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Posted 13 Nov 2020

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An Alternative to Routing in Blazor

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13 Nov 2020MIT6 min read
A Blazor application with no Routing or URLs
This article describes an alternative solution to navigation in Blazor without Routing or URLs.

SPAs and routing seem intrinsically joined at the hip. This article looks at an alternative approach: no router or URLs in sight.

SPAs are applications, not web sites. I think we sometimes forget and let the web paradigm constrain our thinking. A standard desktop application doesn't use URLs to move around the application, open new forms, edit information... So why do it in a SPA? Is there an alternative?

Step forward the ViewManager.

You can see a routerless version of my take on the standard Blazor Weather Application in action at these sites:

The GitHub repository is here. Note:

  • You need to be on the Experimental Branch.
  • ViewManager is not standalone code. It's part of the CEC.Blazor project.

Terminology

To be clear about the terms, I use in this article:

  1. Page - used sparsely. A page is a classic HTML web page served up by a web server. The only page in Blazor is either _Host.cshtml or index.html.
  2. View - a View is what gets loaded by the Router. Combined with a Layout, it's what gets displayed in the browser window.
  3. Layout - is the Layout component specified by the View. If a Layout isn't specified in the View, the default Layout is used.
  4. Form - is a "logical unit of code and markup" that contains a set of Control components to display information. Editors/Viewers/Lists are classic forms. A View contains one or more Forms. Forms can be displayed in a View or inside a modal dialog.
  5. Control - is a component that displays something. Buttons, edit boxes, switches and dropdown lists are all controls.

App.razor

The Blazor Application runs inside the <app></app> HTML tags in the base web page.

In a routed Blazor application, the Router component is next in the RenderTree after App. URL navigation is managed by the NavigationManager. The router registers with the NavigationManager - OnLocationChanged event and reacts to navigation events. It works out which component needs loading and loads it into the Layout component. The standard issue App.razor looks like this:

XML
<Router AppAssembly="@typeof(Program).Assembly">
    <Found Context="routeData">
        <RouteView RouteData="@routeData" DefaultLayout="@typeof(MainLayout)" />
    </Found>
    <NotFound>
        <LayoutView Layout="@typeof(MainLayout)">
            <p>Sorry, there's nothing at this address.</p>
        </LayoutView>
    </NotFound>
</Router>

And the new one looks like this:

C#
<ViewManager DefaultViewData="viewData" 
 ModalType="typeof(CEC.Blazor.Components.UIControls.BootstrapModal)" 
 DefaultLayout="typeof(BaseLayout)">
</ViewManager>

@code {
    public ViewData viewData = 
           new ViewData(typeof(CEC.Weather.Components.Views.Index), null);
}

The router has been replaced with the ViewManager component. This becomes the sub-root component of the RenderTree.

  1. DefaultViewData is a configuration object that describes the default View for the application - the "Home" View that gets loaded at startup. All Views must implement IView. The ViewData object passed to the control is constructed in the code as a Property.
  2. ModalType - specified as a Type - is the modal dialog component ViewManager uses to display forms in modal dialog format. It must implement IModal. More about this later.
  3. DefaultLayout - specified as a Type - is the default layout to use for Views. This is a standard Blazor Layout.

ViewData

The ViewData class holds the data required to render a View.

C#
public sealed class ViewData
{
    /// The type of the View.
    public Type PageType { get; private set; }

    /// Parameter values to add to the View when created
    public Dictionary<string, object> ViewParameters 
           { get; private set; } = new Dictionary<string, object>();

    /// View values that can be used by the view and subcomponents
    public Dictionary<string, object> ViewFields 
           { get; private set; } = new Dictionary<string, object>();

    /// Constructs an instance of <<span class="pl-ent">see cref="ViewData"/>.</span>
    public ViewData(Type pageType, Dictionary<string, object> viewValues)
    {
        if (pageType == null) throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(pageType));
        if (!typeof(IView).IsAssignableFrom(pageType)) 
            throw new ArgumentException($"The view must implement {nameof(IView)}.", 
            nameof(pageType));
        this.PageType = pageType;
        this.ViewParameters = viewValues;
    }
    .....
    // various methods to update and get Parameters and Fields 
    // from ViewParameters and ViewFields
}

ViewManager

The ViewManager implements IComponent. The first section gets the NavigationManager and JSRuntime Interop through DI and declares the three parameter based properties.

  1. We use NavigationManager to get the initial URL and extract any QueryString data.
  2. We use IJSRuntime to manipulate the browser beforeunload. More later.
C#
public class ViewManager : IComponent
{
    [Inject] private NavigationManager NavManager { get; set; }

    [Inject] private IJSRuntime _js { get; set; }

    [Parameter] public ViewData DefaultViewData { get; set; }

    [Parameter] public Type ModalType { get; set; } = typeof(BootstrapModal);

    [Parameter] public Type DefaultLayout { get; set; }

    public IModal ModalDialog { get; protected set; }

ViewData

We manage the ViewData through the ViewData property.

C#
public ViewData ViewData
{
    get
    {
        if (this._ViewData == null) this._ViewData = this.DefaultViewData;
        return this._ViewData;
    }
    protected set
    {
        this.AddViewToHistory(this._ViewData);
        this._ViewData = value;
    }
}

private ViewData _ViewData { get; set; }

We keep the View History in ViewHistory - it's size is controlled by ViewHistorySize.

C#
public SortedList<DateTime, ViewData> ViewHistory 
       { get; private set; } = new SortedList<DateTime, ViewData>();


public ViewData LastViewData
{
    get
    {
        var newest = ViewHistory.Max(item => item.Key);
        if (newest != null) return ViewHistory[newest];
        else return null;
    }
}

New Views are added through AddViewToHistory which also manages the list size.

C#
[Parameter] public int ViewHistorySize { get; set; } = 10;

private void AddViewToHistory(ViewData value)
{
    while (this.ViewHistory.Count >= this.ViewHistorySize)
    {
        var oldest = ViewHistory.Min(item => item.Key);
        this.ViewHistory.Remove(oldest);
    }
    this.ViewHistory.Add(DateTime.Now, value);
}

Initialization and Event Driven Methods

There are two InvokeAsync helper methods to run Actions and Functions on the Renderer's Dispatcher, i.e., the UI context.

C#
protected Task InvokeAsync(Action workItem) => _renderHandle.Dispatcher.InvokeAsync(workItem);

protected Task InvokeAsync(Func<Task> workItem) => 
               _renderHandle.Dispatcher.InvokeAsync(workItem);

Class initialization builds the component render fragment. This is passed to the renderer whenever the component needs rendering.

C#
private readonly RenderFragment _componentRenderFragment;

private bool _RenderEventQueued;

private RenderHandle _renderHandle;

public ViewManager() => _componentRenderFragment = builder =>
{
    this._RenderEventQueued = false;
    BuildRenderTree(builder);
};

Attach saves the RenderHandle - it gets called by the Renderer when the component is attached to the RenderTree.

C#
public void Attach(RenderHandle renderHandle)
{
    _renderHandle = renderHandle;
}

SetParametersAsync is fairly simple. It only gets called on startup - being a root component, there's nothing to update its parameters. It checks for querystring data and loads any found into ViewData.

C#
public Task SetParametersAsync(ParameterView parameters)
{
    parameters.SetParameterProperties(this);
    this._ViewData = this.DefaultViewData;
    /// Get any query string data and load it into ViewData.
    this.ReadViewDataFromQueryString();
    this.Render();
    return Task.CompletedTask;
}

The View is updated by calling LoadViewAsync on the cascaded instance of ViewManager. There are various versions of LoadViewAsync, constructing the ViewData in various ways. They all call the core method shown below.

The method updates the ViewData property and then calls Render to queue a re-render of the component.

C#
public Task LoadViewAsync(ViewData viewData = null)
{
    // can be locked by a component if it has a dirty dataset
    if (!this.IsLocked)
    {
        if (viewData != null) this.ViewData = viewData;
        if (ViewData == null)
        {
            throw new InvalidOperationException($"The {nameof(ViewManager)} 
            component requires a non-null value for the parameter {nameof(ViewData)}.");
        }
        this.Render();
    }
    return Task.CompletedTask;
}

The Render method uses InvokeAsync to make sure the code runs on the Renderer's synchronisation context.

C#
private void Render() => InvokeAsync(() =>
{
    if (!this._RenderEventQueued)
    {
        this._RenderEventQueued = true;
        _renderHandle.Render(_componentRenderFragment);
    }
}
);

It queues the component render fragment on the Renderer's render queue. Note _RenderEventQueued is set to true when a render event is queued, and set to false within the render fragment when the render fragment is actually run.

RenderTree Builder

The RenderTree Builder process wraps all the child content in a cascading value of the ViewManager instance - all sub components have access the ViewManager. The ChildContent is the Layout either defined by the View or the default Layout.

C#
/// Renders the component.
protected virtual void BuildRenderTree(RenderTreeBuilder builder)
{
    // Adds cascadingvalue for the ViewManager
    builder.OpenComponent<CascadingValue<ViewManager>>(0);
    builder.AddAttribute(1, "Value", this);
    // Get the layout render fragment
    builder.AddAttribute(2, "ChildContent", this._layoutViewFragment);
    builder.CloseComponent();
}

The Layout fragment - the child content of the ViewManager - consists of the Modal Dialog component and the Layout. The View is the ChildComponent of the Layout.

C#
private RenderFragment _layoutViewFragment =>
    builder =>
    {
        // Gets the Layout to use
        var pageLayoutType = ViewData?.PageType?.GetCustomAttribute<LayoutAttribute>()?
                             .LayoutType ?? DefaultLayout;
        // Adds the Modal Dialog infrastructure
        builder.OpenComponent(0, ModalType);
        builder.AddComponentReferenceCapture(1, modal => this.ModalDialog = (IModal)modal);
        builder.CloseComponent();
        // Adds the Layout component
        if (pageLayoutType != null)
        {
            builder.OpenComponent<LayoutView>(2);
            builder.AddAttribute(3, nameof(LayoutView.Layout), pageLayoutType);
            // Adds the view render fragment into the layout component
            if (this._ViewData != null)
                builder.AddAttribute(4, nameof(LayoutView.ChildContent), this._viewFragment);
            else
            {
                builder.AddContent(2, this._fallbackFragment);
            }
            builder.CloseComponent();
        }
        else
        {
            builder.AddContent(0, this._fallbackFragment);
        }
    };

_viewFragment reads ViewData and loads the View.

C#
/// Render fragment that renders the View
private RenderFragment _viewFragment =>
    builder =>
    {
        try
        {
            // Adds the defined view with any defined parameters
            builder.OpenComponent(0, _ViewData.PageType);
            if (this._ViewData.ViewParameters != null)
            {
                foreach (var kvp in _ViewData.ViewParameters)
                {
                    builder.AddAttribute(1, kvp.Key, kvp.Value);
                }
            }
            builder.CloseComponent();
        }
        catch
        {
            // If the pagetype causes an error - load the fallback
            builder.AddContent(0, this._fallbackFragment);
        }
    };

The final method defines a fallback fragment to display if there are problems with the Layout or View.

C#
/// Fallback render fragment if there's no Layout or View specified
private RenderFragment _fallbackFragment =>
    builder =>
    {
        builder.OpenElement(0, "div");
        builder.AddContent(1, "This is the ViewManager's fallback View. 
                           You have no View and/or Layout specified.");
        builder.CloseElement();
    };

Locking the View

The View can be locked - useful when there's unsaved data - so the user:

  1. Within the application, can't leave the View.
  2. Gets the "Do You Really Want To Leave This Page?" browser popup if they try to navigate elsewhere or reload the application.
C#
public bool IsLocked { get; private set; }

public void LockView()
{
    this.IsLocked = true;
    this.SetPageExitCheck(true);
}

public void UnLockView()
{
    this.IsLocked = false;
    this.SetPageExitCheck(false);
}

SetPageExitCheck adds or removes a listener on the beforeunload browser event through JSInterop.

C#
public void SetPageExitCheck(bool action)
{
    if (action != ExitState) _js.InvokeAsync<bool>("cecblazor_setEditorExitCheck", action);
    ExitState = action;
}

The JS functions are:

JavaScript
// in CEC.Blazor/wwwroot/site.js
window.cecblazor_setEditorExitCheck = function (show) {
    if (show) {
        window.addEventListener("beforeunload", cecblazor_showExitDialog);
    }
    else {
        window.removeEventListener("beforeunload", cecblazor_showExitDialog);
    }
}

window.cecblazor_showExitDialog = function (event) {
    event.preventDefault();
    event.returnValue = "There are unsaved changes on this page.  Do you want to leave?";
}

You will need to add a reference in either _host.cshtml or index.html.

HTML
<script src="_content/CEC.Blazor/site.js"></script>

URL Navigation to a Specific View on Startup

Once nice thing about Routing is the ability to point at user straight at a specific View. You can do this with ViewManager with querystring data.

The link shows it in action Load Weather Report ID 5 - https://cec-blazor-wasm.azurewebsites.net/?View=CEC.Weather.Components.Views.WeatherForecastViewerView&Param-ID=5.

The ReadViewDataFromQueryString method reads any querystring data into the initial ViewData object. You define the View, Parameter data and View specific data in the querystring.

  1. View= defines the fully qualified classname.
  2. Param-ID=1 adds a Parameter ID to the Parameter List with a value of 1.
  3. Field-DataValue=5.01 adds a DataValue to the Field List with a value of 5.01.
  4. Only four data types are recognised - DateTime, Int, Decimal and String. If you want more, add the code!
C#
private void ReadViewDataFromQueryString()
{
    ViewData viewData = null;
    var uri = NavManager.ToAbsoluteUri(NavManager.Uri);
    var vals = QueryHelpers.ParseQuery(uri.Query);
    if (QueryHelpers.ParseQuery(uri.Query).TryGetValue("View", out var classname))
    {
        var type = this.FindType(classname);
        if (type != null)
        {
            viewData = new ViewData(type, null);
            foreach (var set in vals)
            {
                if (set.Key.StartsWith("Param-"))
                {
                    object value;
                    if (DateTime.TryParse(set.Value, out DateTime datevalue)) 
                        value = datevalue;
                    else if (Int32.TryParse(set.Value, out int intvalue)) value = intvalue;
                    else if (Decimal.TryParse(set.Value, out decimal decvalue)) 
                         value = decvalue;
                    else value = set.Value;
                    viewData.SetParameter(set.Key.Replace("Param-", ""), value);
                }
                if (set.Key.StartsWith("Field-"))
                {
                    object value;
                    if (DateTime.TryParse(set.Value, out DateTime datevalue)) 
                        value = datevalue;
                    else if (Int32.TryParse(set.Value, out int intvalue)) value = intvalue;
                    else if (Decimal.TryParse(set.Value, out decimal decvalue)) 
                         value = decvalue;
                    else value = set.Value;
                    viewData.SetField(set.Key.Replace("Field-", ""), value);
                }
            }
        }
    }
    if (viewData != null) this.ViewData = viewData;
}

Modal Dialogs

The final bit of ViewManager is ShowModalAsync which opens any Form - defined by implementing IForm - in the modal dialog. The code for the modal dialog can be found in the project. There'll be another article shortly covering this in more detail.

C#
/// Method to open a Modal Dialog
public async Task<ModalResult> ShowModalAsync<TForm>(ModalOptions modalOptions) 
       where TForm : IComponent => await this.ModalDialog.Show<TForm>(modalOptions);

UIViewLink

UIViewLink is similar to NavLink. It constructs a clickable link to navigate to a defined View. The important bit is this.ViewManager.LoadViewAsync(viewData).

C#
public class UIViewLink : UIBase
{
    /// View Type to Load
    [Parameter] public Type ViewType { get; set; }

    /// View Paremeters for the View
    [Parameter] public Dictionary<string, object> 
                ViewParameters { get; set; } = new Dictionary<string, object>();

    /// Cascaded ViewManager
    [CascadingParameter] public ViewManager ViewManager { get; set; }

    /// Boolean to check if the ViewType is the current loaded view
    /// if so it's used to mark this component's CSS with "active"
    private bool IsActive => this.ViewManager.IsCurrentView(this.ViewType);

    /// Builds the render tree for the component
    protected override void BuildRenderTree(RenderTreeBuilder builder)
    {
        var css = string.Empty;
        // builds the ViewData object
        var viewData = new ViewData(ViewType, ViewParameters);

        // Gets any css set on the control
        if (AdditionalAttributes != null && 
            AdditionalAttributes.TryGetValue("class", out var obj))
        {
            css = Convert.ToString(obj, CultureInfo.InvariantCulture);
        }
        // checks if this is the active View and if so sets the active CSS attribute
        if (this.IsActive) css = $"{css} active";
        // Add onclick to the Attributes to remove from the Captured Attributes
        this.UsedAttributes.Add("@onclick");
        this.UsedAttributes.Add("onclick");
        // and clears the attributes
        this.ClearDuplicateAttributes();
        builder.OpenElement(0, "a");
        builder.AddAttribute(1, "class", css);
        // adds the user supplied attributes
        builder.AddMultipleAttributes(2, AdditionalAttributes);
        // Adds the onclick event to load the supplied View
        builder.AddAttribute(3, "onclick", 
                EventCallback.Factory.Create<MouseEventArgs>
                (this, e => this.ViewManager.LoadViewAsync(viewData)));
        // Adds the child content
        builder.AddContent(4, ChildContent);
        builder.CloseElement();
    }
}

Using the ViewManager

The project in the Github Repo uses the ViewManager to replace routing. If you're interested in ViewManager, I suggest you grab the project and dig into the code.

The code below shows UIViewLink used in the left nav control.

LeftNavMenu

HTML
....
    <li class="nav-item px-3">
        <UIViewLink class="nav-link" ViewType="typeof(WeatherForecastListView)">
            <span class="oi oi-cloudy" aria-hidden="true"></span> Normal Weather
        </UIViewLink>
    </li>
    <li class="nav-item px-3">
        <UIViewLink class="nav-link" ViewType="typeof(WeatherForecastListModalView)">
            <span class="oi oi-cloud-upload" aria-hidden="true"></span> Modal Weather
        </UIViewLink>
    </li>
.....
C#
 @code {
    [CascadingParameter] public ViewManager ViewManager { get; set; }
}

Conclusion

Hopefully, I've opened your eyes a little. A Router isn't compulsory. You can code an SPA just like an old style desktop application - no router, no URLs.

Comments and suggestions gratefully received.

This article was originally posted at https://github.com/ShaunCurtis/Blazor-ViewManager

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The MIT License

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About the Author

Shaun C Curtis
Retired Cold Elm
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Ex Geologist, Project Manager, Web Hoster, Business Owner and IT Consultant. Now, a traveller to places less travelled. And part time developer trying to keep up!

If you feel like saying thanks, the next time you see a charity request, DONATE. No matter how small, no matter who, it'll count. If you have a choice in the UK, Barnados.

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