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ViewState property code snippet

clock January 23, 2008 12:47 by author EtienneT

One of the things I do frequently is making a new viewstate property to use in a UserControl in ASP.NET.  (Yes, we know, ViewState is evil. We store it in the session and use it in low-volume sites.) Just download this code snippet, open Visual Studio, open Tools->Code Snippets Manager, and finally Import.

ViewState Property.snippet (1.28 kb)

You can then use it just by writing the shortcut in the code editor and pressing TAB.


Here is the result:


Using the ?? operator is nice since we don't have to do ugly ifs to return a default value and we don't have to assign something in the ViewState either.  We just fill the ViewState when we need it. This avoids bloating up the ViewState with default values.

ViewState Property.snippet (1.28 kb)

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CheckBoxList hover extender

clock January 22, 2008 09:16 by author JKealey


This article presents a CheckBoxList extender that enables the user to hover over individual checkboxes in the list and see a popup with additional information.  The information is populated dynamically (web service call) depending on the hovered checkbox' value.


[DOWNLOAD THE CODE] (469.00 kb)

Where could this be useful?

If you use the ManyToManyList in SubSonic, you know that it inherits from the built-in CheckBoxList control to display data from a many-to-many database relationship.  You probably also know that this can be really useful, but it has it's limitations.  We are using the SubSonic many-to-many list to display a list of stores that a user can be associated with.  You can display only one field of information by item with the ManyToManyList control for the foreign table associated in the relationship (unless you use views!).  Here is an example:


For a particular user, we are listing all possible stores and showing the store ID as a description for the items.  This can have a meaning for some users, but when a new user comes in and doesn't know the store identifiers, you have a problem. All franchise stores share the same store name as they do business under the same name - they can be uniquely identified by their franchisor-assigned ID or by their address. However, we don't want to show too much information in this control, as it would clutter the interface, in our system. We need a way to display more information by item, without taking up too much screen real estate.  

Our solution is very much inspired by the AjaxControlToolkit controls, such as the HoverMenu to display information when the user hovers over an item in our CheckBoxList (or SubSonic ManyToManyList).  We created an AJAX Control Toolkit Extender that asynchronously calls a web service method (or a page method) to obtain the information displayed in the popup control, when the user hovers over an item.  Here is an example of the result:


How to use it

You need a CheckBoxList, a panel to display the information, our extender, and a web service method to invoke.

<asp:CheckBoxList ID="CheckBoxList" runat="server">
    <asp:ListItem Text="Item #1" Value="1" />
    <asp:ListItem Text="Item #2" Value="2" />
    <asp:ListItem Text="Item #3" Value="3" />
    <asp:ListItem Text="Item #4" Value="4" />
    <asp:ListItem Text="Item #5" Value="5" />

<asp:Panel ID="panelInfo" runat="server" CssClass="checkboxlisthover">
    <asp:Label ID="lblTest" runat="server" Text="Label"></asp:Label>

id="checkboxlistext" runat="server"
DynamicServicePath="~/CheckBoxList.asmx" />

The web service class should look something like this:

    public class CheckboxList : WebService
        public string GetContent(string contextKey) { return "";}



A web service method was called with the value of the hovered checkbox.  When you DataBind the CheckBoxList, it is very important to assign a value to each of your ListItems.  In this example, each checkbox has a GUID value.  This GUID is passed as a parameter to the web service call automatically by the extender.  The popup panel is then filled with the information returned by the web service.

As stated previously, the CheckBoxListExtender control is very much inspired by the HoverMenu extender.  The two controls have similarities, but we can't use the HoverMenu directly in the CheckBoxList because we don't have access to the item template of a CheckBoxList.  This prevents us from using the built-in HoverMenu extender for each CheckBoxList item.

Coding a new extender

To code a new extender, you can use existing extenders to simplify your life: that's what we did for the CheckBoxListExtender.  It re-uses the HoverExtender and the PopupExtender.  Those two extenders are not in the sample page of the AjaxControlToolkit (we see the HoverMenuExtender and PopupControlExtender but not the two we are using here), but they are in the source code if you want to see them.  Basically when we coded the CheckBoxListExtender, we had to pass the scripts we wanted to depend on:


[ClientScriptResource("LavaBlast.AJAX.CheckboxListExtender.CheckboxListHoverBehavior", "LavaBlast.AJAX.CheckboxListExtender.CheckboxListHoverBehavior.js")]
public class CheckboxListHoverExtender : DynamicPopulateExtenderControlBase

As you can see, the extender inherits from DynamicPopulateExtenderControlBase.  This means that the extender can dynamically populate the control via a web service call and all the necessary plumbing is already in place. Specifying the scripts you depend on is as easy as using the RequiredScript attribute on your extender class.

JavaScript behavior

As for the JavaScript, for each "TD" inside our CheckBoxList control, we created a HoverBehavior (this is from the HoverExtender).  Each time the HoverBehavior events are fired, we can do something about them.  In this case, we simply activated the PopupBehavior to show the popup panel and call the web service method to populate the content.  As the value of each checkbox of the list is not contained in the DOM of the page, most probably a security feature of ASP.NET, you have to somehow pass this information from the server to the extender behavior.  Since we couldn't find a way to pass a list of values from the server to the behaviour using a generic List variable, we simply used a string of comma separated values.  Right now we're using this:

public string Values
    get { return GetPropertyValue("Values", ""); }
    set { SetPropertyValue("Values", value); }

But would much rather like to use the following: 

public List<string> Values
    get { return GetPropertyValue("Values", ""); }
    set { SetPropertyValue("Values", value); }

It appears generic lists are not supported, unless we are mistaken. If someone knows if this is possible, please leave us a comment on this post.

Don't forget to look at the online demo! (469.00 kb)

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Dirt Simple ASP.NET CMS using the ScrewTurn Wiki

clock January 22, 2008 00:08 by author JKealey

A year ago we wanted to quickly integrate the capabilities of a content management system in a customer’s website. Budget was limited but so were the requirements.

  • The user SHALL be able to change a few (a dozen) paragraphs on the website. 
  • The user SHALL be able to use basic formatting (bulleted lists, headers, images) without knowing HTML.

The lengthy option was the integration of a powerful CMS and the shorter one was to create something quickly using one of the many open source rich text editors found on the Internet and a simple database table. We didn’t really feel like coding that infrastructure at that point for various reasons. 

At this point, we were already a wiki for requirements management and task planning for this customer.  On very complex projects, we prefer TWiki because we had already used its metadata and form capabilities to make it easy to collaboratively work on software requirements back in 2005. However, we had installed the ScrewTurn wiki (an open source wiki in ASP.NET) for this customer, as its installation only takes a few seconds. We decided we would dynamically integrate content from our Wiki into our website, which was sufficient for our customer, for the time being.

We took a shorter lunch break that day and coded a dirt simple CMS application that queries the ScrewTurn wiki to obtain paragraphs of text. We simply made an HttpWebRequest to the printable version of the wiki page, cleaned out a bit of HTML markup that we did not need and cached the result. Using the control is then straightforward.

Register ScrewturnVisualizer in our Web.config (system.web, pages, controls):

<add tagPrefix="LB" assembly="LavaBlast" namespace=" LavaBlast.CustomControls" />

Add the base information in our Skin to avoid repeating it everywhere:

<LB:ScrewturnVisualizer runat="server" BaseURL="" CssClass="ScrewTurn" />

Add the control on the appropriate pages:

<LB:ScrewturnVisualizer ID="stv1" runat="Server" PageName="CurrentSpecials" />

Today, we’ve moved on to a full-fledged CMS and no longer use this code, but the attached code may still help someone out! We’re big fans of incremental engineering and this half hour of coding helped keep our clients happy while we moved to a better solution.

Side note: In terms of open source licences, I’ve always wondered what this would imply. ScrewTurn is GPL (as opposed to LGPL) and I’m curious to know if this would imply that websites using it as a simple CMS would have to be GPL as well. Because we’re making us of an online service (the code can quickly be adapted to work for any Wiki or other website) and not extending the codebase, I think we’re not bound by the GPL. Any thoughts? (1.41 kb)

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VS.NET 2008 IDE Frozen After Compilation

clock January 16, 2008 21:08 by author JKealey

Each and every time I've compiled my solution over the last month, I've had to wait approximately 30 seconds for the IDE to resume after compiling. It simply said Build failed / Build succeeded and would not let me click anywhere in the UI for a painful half-minute (which I put to good use).

At first, I assumed this was another "feature" of VS.NET that was causing me pain and suffering, just like when my VS.NET 2005 decided to make me pay for cheating on it with another IDE (Eclipse) when I was working on a few open source Java projects using Eclipse (StatSVN and jUCMNav).

Evil VS.NET 2005

I decided to launch VS.NET 2008 in Safe Mode to verify if this would fix my problem and, to my surprise, it did. I probably have an evil add-in that was migrated from VS.NET 2005... to be investigated.

Update: Even in safe mode, it started doing it again after a couple hours of work. I'll file this into the "unexplained" category, alongside my mysterious "clipboard doesn't work for large images when memory usage is too high". From what I can see, Windows 32bit with the /PAE or /3GB options simply doesn't work. I need to upgrade to a 64bit OS to use my 4GB ram because the startup options aren't working well for me.

Using { and } in string.Format

clock January 16, 2008 14:02 by author EtienneT

Have you ever tried to use the { and } characters in the c# string.Format() method?  If you have, then you probably ran into a problem.  I'm posting this because this little Gotcha might not turn up until much later if your string formats are dynamically loaded from some external source, such as RESX files.

In any case, I sometimes find it useful to write some JavaScript code directly in C# and then dynamically insert it into the page with the ScriptManager.  Here is a quick example:

Basically, I write my JavaScript code on multiple lines with the @"" notation.  Then, I have to escape all { and } characters using {{ or }} otherwise string.Format will run into a System.FormatException: Input string was not in a correct format exception.  I can customize my JavaScript (or insert control.ClientID parameters) this way while retaining a readable format in the C# code.

Attach to Process with one shortcut

clock January 11, 2008 11:40 by author EtienneT

In case you didn't know, there is a much faster way to debug an ASP.NET application when running IIS than hitting F5. You can directly attach the debugger to the existing w3wp.exe to quickly start your debug session by doing Debug -> Attach to Process -> w3wp.exe. After a while, you start using the "Attach to Process" command very often in a usual day.  I created a simple visual studio macro to automatically attach to the ASP.NET process when you need to debug a site.  Then you can call the macro with a simple keyboard shortcut.  Here is the code:

Option Strict Off
Option Explicit Off
Imports System
Imports EnvDTE
Imports EnvDTE80
Imports EnvDTE90
Imports System.Diagnostics
Imports System.Security.Principal

Public Module RecordingModule
    Sub AttachToAspNET()
            Dim dbg2 As EnvDTE80.Debugger2 = DTE.Debugger
            Dim trans As EnvDTE80.Transport = dbg2.Transports.Item("Default")
            Dim compName As String = WindowsIdentity.GetCurrent().Name
            compName = compName.Substring(0, compName.IndexOf("\"))
            Dim proc2 As EnvDTE80.Process2 = dbg2.GetProcesses(trans, compName).Item("w3wp.exe")
        Catch ex As System.Exception
        End Try
    End Sub
End Module

To create the macro in your Visual Studio, just open the Macro Explorer in Tools->Macro->Macro Explorer, make a new macro and copy paste the code. The only thing you could need to change is "w3wp.exe" or "aspnet_wp.exe" depending on your version. Note that I'm assuming you're working with only one w3wp active at a certain point in time. Those of you who have multiple worker processes running simultaneously should feel free to augment the code for your purposes. (Take a look at this to figure out which w3wp to attach to.)

Creating a keyboard shortcut afterwards is pretty easy:

Go to Tools->Options in Visual Studio.  Then just follow those easy steps:
  1. Click on Environment->Keyboard
  2. Type AttachToAspNET in the "Show commands containing" textbox.
  3. Press a keyboard shortcut you want to use.  I used Ctrl-Alt-K and it is working fine.
  4. Click on Assign

Happy coding in 2008!

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The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in anyway.

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