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Generate dynamic ASP.NET pages by using XML and XSLT

, 15 Oct 2004
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Generates dynamic forms by transforming XML into XSL file.

Introduction

Sometimes you need to create dynamic pages. You may allow users to build their own applications by selecting the fields they need. In this article, I will show how to build dynamic applications by using ASP.NET and XML. In this example, I use XML for meta-programming or generative programming. I use XML with an XSLT to generate ASP.NET PRE, utilizing intrinsic ASP.NET parsing methods with the XSLT output. Steps that we need to do:

  • Create XML file (schema of our page).
  • Create an XSLT style to transform XML into ASP.NET PRE.
  • Transform XML, and create server controls defined by the generated ASP.NET PRE at runtime.
  • Insert the instantiated controls into the page's control collection.
  • Handle postback events from server controls.

First, what we need to come up with is a good structure of our page in a XML file. A basic page structure is defined below. The example structure consists of field elements, with attributes, properties and listitems.

<FORM>
  <PAGES>
    <PAGE title="Page Title" id="page_1">
      <FIELDS>
        
    <!-- create regular TextBox -->
    <FIELD type="TextBox" label="Last Name:" required="true">
          <PROPERTIES>
            <PROPERTY name="ID">LAST_NAME</PROPERTY>
          </PROPERTIES>
        </FIELD>

    <!-- create multiline TextBox (textarea) -->
        <FIELD type="TextBox" label="Description:">
          <PROPERTIES>
            <PROPERTY name="ID">DESCRIPTION</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="TextMode">MultiLine</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="Cols">30</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="Rows">2</PROPERTY>
          </PROPERTIES>
        </FIELD>

    <!-- regular textbox prefilled with text -->
    <FIELD type="TextBox" label="Prefilled Contrl:">
          <PROPERTIES>
            <PROPERTY name="ID">PREFILLED_CONTROL</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="Text">Some Text</PROPERTY>
          </PROPERTIES>
        </FIELD>

        <!-- regular text box which must filled 
                                 and allowed Date datata type -->
        <FIELD type="TextBox" label="Start Date:" 
                      required="true" validation="Date">
          <PROPERTIES>
            <PROPERTY name="ID">START_DATE</PROPERTY>
          </PROPERTIES>
        </FIELD>

    <!-- create select box -->
        <FIELD type="DropDownList" label="Title:">
          <PROPERTIES>
            <PROPERTY name="ID">TITLE</PROPERTY>
          </PROPERTIES>
          <LISTITEMS>
            <LISTITEM value="">Select One</LISTITEM>
            <LISTITEM value="1">Architector</LISTITEM>
            <LISTITEM value="2">Sr. Developer</LISTITEM>
            <LISTITEM value="3">Programmer</LISTITEM>
            <LISTITEM value="4">Web Designer</LISTITEM>
          </LISTITEMS>
        </FIELD>

    <!-- radio buttons list -->    
        <FIELD type="RadioButtonList" label="Are you US citizen?">
          <PROPERTIES>
            <PROPERTY name="ID">IS_US_CITIZEN</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="RepeatColumns">1</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="RepeatDirection">Vertical</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="RepeatLayout">Table</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="TextAlign">Right</PROPERTY>
          </PROPERTIES>
          <LISTITEMS>
            <LISTITEM value="1">Yes</LISTITEM>
            <LISTITEM value="0">No</LISTITEM>
          </LISTITEMS>
        </FIELD>

    <!-- check box list -->
        <FIELD type="CheckBoxList" label="Languages:">
          <PROPERTIES>
            <PROPERTY name="ID">LANGUAGES</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="RepeatColumns">1</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="RepeatDirection">Vertical</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="RepeatLayout">Table</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="TextAlign">Right</PROPERTY>
          </PROPERTIES>
          <LISTITEMS>
            <LISTITEM value="C#">C#</LISTITEM>
            <LISTITEM value="Java">Java</LISTITEM>
            <LISTITEM value="VB">Visual Basic</LISTITEM>
          </LISTITEMS>
        </FIELD>

    <!-- here is a hyperlink (a) -->
        <FIELD type="HyperLink">
          <PROPERTIES>
            <PROPERTY name="ID">LINK</PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="NavigateUrl">javascript:void(alert('Hello ooo'));
            </PROPERTY>
            <PROPERTY name="Text">Say Hello</PROPERTY>
          </PROPERTIES>
        </FIELD>

    <FIELD type="html" src="file path"/>

    <!-- you can place here any other asp controls -->

      </FIELDS>
    </PAGE>
    
    ...

  </PAGES>
</FORM>

Next step is to create XSLT style to transform our XML schema The XSLT iterates through each field, first outputting a label for the field as plain text. The stylesheet also checks if the field is required, and adds a RequiredFieldValidator if needed. The stylesheet then creates a Web Control (it could be any valid web control such as TextBox, RadioButtonList, DropDownList, etc.). ListItems are created for each of the ListControls.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
<xsl:stylesheet version="1.0" 
        xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform" xmlns:asp="remove">
  <xsl:output method="xml" indent="yes" encoding="utf-8" omit-xml-declaration="yes">
  </xsl:output>
  <xsl:template match="/">

   <!-- page id parameter if we have more than 1 page in our XML file -->
   <xsl:param name="pageid"/>

     <!-- start form page -->
     <table cellpadding="0" cellspacing="5">

       <!-- set title of the current page -->
       <tr>
        <td colspan="3" align="center" style="font-size:25px">
         <xsl:value-of select="FORM/PAGES/PAGE[@id=$pageid]/@title" />
        </td>
       </tr>
       <tr><td colspan="3" style="height:20px"></td></tr>

       <!-- iterate through page fields -->
       <xsl:for-each select="FORM/PAGES/PAGE[@id=$pageid]/FIELDS/FIELD">

       <!-- create row -->
       <xsl:element name="tr">
        <xsl:attribute name="id">
          TR_<xsl:value-of select="PROPERTIES/PROPERTY[@name='ID']"></xsl:value-of>
        </xsl:attribute>

        <!-- hide the row -->
        <xsl:if test="@display='none'">
         <xsl:attribute name="style">display:none;</xsl:attribute>
        </xsl:if>

        <xsl:choose>

         <!-- this is the way to place "include" files into your PRE -->
         <xsl:when test="@type='HTML'">
          <td colspan="3">
            <!-- #include file="<xsl:value-of select="@src"></xsl:value-of>" -->
          </td>
         </xsl:when>

         <!-- other controls -->
         <xsl:otherwise>

         <!-- field label column -->
         <td valign="top">
          <xsl:value-of select="@label" />
         </td>

         <!-- field column -->
         <td>

          <!-- field element -->
          <xsl:element name="asp:{@type}">
           <xsl:attribute name="runat">server</xsl:attribute>
           <xsl:for-each select="./PROPERTIES/PROPERTY">
             <xsl:attribute name="{@name}">
               <xsl:value-of select="current()"></xsl:value-of>
             </xsl:attribute>
           </xsl:for-each>
           <xsl:for-each select="./LISTITEMS/LISTITEM">
            <asp:ListItem value="{@value}">
              <xsl:value-of select="current()"></xsl:value-of>
            </asp:ListItem>
           </xsl:for-each>
          </xsl:element>
         </td>

         <!-- validation message column -->
         <td>
          <xsl:if test="@required='true'">
           <asp:RequiredFieldValidator ErrorMessage="Required" runat="server" 
                 ControlToValidate="{PROPERTIES/PROPERTY[@name='ID']}" />
          </xsl:if>

          <xsl:if test="@validation='Date'">
           <asp:CompareValidator ErrorMessage="Dates Only" runat="server" 
                Operator="DataTypeCheck" Type="Date" 
                ControlToValidate="{PROPERTIES/PROPERTY[@name='ID']}" />
          </xsl:if>

          <xsl:if test="@validation='Number'"> 
           <asp:CompareValidator ErrorMessage="Numbers Only" runat="server" 
               Operator="DataTypeCheck" Type="Integer" 
               ControlToValidate="{PROPERTIES/PROPERTY[@name='ID']}" />
          </xsl:if>

          <xsl:if test="@validation='Currency'">
           <asp:CompareValidator ErrorMessage="Currency Only" runat="server" 
               Operator="DataTypeCheck" Type="Currency" 
               ControlToValidate="{PROPERTIES/PROPERTY[@name='ID']}" />
          </xsl:if>
         </td>
        </xsl:otherwise>

       </xsl:choose>
      </xsl:element>

      </xsl:for-each>
     </table>
  </xsl:template>
</xsl:stylesheet>

Our XSLT file has a prefix (xmlns:asp="remove") defined for the XSL namespace. This is used to generate plain HTML. Now we are ready to write our Page transformer.

    ...
    private readonly string XslFile = @"...\default.xslt";
    private readonly string XmlFile = @"...\default.config";

    ...
    private void Page_Load(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
    {
        string pageId = "page_1";

        if (!Page.IsPostBack)
        {

            /**
             * Transform aspx page with fields from xml file
             * Get transform result as a string
             * Parse controls into a parent control holder
             */

            XmlDocument xdoc = new XmlDocument();
            xdoc.Load(XmlFile);

            // load xslt to do transformation
            XslTransform xsl = new XslTransform();
            xsl.Load(XslFile);

            // load xslt arguments to load specific page from xml file
            // this can be used if you have multiple pages
            // in your xml file and you loading them one at a time
            XsltArgumentList xslarg = new XsltArgumentList();
            xslarg.AddParam("pageid", "", pageId);

            // get transformed results
            StringWriter sw = new StringWriter();
            xsl.Transform(xdoc, xslarg, sw);
            string result = sw.ToString().Replace("xmlns:asp=\"remove\"", 
                     "").Replace("&lt;","<").Replace("&gt;",">");
            // free up the memory of objects that are not used anymore
            sw.Close();

            // parse the controls and add it to the page
            Control ctrl = Page.ParseControl(result);
            Page.Controls.Add(ctrl);
        }
    }

    private void BtnSave_Click(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
    {
        // save data into a data container
        // ...
        Response.Write (Request.Form["LAST_NAME"]);
    }

Conclusion

In this article, we separate data from content to make a cleaner design and for better maintainability. When XML is combined with XSLT, ASP.NET server controls become even more powerful. This opens up numerous possibilities for dynamic and robust systems.

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

rafael_p
Web Developer
United States United States
I am Microsoft Certified in .NET
I have over seven-year experience with client-server application development (full project lifecycle) on Windows platforms.
I've focused on creating middle tier, web application development, GUI development, custom data management software, and database programming.

Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralMy vote of 1 PinmemberDamireddy_Eknath6-Apr-14 21:12 
QuestionHow to capture the data from these dynamically created controls PinmemberMember 1062837226-Feb-14 10:38 
QuestionCan anybody give me the DLL Pinmemberprashant sarvaiya2-Aug-13 20:43 
GeneralI am still waiting for DLL PinmemberPrashant Trambake28-Aug-12 22:34 
GeneralMy vote of 2 PinmemberLOKIN SHAH1-Aug-12 0:42 
Questionmissing dll PinmemberhasanMousavi9-May-12 18:06 
QuestionGetting error on ReflectionManager Pinmembersatishkulala99922-Feb-12 19:13 
QuestionWTMI is not a component of .Net Pinmemberadeel198110-Feb-12 20:13 
QuestionThe code is not working Pinmemberadeel19818-Feb-12 20:40 
QuestionDynamic HTML Code generator PinmemberJohn Shaening7-Feb-12 8:04 
QuestionCan you provide this code for Visual Studio 2010 version? Pinmembernandukjadhav24-Nov-11 0:21 
QuestionCreate dynamic template asp.net page using c# PinmemberFarhad sharifi20-Oct-11 17:43 
Questionsend me a version with WTMI code PinmemberMember 189751017-Oct-11 6:40 
AnswerRe: send me a version with WTMI code Pinmemberjrroy3-Feb-12 3:23 
GeneralMy vote of 4 PinmemberDinesh Uthayakumar16-Jun-11 2:11 
Generalmissing dll files WTMI.Util, WTMI.Collections PinmemberAmy.8412-Apr-11 4:14 
Hello,
 
i cannot find the dll files below :
using WTMI.Util;
using WTMI.Collections;
 
and as i see, many have asked the same question..
did any one get a reply ? Frown | :(
 
hope you can help !
Thanks
GeneralRe: missing dll files WTMI.Util, WTMI.Collections PinmemberMashudu Nemukula25-Apr-11 2:29 
GeneralRe: missing dll files WTMI.Util, WTMI.Collections Pinmemberprashant sarvaiya2-Aug-13 20:42 
QuestionCan someone send me the WTMI code??? PinmemberMario Patricio25-Mar-11 8:34 
GeneralWorking example Pinmemberanarych115-Dec-10 4:21 
GeneralRe: Working example PinmemberMember 171756416-Dec-10 4:44 
GeneralWorking example PinmemberMember 171756416-Dec-10 4:48 
Questionplease send me a working version (with WTMI) Pinmemberdong yue wang9-Nov-10 23:57 
GeneralPlease send the working version PinmemberLightBook5-Nov-10 7:21 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pinmembershijitha7-Sep-10 1:11 

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