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Do more with your ASP.NET Page Template

, 14 Dec 2002
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Page templates can provide more than just design consistency

Introduction

When we hear “ASP.NET Page Templates”, we usually think of it as a way to maintain design consistency on the website. But ideally, your page template should do more for you. Why stop with just design consistency? You should even try to get functional consistency out of it.

What is a Page Template?

When you have a team of ASP.NET developers building pages, it would be ideal if design and functional consistency were maintained in all of their pages. But, more often than not, this is not the case. At the end, you would have a set of pages - all looking & behaving differently from each other. This is where page templates come in – a page template is nothing but a class that would be responsible for rendering the features common to all pages like – header, logo, left/right menus, footers, help links, etc.

The Page Template class would inherit from System.Web.UI.Page. The code behind class for each page would then inherit from the Page Template class & not System.Web.UI.Page.

How do I create my page Template?

Create a class that inherits from System.Web.UI.Page.

Override the Render method –

protected override void Render(HtmlTextWriter writer) 
{
    writer.Write(@"<html>
                   <head></head>
                   <include html code for header, logo, left menu, tables 
                        (up to the point where your aspx form is to be shown)>
                ");
    

    // this is responsible for the generation of you aspx
    base.Render(writer);


    writer.Write(@"
                 </td>
                     <close all tables. Include html code for footers, etc>
                 </body></html>");
}

The above code is the simplest way to create a page template.

Now, make sure all your aspx pages have their code-behind inheriting from the class you have just created.

Also, be sure to

  • Remove all <HTML>, <HEAD>, <BODY>, <TABLE> start & end tags from your aspx source. Basically, remove anything that you have already included in the Render() method.
  • Remove all absolute positioning style attributes from your aspx source, i.e. code for a label that looked like
    <asp:Label id="Label1" style="Z-INDEX: 101; LEFT: 8px; POSITION: absolute; 
               TOP: 8px" runat="server">Label</asp:Label>

    should now look like

    <asp:Label id="Label1" runat="server">Label</asp:Label>

What else can I do with my Page Template?

We have seen how to ensure design consistency by using Page Templates. Let’s go a bit further & try to do more with it.

We have to ensure that all ASP.NET developers, within a team, code their pages such that minimum rework is required during integration. This means that all pages have to be consistent in design & behavior.

Here are a list of behavioral features that would be common to all pages within a site –

  • Session handling – Normally, you would have to explicitly set common session variables like user ID, language, etc. Also, you would have to repeatedly do session checks to see if a valid user has logged in.
  • Internationalization – All pages would require access to resource files to handle the display of text in various languages. Also, you would have to explicitly set the Culture objects for each page.
  • Database connectivity – All pages would interact with a class that would handle database connections through ADO.NET. Or, your page itself would open a connection to the database.
  • Error handling – All pages would behave in the same manner when encountering an error – log the error, redirect to an error page & display the appropriate error message.
  • Use of utility classes All pages would interact with a set of utility classes for mailing, logging, etc.
  • Help function – All pages would behave in the same manner when the help button is clicked – open a help window, show help file. All help files would be grouped together.
  • Button functionality – All pages would have a common set of buttons. Some pages may have all buttons displayed & others may not. For example – a site may have 3 buttons in all their pages (Continue, Restart & Exit) except for their first & last page.

Now, it is possible for you to provide all these features in your Page Template itself. You no longer have to worry about ASP.NET developers in your team providing these very features inconsistently across pages. Also, your developers would save time as they would not have to bother about these features.

How do I do it?

Session handling features can be provided in your Page Template by –

  • Overriding the OnLoad method in your Page Template class.
  • In the OnLoad method, do all session checks - e.g. check if user ID is available in the session.
  • If not, then redirect to an error page if the current page is not one of the three
    • The first page of your site
    • The page responsible for setting session variables.
    • The Error page

Advantages

  • Developers need not write repetitive code like validating the user’s session, redirecting incase of timeout/invalid user.

 

Internationalization features can be provided in your Page Template by –

  • In the OnLoad method –
    • Check if the ResourceManager is in the Application object.
    • If not, create a new ResourceManager object pointing to your resource file & store it in the Application object.
    • Set the ResourceManager object in a private variable.
    • Also, set the CurrentCulture and CurrentUICulture objects based on the language variable in the session.
  • Provide a protected method in your Page Template (say GetResource) that returns the appropriate text (from the resource file) for the key passed to it. This method uses the private ResourceManager object set in OnLoad.

Advantages

  • Developers do not have to repeatedly check the user’s language preference & then set the Culture objects. This is done by the OnLoad method of the template.
  • A single method is used to get data from resource files.
  • The resource files are set in the Page Template class itself & not by the individual developer. This avoids any issues that may arise due to incorrect resource file names across pages & developers.

 

Database connectivity & utility classes can be provided in your Page Template by having them set as properties. They are then accessible to your code-behind classes. Initialization of these properties can be done in the OnLoad. Alternatively, you can provide methods to initialize them in your Page Template class. These methods can then be called from the code-behind.

Advantages

  • Ensures that all developers in the team use features like connection strings, utility classes, loggers, data access objects consistently.
  • Initialization of these utility classes can also be done in the template providing lesser room for inconsistency.
  • Since all developers have to access the utility classes via the template, it ensures that integration headaches are minimized.
  • Ensures that there can be no goof ups arising out of mismatches or incorrect connection strings, log file names, email ids, etc

 

Error handling features can be provided in your Page Template by –

  • Including an ErrorCode property in your PageTemplate class.
  • Add a method SetErrorCode(int code) that sets the above property & redirects to your error page. This method can be called from the code-behind when an error/exception is encountered.
  • Your error page would then be able to retrieve the error code by
  • int errorCode = ((PageTemplate)Context.Handler).ErrorCode;

This error code can be used to retrieve the appropriate error message from the resource file.

Advantages

  • Ensures that all developers in the team handle errors/exceptions consistently – thereby saving time during integration.
  • Ensures that redirection to an error page, error logging, & error display happen in exactly the same way across pages & developers.

 

Help features can be provided in your Page Template by –

  • Including a HelpURL property in your PageTemplate class. This property is used in the Render() method.
  • This property is set in the code-behind of your aspx.

Advantages

  • Ensures that developers in the team handle help features consistently – thereby saving time during integration.
  • No hard coding of paths for help files is possible by the developer. The paths have been hard coded in the template & as a result the developer has to just provide the name of the help file.
  • Setting up help in the template avoids problems arising out of some developers using absolute paths & others using relative paths to access the help files.

 

Button functionality can be provided in your Page Template by –

  • Including boolean properties in your PageTemplate class for each button. These properties are used in the Render() method to show/hide the respective button.
  • This property is set in the code-behind of your aspx.

Advantages

  • Developers need not bother about rendering of buttons on a page. Boolean properties control the display of buttons. This is most useful in wizard style pages.
  • Setting up buttons & their functionality in the template avoids problems arising out of some developers using absolute paths & others using relative paths.

 

You can also add more features to the template based on the needs of your site.

The sample ASP.NET application provided is an example of the page template being put to use. The page template class is PageTemplate.cs. All code-behind classes inherit from it. The example includes a form (FirstPage.aspx) that submits to a details page (SecondPage.aspx). Also provided are a search page (searcher.aspx) & an error page (Error.aspx).

Take a look at each of these pages & note how almost no code (per aspx) is required to provide session checks, i18n setup, DB & utility class setups, error handling, etc. Yet, every page behaves in exactly the same manner & at all times ! All the code providing the above listed features are in PageTemplate.cs.

If you were using a normal page template then every developer would have to include the same code in every page - to provide all the features listed above. We all know how painful that can be !

Sample Usage

Here's a quick guide on how to use this template in a new project -

  1. Create a new C# ASP.NET Web Application. Name it TestTemplate.

  2. Copy PageTemplate.cs, Error.aspx & Error.aspx.cs into the TestTemplate directory. Open each of these files & change the namespace specified in them to TestTemplate. Save the changes, close the files & then add Error.aspx & PageTemplate.cs to the project. Rebuild the project.

  3. Copy the resource files (MyResources.fr.resx & MyResources.resx) into the TestTemplate directory & then add them to the project. Also, make sure that the resource files are properly specified in the OnLoad() method of PageTemplate.cs, i.e the following line in OnLoad()
    Application["resources"]
       = new ResourceManager("MyTemplate.MyResources",Assembly.GetExecutingAssembly());
    now becomes
    Application["resources"]
       = new ResourceManager("TestTemplate.MyResources",Assembly.GetExecutingAssembly());
    Rebuild the project.

  4. Add a new Web Form & call it FirstPage.aspx. This page will be the first aspx to be called in your site. Hence, this page will set the user id & language into the session.

    In the HTML source for FirstPage.aspx, remove all HTML tags except for the form tags. i.e. your HTML source now looks like
    <%@ Page language="c#" Codebehind="FirstPage.aspx.cs" AutoEventWireup="false" 
             Inherits="TestTemplate.FirstPage" %>
    	<form id="FirstPage" method="post" runat="server">
    	</form>
    Add controls to the form in the designer mode. Do not add buttons to submit the form.

    Set FirstPage.aspx as the start page of your project.

    Change the code-behind's parent class from System.Web.UI.Page to PageTemplate.

    In the Page_Load method, do the following
    if ( IsPostBack ) 
    {
    	// do any action on postback
    }
    else 
    {
    	// get Language code & user ID from previous HTML page or elsewhere
    	string languageCode = "en";
    	string userID = "superman";
    
    	// this call sets the language & user ID in the session
    	setLanguageAndUser(languageCode, userID);
    }
    
    // This sets the help file's url for this page
    HelpURL = "first_page_help.html";
    

  5. Run the project. You will see FirstPage.aspx with a lot of extras -
    • Left menu
    • Header
    • Footer
    • Search box
    • Date information
    • User Login information
    • Continue, Restart & Exit hyperlinks
    • Help hyperlink

  6. Now, change the language code to "fr" & look at it again. You will see that text for most labels have changed.

  7. The Continue hyperlink calls a JavaScript function - continueForm(). This method should be overridden in the HTML source of every aspx to submit the form. i.e. - you can include the following in the HTML source of the aspx page
    <script>
    	function continueForm() {
    		alert("submitting......");
    		document.FirstPage.submit();
    	}
    </script>
    Now, see what happens when you click on Continue. Please note that you can provide alternate means to submit a form. I happened to use the Continue hyperlink.

  8. Handle an exception in Page_Load & see what happens. i.e. in the postback section -
    if ( IsPostBack ) 
    {
    	try 
    	{
    		throw new Exception();
    	}
    	catch (Exception ex)
    	{
    		SetErrorCode(1);
    	}
    }
    
    You will see that on submitting, the page automatically gets redirected to the Error page. Also, a message picked up from the resource file is shown.

    Also, when the session times out redirection to the error page(with error code) happens automatically.

  9. To add more pages is even easier -
    • Add a new web form.
    • Remove all HTML tags except for form tags. Add your controls.
    • Change the parent of the code-behind to PageTemplate.
    • Override continueForm(), if necessary.
    • Provide functionality only pertaining to that page. Code for session checks, i18n setup, DB & utility class setups, error handling, etc are not required.
    • You don't have to call setLanguageAndUser() in any page except for the first aspx page (i.e. FirstPage.aspx here).

  10. To change the HTML rendered by the template, modify the HTML source in the Render method of PageTemplate.

License

This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

A list of licenses authors might use can be found here

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About the Author

Sajid Rehman
Web Developer
United Kingdom United Kingdom
No Biography provided

Comments and Discussions

 
Generalbase.render Pinmembermaximov00911-Dec-05 10:21 
GeneralAdding Web User Controls PinmemberNicholasR7-Jul-05 15:50 
Generalbase.Render() case memory leakage Pinmemberwk_leo9819-Nov-04 19:12 
GeneralRe: base.Render() case memory leakage Pinmemberwk_leo9819-Nov-04 19:14 
Generalback functionality Pinmemberinspoiehfkdbc23-Sep-04 12:05 
QuestionAm I missing the point? PinmemberBrian Lowe6-Feb-04 6:29 
AnswerRe: Am I missing the point? PinmemberSajid Rehman19-May-04 7:16 
AnswerRe: Am I missing the point? PinmemberJim Rogers4-Oct-04 11:12 
Generals PinsussAnonymous16-Nov-03 18:51 
Generalrefactored Page Template Class PinmemberDominique Plante8-Oct-03 12:20 
GeneralRe: refactored Page Template Class PinmemberDominique Plante15-Oct-03 14:01 
GeneralIs the same possible for Windows Form PinmemberManish Rawat11-Apr-03 10:32 
GeneralRe: Is the same possible for Windows Form PinmemberTim McCurdy21-Aug-03 17:42 
GeneralSorry about this... PinmemberVantera19-Dec-02 0:20 
GeneralRe: Sorry about this... PinmemberChristian Graus19-Dec-02 2:08 
GeneralRe: Sorry about this... PinmemberVantera19-Dec-02 14:44 
GeneralRe: Sorry about this... PinmemberDominique Plante15-Oct-03 12:46 
GeneralVS.NET giving schema errors Pinmembernapodano15-Dec-02 23:51 
GeneralRe: VS.NET giving schema errors PinmemberSajid Rehman16-Dec-02 18:51 
GeneralRe: VS.NET giving schema errors Pinmembernapodano16-Dec-02 22:41 
GeneralRe: VS.NET giving schema errors Pinmembernapodano16-Dec-02 22:47 
GeneralRe: VS.NET giving schema errors PinmemberSajid Rehman17-Dec-02 18:08 
GeneralRe: VS.NET giving schema errors PinmemberVantera19-Dec-02 0:17 
GeneralRe: VS.NET giving schema errors PinmemberSajid Rehman19-Dec-02 2:12 
GeneralRe: VS.NET giving schema errors PinmemberVantera19-Dec-02 14:47 

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