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ASP.NET MVC for Desktop (WPF/WinForms) developers

, 27 Mar 2014
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Web development for desktop applications developers

Introduction

There comes a time in every desktop applications developer’s career where he/she has to make a website. This article is an attempt to bring up to speed, a frontend desktop applications developer (WPF or WinForms), with building websites using ASP.NET MVC. Why MVC and not Web Forms, etc? Simply because I think MVC is newer, cooler and more powerful than any other technology stack from Microsoft for building websites. Yes, it my personal opinion and am entitled to have one! Also please note, since I am passionate about desktop applications development you will frequently see comments about WPF/WinForms applications being better than web applications. Now that we are done with the disclaimers let us get started.

Desktop vs. Web Application

There is a complete paradigm shift between the two technologies. Desktop apps are stateful and web apps are stateless. To me it felt like learning event driven programming after mastering procedural programming. It helps to accept the fact you are embarking on a steep learning curve. Go at your own comfortable pace, rushing it will not help. For desktop developers a lot of unlearning is required to understand web programming concepts. For example, desktop programmers might be grappling with object deep copy issues, garbage collection, etc. While in the web programming world you have to tackle basics like object lifetimes. Every request to the web server requires you to recreate the objects from scratch. If you try to cheat and make your web app stateful using sessions, etc. you will soon run into scaling issues. Your website will slow to a crawl just with a few online users pounding on your website. So take a deep breath, forget all you know about stateful computing and open your mind to a technology stack that may seem very inefficient!

Assumptions

I am assuming the following.

  • You are at least 3-4 years into desktop development (WPF or WinForms).
  • You understand the MVC design pattern.
  • You know what is HTML and can create a simple static HTML webpage.

Background

I have gone through multiple tutorials on the web on how to learn web programming using ASP.NET MVC. Majority of those use the Internet or Intranet website template that Visual Studio provides as the starting point. This makes the learning curve very steep.

You land up with a project that has numerous files with no clue where to start. Just the site of so many files in the Solution Explorer can feel overwhelming. The only thing nice about this template is that you have a fully functional website that will run if you press F5. The website itself looks complicated as it has a home page, about page, contact page, login page and even a register user page!


Hello World Website

Let us create our first hello world website using ASP.NET MVC. I am deliberately keeping things simple here so that we can learn what exactly is going on behind the scenes and how the website actually works.

In this tutorial we will start with the Basic template in Visual Studio. Let us begin by creating a new project.


If you do not see ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Application or ASP.NET MVC 5 Web Application in the New Project dialog in Visual Studio then please Google on how to install the same. Once successfully installed you should see a similar screen. Click on ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Application or ASP.NET MVC 5 Web Application and click OK.

In the next screen select the Basic template and make sure the View engine is Razor. I will explain what a view engine is later. Click OK.


You will agree that this time the Solution Explorer looks a little less overwhelming. But this comes at a cost. If you press F5 now you will get this error.

This is because the Basic template only creates a skeleton that you can build on as opposed to Internet or Intranet templates that create a complete website that you can run right away. To help us better understand how the website actually works we will add files to the project one by one.

When a user types in the URL for our website into a web browser and clicks Go, the request is routed to the web server. The web server is located using the information present in the URL itself. For further details see this http://www.w3.org/wiki/How_does_the_Internet_work

Once the web server receives the request it identifies to which website the request belongs to and invokes the Index action in the Home controller, if the website is made using ASP.NET MVC. Let’s take a step back and find out why and how this happens. In the Solution Explorer expand folder App_Start and double click file RouteConfig.cs. You should see something similar to this.

public class RouteConfig
{
    public static void RegisterRoutes(RouteCollection routes)
    {
        routes.IgnoreRoute("{resource}.axd/{*pathInfo}");

        routes.MapRoute(
            name: "Default",
            url: "{controller}/{action}/{id}",
            defaults: new { controller = "Home", action = "Index", id = UrlParameter.Optional }
        );
    }
} 

This is the default route map entry for your website that the Basic template created. For now pay attention to the defaults entry. It says the default controller is going to be Home and the default action in that controller is going to be Index. In ASP.NET MVC all requests received by the web server is forwarded to controllers and actions present in those controllers. The controller’s actions interact with the model and views to return a response back to the web server which eventually gets routed back to the web browser.

Finally why did the defaults entry in the route map get invoked? This is because the user did not specify which controller and action they want invoked. Let us say we are building the Google website. When the user types in the URL http://www.google.com into the web browser the URL does not contain information about the controller and action that has to be invoked and hence the defaults are used. Instead if the user types in http://www.google.com/search/images then the request will be routed to the Images action inside the Search controller. If this sounds confusing or exhausting do not worry. We will revisit routing in ASP.MVC and it will make more sense then.

It is clear now why our website is not working, we do not have the Home controller. Let us go ahead and create one. In Solution Explorer right click the empty Controllers folder and click Add->Controller

For the controller name enter HomeController and for Template select Empty MVC Controller. Click Add. A new file called HomeController.cs will be created in the Controllers folder. Open this file. You should see something similar to this.

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Web;
using System.Web.Mvc;

namespace MvcApplication1.Controllers
{
    public class HomeController : Controller
    {
        //
        // GET: /Home/

        public ActionResult Index()
        {
            return View();
        }

    }
} 

The Index action is already added to your controller. The current code will try to return the default view for this controller action. So let us go ahead and create the default view for this controller action. In Solution Explorer right click the Views folder and Add->New Folder. Name the folder Home. Now right click the newly created Home folder and click Add->View.

View name should be Index and View engine should be Razor (CSHTML). For other settings see the dialog box image. Click Add. A new file called Index.cshtml will be created in Views/Home folder. Open this file. You should see something similar to this.

@{
    ViewBag.Title = "Index";
}

<h2>Index</h2> 

Replace Index with the text “Hello World”. Like this

@{
    ViewBag.Title = "Index";
}

<h2>Hello World!</h2> 
Now press F5 or Ctrl+F5. You should see something similar to this.

Congratulations your Hello world website is up and running! It is time to find out what all happened behind the scenes. Right click anywhere on the website in the browser and click View Source. You should see something similar to this.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
    <meta charset="utf-8" />
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width" />
    <title>Index</title>
    <link href="/Content/site.css" rel="stylesheet"/>

    <script src="/Scripts/modernizr-2.5.3.js"></script>

</head>
<body>
    

<h2>Hello World!</h2>


    <script src="/Scripts/jquery-1.7.1.js"></script>

    
</body>
</html> 

This is a well formed HTML page with head and body nodes. If you go back to Index.cshtml you will notice we only specified

<h2>Hello World!</h2>

But the web server returned a complete page with our Hello World entry. To find out what happened behind the scenes go to Solution Explorer and open _ViewStart.cshtml present in the views folder. You should see something like this.

@{
    Layout = "~/Views/Shared/_Layout.cshtml";
} 

Okay nothing much here so let us further explore Views/Shared/_Layout.cshrml file. In Solution Explorer go to views folder and expand Shared subfolder. Double click the _Layout.cshrml file. You should see something similar to this.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>
    <meta charset="utf-8" />
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width" />
    <title>@ViewBag.Title</title>
    @Styles.Render("~/Content/css")
    @Scripts.Render("~/bundles/modernizr")
</head>
<body>
    @RenderBody()

    @Scripts.Render("~/bundles/jquery")
    @RenderSection("scripts", required: false)
</body>
</html> 

There you go we have a template for a well formed HTML page. The magic phrase here is @RenderBody(). This is the place where the view returned from your Home controller’s Index action gets merged.

Points of Interest

In the desktop applications world all this was the equivalent of creating a MainForm (WinForms) or MainWindow (WPF) and putting in a label that said Hello World!

In the next part we will start manipulating this project further to take it from Hello World to something more useful. I have omitted a lot of information to keep the tutorial as simple and easy to understand as possible.

History

First published March 2014

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Rammohan Raja
Architect
United States United States
Nothing to brag about, just another passionate software developer.
 
Work to make a living, don't live to work!
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Comments and Discussions

 
QuestionThanks PinmemberLeslie K.7-Apr-14 9:38 
AnswerRe: Thanks PinmemberRammohan Raja7-Apr-14 17:55 
SuggestionASP.NET MVC for Desktop (WPF/WinForms) Developers - Part 2 PinmemberRammohan Raja7-Apr-14 1:17 
QuestionExcellent PinmemberRob Gordon from Adelaide SA30-Mar-14 21:11 
AnswerRe: Excellent PinmemberRammohan Raja30-Mar-14 23:53 
AnswerRe: Excellent PinmemberDale Barnard20-Apr-14 10:53 
GeneralRe: Excellent PinmemberRammohan Raja21-Apr-14 0:21 

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