
other, indicating that MapJAX imposes minimal additional overhead in
providing its programming model (even with the current unoptimized
implementation). Second, we observe that when sufficient bandwidth is
available, prefetching significantly decreases the average latency (by
close to half in the 1024Kb/s case). As expected, when sufficient
bandwidth is not available, prefetching delays the servicing of actual
cache misses and hurts performance. Future work will include automatic
network performance measurements to allow programmers to scale back or disable
prefetching in these cases. Additional results (not shown) show
negligible CPU or memory overhead for the MapJAX implementation relative
to the non-MapJAX implementation.
Average request latencies as generated by the auto-complete
application on a sample workload under a range of simulated network
In contrast to the auto-complete application, the mapping application
represents a case in which the application is somewhat tolerant to
latency (map tiles simply need to arrive before the user can scroll
them completely off the screen) but has high bandwidth requirements.
To evaluate the utility of MapJAX in this context, we measured the
average latency of map tile retrieval of both standard and MapJAX
implementations under a range of bandwidth parameters (ranging from
256Kb/s to 8,192Kb/s) and a fixed latency of 70 ms. As before, the
standard implementation made no attempt to prefetch, and we tested the
MapJAX version with both prefetching enabled (using the OMNI policy
described earlier, at various levels of prefetching) and prefetching
To measure the average request latency, we used a pair of
user-generated workloads. Specifically, we asked a number of subjects
to perform a simple navigation task using the mapping application with no
bandwidth or delay constraints: scrolling from the MIT campus in
Cambridge to the intersection of I-93 and MA-24 south of the city. The
trace was formed by recording the GUI events (clicks and drags) thus
generated. From this collection of traces, we chose two for
testing. The first, which we call ``hard,'' was generated by a user
familiar with the area who was able to navigate at high speed. The
second, which we call ``easy,'' was generated by a user new to the
area who navigated more slowly. The ``hard'' workload consisted of 467
GUI events resulting in 198 calls to access, and the ``easy'' workload
consisted of 890 GUI events resulting in 196 calls to access. The
average size of an image tile used by these workloads was 4,751 bytes.
Testing the application consisted of replaying these two traces and
recording the access latency observed on non-canceled image
tiles. Specifically, we used a viewport 8 tiles wide by 4 tiles
high. The initial 32 images were loaded with prefetching disabled, and
we did not record these latencies. We then enabled prefetching and
replayed the trace. When computing average access latencies, we
discarded the first 15 latencies generated by the trace to avoid
measuring startup effects. The map tile images were those used by
Google; they were downloaded and cached at our server ahead of time.
The results of these tests are presented in Figure 10
(``easy'' trace) and Figure 11 (``hard'' trace). Please note
that the y-axis is log-scaled. To compensate for observed run-to-run
variability, we report the average over three runs for each value,
with error bars showing plus or minus one standard deviation.
We observe several interesting features of the graphs. First, at
256Kb/s, both workloads exhibit extremely high latencies with all
implementations of the application, indicating that the 256Kb/s is
insufficient bandwidth to support the workloads. Second, on the easy
workload, MapJAX with prefetching disabled exhibits average latencies
within 3% of the standard implementation except at 256Kb/s, where the
average is highly variable and within 10%. On the hard workload,
MapJAX with prefetching disabled exhibits average latencies within
12% of the standard implementation, except at 8192Kb/s, where it is
These results indicate that the benefits of MapJAX are available with
little overhead. Moreover, we believe that most of the overhead seen
here is due to our unoptimized implementation and can be
removed. Additional results (not shown) show that there is little to
no startup overhead imposed by MapJAX, assuming that prefetching is
disabled during startup. We also found MapJAX to impose negligible CPU
or memory overheads relative to the non-MapJAX implementation.
As in the auto-complete application, as spare bandwidth becomes
available, prefetching is able to dramatically reduce the average
access latency. The ``hard'' workload sees a 62.5% reduction with
Omni-2 at 2048Kb/s and an 83.8% reduction in latency with Omni-2 at
4096Kb/s. The ``easy'' workload sees a 21.2% reduction with Omni-2 at
1024Kb/s, an 81.7% reduction with Omni-2 at 2048Kb/s, and a 95.5%
reduction in latency with Omni-2 at 4096Kb/s. By contrast, prefetching
increases access latency when spare bandwidth is not available, as
would be expected; again, future work will allow programmers to scale
back or disable prefetching in this case.
Results of running the mapping application with various
prefetching policies on the ``easy'' workload using a simulated
network with 70 ms latency and varied bandwidth constraints.
Results of running the mapping application with various
prefetching policies on the ``hard'' workload using a simulated
network with 70 ms latency and varied bandwidth constraints.
4'' result is not shown for the 256Kb/s and 1024Kb/s cases as
performance was extremely poor.
We exercise some features of the mail application in the
microbenchmarks, below. Full-application tests provided no additional
information beyond that obtained from the mapping and auto-complete
applications and are omitted here.
To evaluate parallel for loops and request combining, we
measured the total time required to load a page of 40 message headers
in the MapJAX implementation of our email application with both
parallel and non-parallel for loops. In the parallel case, we
tested with request combining both enabled and disabled. (Non-parallel
for loops provide no opportunity for request combining, so we
did not test that combination.) To eliminate network effects, we
introduced no latency or bandwidth constraints and disabled
The results of this experiment are shown in
Table 2. Parallel for loops and request
combining both provide a clear advantage: parallel for loops
provide an order of magnitude speedup over non-parallel loops, as they
are able to fetch all items required by the loop immediately, rather
than waiting for one RPC to complete before sending the next. Request
combining provides a speedup greater than a factor of two, as it cuts
the number of RPCs issued from 40 to one. Had we used simulated
network delays, the advantage of MapJAX would have been even greater.
For comparison, the non-MapJAX version of the code, which sends a
single RPC for all 40 headers, averaged 77.6 ms over 10 trials with a
standard deviation of 0.52. We believe most of the difference between
that value and MapJAX parallel for loops with request combining
is due to implementation artifacts and can be eliminated.
Effectiveness of pfor loops and request
combining. Values shown are the times to load a page of 40 message
headers in our email application, averaged over 10 trials and given
in milliseconds one standard deviation.
To evaluate the overhead of our lock implementation, we compared
the performance of the MapJAX version of the mapping application on the
``hard'' trace against the performance of a version that manually
ordered updates instead of using locks. To eliminate network effects,
we added no bandwidth or delay constraints and disabled
prefetching. Averaging over three runs, the version using locks had an
average access latency of 59.76 ms, while the version using manual
ordering had an average access latency of 58.20 ms. Standard
deviations were 1.82 and 1.80, respectively. We conclude that our
lock implementation adds negligible overhead.
To evaluate the contribution made by request canceling, we modified
the MapJAX version of our mapping application to not cancel requests and
ran the ``easy'' workload on a simulated 256Kb/s, 70ms network with
prefetching disabled. (This simulated network provides insufficient
bandwidth to support the trace, and thus request canceling is
particularly important). The average request latency (averaged over
three runs) was 33,397.92 ms, which is far greater than the 6605.40 ms
obtained with canceling enabled. Additional experiments (not shown)
found the importance of canceling to decrease as bandwidth increased,
which is the expected result: in an environment where bandwidth is
plentiful, there is no need to conserve it. We conclude that request
canceling brings performance benefits worthy of the additional
complexity it adds to the model.
7 Related Work
The trade-off between threading and event-based models has been well
studied, recently in , which considered the issue in
a server context. The MapJAX compiler is similar in some respects to
TAME , which carries out a similar continuation-elimination
function for code written using the libasync  C++
library for event-driven network servers.
To our surprise, we were unable to find previous work on locks with
RLU semantics. In , the authors propose a lock
reservation scheme to decrease the overhead of lock acquisition in
Java VMs, their scheme only allows one thread to hold a lock
reservation, whereas in our scheme multiple threads can reserve a
lock. Our locks might appear similar to callback-based,
asynchronously-acquired locks (e.g. as in ) but in fact
they provide stronger semantics. Specifically, we guarantee that
statements between the calls to reserve and lock will execute strictly
before any statements after the call to lock. By contrast, an
asynchronously-acquired lock makes no such guarantee about when its
callback will be executed.
There have been several proposals of programming models for writing
rich web applications, from ambitious efforts that provide fresh
display layout and programming languages to smaller, lighter-weight
efforts that try to smooth the rough edges of the current model. To
our knowledge no system exists that provides the shared data
abstraction, elimination of callbacks, and array of performance
optimizations available in MapJAX.
Examples of ambitious web programming systems include Java
applets and Adobe Flash. Such systems have the
advantage of starting from a clean slate, which allows them to ignore
the imperfections of the standard web development model. However, on
the Internet, incremental deployability is often key: technologies
that require users to install new software and developers to learn new
languages often do not succeed. Additionally, systems of this type
can be difficult to integrate cleanly into HTML-based pages, which
renders them unattractive from a designer's perspective. Flash comes
closest to the MapJAX programming model of any of the current systems:
it provides data structure objects that can be bound to server-side
data. Flash lacks MapJAX's support for prefetching, parallel for, and RLU locks, and it does not eliminate
callbacks. Additionally, it requires a separate browser plugin to run
and requires the programmer to learn an additional language.
At the other end of the spectrum, the growth in popularity of AJAX has
given rise to numerous small libraries that attempt to put a
friendlier face on AJAX development, including
Prototype , Mochikit ,
JSON-RPC-Java , and Direct Web Remoting . In
general, these libraries tend to provide some subset of three classes
First, some offer a set of reusable user interface controls for
AJAX applications, such as a table that is dynamically filled in with
data from the server. While such controls are similar in spirit to
MapJAX shared data structures, they are hardly a full-fledged
programming model. Second, some libraries attempt to resolve
they might add extra functions for handling strings, accessing HTML
elements, managing asynchronous tasks, or logging. Finally, some libraries
include support for some variant of RPC built on top of AJAX
requests. The level of RPC abstraction provided is widely variable:
the Prototype and Mochikit frameworks free the programmer from some of
the event-handling associated with managing AJAX requests but keep the
asynchronous HTTP-request model, whereas DWR and JSON-RPC-Java both
extend Java RMI  to the browser. In all cases, however,
these libraries at best provide a more pleasant interface over what is
essentially an asynchronous RPC call, along with problems of that
In between the two above extremes are web development platforms such
as the Google Web Toolkit , Ruby on Rails (RoR) 
and OpenLaszlo . These systems use existing browser
technologies to deploy their applications, but they provide a higher
level of abstraction than the small libraries discussed above. The
Google Web Toolkit provides a Java-to-AJAX compiler, but it does not
include MapJAX-style shared data structures, and it provides
callback-based RPCs. Ruby on Rails is a rapid development framework
for database-backed applications and thus includes some aspects of a
data model, but it supports neither prefetching nor callback
elimination. Finally, OpenLaszlo provides a compiler from their own
language to AJAX, although again without shared data structures, and
it retains asynchronous callbacks.
This paper has presented MapJAX, a new programming environment for
AJAX-style web applications. In contrast to current systems based on
asynchronous RPCs, MapJAX provides application programmers with the
abstraction of logical data structures shared between client and
server, accessed through a familiar programming model based on
objects, threads, and locks. MapJAX also includes a number of
additional features (parallel for loops, data prefetching, and
request canceling) that help programmers implement highly-responsive
There are several areas of MapJAX that warrant future work. First, we
would like the system to better adapt to changing network conditions:
the runtime should characterize the performance of the network and
adapt prefetching accordingly, either automatically or by exposing
this information to the application. Second, the cache could be extended to
persist on disk across reloads of the application. Finally, we would
like to extend MapJAX to handle writable data structures.
In summary, we have implemented three prototypical AJAX applications
using both standard AJAX techniques and MapJAX. We tested them under
realistic Internet latency and bandwidth constraints and found that
the unoptimized MapJAX versions of the applications performed
comparably to the standard AJAX versions, and that MapJAX performance
optimizations could dramatically improve performance, by up to a
factor of 2 in some cases. Finally, we have performed microbenchmarks
exercising each of the performance optimizations we provide and have
shown the contributions made by each. We believe our results show that
MapJAX meets its goals of reducing the development complexity while
simultaneously improving the performance of AJAX web applications.
The authors thank Robert Morris and Emil Sit for valuable
conversations during the development of this system, as well as the
anonymous reviewers for their comments.
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