Who is this tutorial for?

This tutorial is for people who want to build interactive client-server functionality where a web-browser is the client. It will show you how to build a live, interactive chat application that requires nothing more than a web browser that supports JavaScript.

The interesting thing about a chat application, which shows why Nevow Athena is special, is that it involves two-way communication. In other words, it involves not only the recently-popular AJAX (the web browser sending commands to the server without loading a new page) but also the trickier and, in our opinion, somewhat cooler technique known as COMET (the web server sending commands to the browser ).

Who is this tutorial not for?

Nevow Athena is not for people who want a normal web application framework. If you want one of those, you should use non-Athena-Nevow ,`Django <>`_ ,`TurboGears <>`_ , or maybe even`Ruby On Rails <>`_ . Athena doesn’t work in terms of pages, links, or HTTP requests and responses; it is a client-server framework that works in terms of widgets, JavaScript objects, and symmetric asynchronous message queues.

However, as alluded to above, Athena is part of a larger framework, Nevow, which can be used to build more general-purpose and “traditional” web applications.


AJAX isn’t a technology in and of itself, bur rather an amalgam of technologies used together in order to accomplish the goal of making web applications more responsive than traditional delivery and interactive mechanisms, such as HTML forms submitted to a server.

In particular, AJAX consists of the following:

  • Asynchronous communications from a user’s browser to a server
  • JavaScript
  • Exchanged data (usually XML or JSON)


Historically, the focus of AJAX technologies was user-event driven. However, with the need to update the user’s browser with events generated at the server, a solution more sophisticated than AJAX was needed; this has been dubbed COMET. Athena is implemented using both AJAX and COMET techniques, and therefore allows two-way browser <-> server communications.

Athena Basics

We’ve provided brief background information on AJAX/COMET, but what is the purpose of Athena? What makes Athena different than other solutions? Here are a few key points that should help with these questions:

- Athena exists to make writing COMET web applications easy.
- Athena is written in Python and JavaScript
- It is written to be used with Nevow, a `Twisted <>`_ -based web framework.
- Similar to Twisted's `PerspectiveBroker <>`_ , Athena employs remote calls.

Athena was written by Twisted and Divmod developers (in addition to contributing members of the community) in order to bring the outdated and Nevow-incompatible Woven LivePage technology to Nevow. In addition, it was an opportunity to improve upon the original design and incorporate new features to address the growing needs of developers.

Target Applications

Good candidates for Athena web applications would include those where the application needs to respond to user input and/or updates from servers, such as the following:

  • conference software (e.g. whiteboard, shared text, chat, etc.)
  • mail clients
  • interactive, multi-player games
  • social networking tools
  • office applications (e.g., spreadsheets, word processors, etc.)

Target Developers

Anyone who wants to create interactive, web-based applications is a potential Nevow/Athena user. It’s best to have some background in writing web applications, and in addition, to know how to use Nevow. However, we hope that this tutorial will be just as useful for beginners as experienced developers.