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What is Adobe® AIR®?

By Robert Grimmick
Updated May 17, 2024
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Adobe Integrated Runtime (Adobe® AIR®) is a software technology that enables web applications to be installed and run locally on a computer. Adobe® AIR® is also operates cross platform, meaning developers can create a single application that works on different operating systems. These types of programs, which Adobe® calls Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), are built with the same techniques used to build web pages and other types of interactive content. Adobe® designed AIR® to include the best features of both traditional desktop applications and web applications.

Traditional computer programs are built using a variety of computer programming languages, each of which may be unique to a specific platform. This means that a developer who wants to support more than one computing platform essentially needs to create a different program for each platform, a task which might require knowledge of several programming languages. The web, on the other hand, is meant to be universal; a web page should look the same on Windows as it does on a Mac. Web developers have been able to build some very advanced applications, but web applications are limited in what they can do because they are confined to a web browser.

Adobe® AIR® aims to combine the power of traditional desktop applications with the flexibility of web apps. Adobe® calls it a "cross-operating system runtime," which means AIR® is a software environment where applications can run without dealing directly with the operating system. Once installed on a user's computer, this runtime allows RIAs to be run locally without having to open a web browser. Since the underlying technology is cross-platform, all AIR® apps work on any operating system that AIR® will run on.

RIAs created for Adobe® AIR® are built with web technologies like the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and Javascript, which are often easier to learn than other computer programming languages. AIR® itself is basically a web browser with Javascript and a few of Adobe’s own technologies, such as Flash. Developers with experience in Flash web development can easily learn to create applications for AIR®.

The real advantage of Adobe® AIR® over applications that run in a web browser is the freedom from restrictions imposed on the web. Web apps that run inside a browser have very limited access to the files on a user’s computer, while apps that run in AIR® can save, open, and modify files just like any other program. AIR® can also detect a broken network connection and revert to a local database to keep applications running. Drag-and-drop functionality is supported, so a user can drag a file from the desktop directly into an AIR® application or vice versa.

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