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Posted 30 Nov 2003


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ASP.NET Common Web Page Class Library - Part 2

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6 Apr 2006CPOL15 min read
Detecting changes in data controls in ASP.NET Web Forms.

Table of contents


This is the second in a series of articles on a class library for ASP.NET applications that I have developed. It contains a set of common, reusable page classes that can be utilized in web applications as-is to provide a consistent look, feel, and set of features. New classes can also be derived from them to extend their capabilities. The features are all fairly modular, and may be extracted and placed into your own classes too. For a complete list of articles in the series along with a demonstration application and the code for the classes, see Part 1 [^].

This article describes the data change checking features of the BasePage class. This is a fairly large section, so it was split out from the first article to keep it from getting too long. It covers the properties and methods related to the change checking features of the BasePage class as well as the client-side code used to implement it.

Data change checking

In a rich-client application, it is fairly easy to detect changes in data entry controls and warn the user that they are about to lose their changes when they attempt to leave the form. You also have full control over how they can leave the form or the application. In a web-based application, it is more difficult. You have some chance of catching the attempt to leave if they click a link or button on your page, but they may also leave by entering a new URL in the browser's address text box, they may navigate away by using the back, forward, or history links, or they may just close the browser. It can be quite irritating for the end-user to navigate away from the page only to realize that they did not save their changes first. Telling them "Then don't do that" just makes them cranky.

The BasePage class and those derived from it provide a set of properties that will allow you to trap most attempts to leave the Web Form before the user has saved their changes, and ask them whether or not they really want to leave. When enabled, it will also track the dirty state of the form automatically. While it is not 100% effective, it does a pretty good job in most situations. With that said, here are the limitations:

  • This only works in Internet Explorer 4+ as it relies on the OnBeforeUnload event on the browser's window object. For non-IE browsers, the only support provided is dirty state tracking via the BasePage.Dirty property. It has only been tested in IE, FireFox, and Netscape so other browsers may still have issues not addressed here.
  • If you decide to leave anyway, you may get a double prompt about trying to leave without saving, in some cases. This usually occurs on links in DataGrid web controls (i.e., an "Add" command link button). This is more of an annoyance than anything.
  • It will exit without prompting if the active element is one you do not want to get prompted on (a Save button, for example), but it has the focus and you leave by doing something that does not interact with the page such as closing the browser, clicking the back button, etc. This is a rare case, but it can happen.
  • It may exit without prompting if a control has AutoPostBack enabled, and you leave the page without modifying any controls on the page after an auto-postback has occurred. This problem can be circumvented by the use of the BasePage.Dirty property. When BasePage.CheckForDataChanges is set to true, the client-side code will detect changes and the page will automatically track the dirty state for you. You can also explicitly set it to true in cases where no changes may have occurred in the client-side so that the user will get prompted if they attempt to leave the page later on (i.e., a button is clicked to fill in default values on a new record).
  • It only looks at the standard HTML controls on the page (text box, text area, checkbox, radio button, and select controls such as dropdown lists and list boxes). Since almost all of the ASP.NET web controls render as one of the standard HTML controls, this does not present any problems. However, if you use any ActiveX controls on the web page for data entry, they will not be checked.

How it works

The BasePage class contains five properties that work together with a client-side JavaScript function to provide data change checking:

CheckForDataChangesSet this Boolean property to true to enable data change checking. Set it to false (the default) to disable it. When enabled, the page will render a hidden field, some extra JavaScript variables, and a function to check for changes. The function is bound to the window object's OnBeforeUnload event when the page loads. It is also registered as an OnSubmit statement to allow automatic tracking of the dirty state. Changes to the BP_bIsDirty hidden field cannot occur in the OnBeforeUnload event so they must be made in the OnSubmit event instead.
DirtyThis is a Boolean property that you can set to true to force the page to always prompt the user about saving the changes prior to leaving. This is most useful in cases where a postback has occurred to modify the state of the form (i.e., to disable controls or load different values based on a selection in a dropdown list). It will automatically get set to true by the client-side code if changes have been made to the form controls. The CheckForDataChanges property must be set to true in order to use this property. The prompting behavior is only available in Internet Explorer. For all other browsers, it only tracks the dirty state. Do not forget to set this property to false after saving or canceling edits to the page.
ConfirmLeaveMessageThis string property contains the message that will be displayed when the user attempts to leave without first saving their changes (Internet Explorer only). If not set, a default message is displayed.
BypassPromptIdsThis property is set to a string array of control IDs that should not cause prompting even if changes occur (i.e., a Save or Cancel button). When postback occurs due to a control with one of these IDs, no prompting will occur even if changes have been made (Internet Explorer only). The dirty flag will still get updated. If not set, all controls that cause a postback will result in prompting if data has been changed.
SkipDataCheckIdsThis property is set to a string array of control IDs that should be ignored when checking for changed data. For example, you may have a read-only text box used to display text or messages that gets updated during the course of using the form. Since it is not part of the saved information, it can be ignored and will not prevent leaving the page if it is the only thing that changed. If not set, all data entry controls are checked for changes.

Change checking is usually enabled in the Page_Load event the first time the page is loaded. The CheckForDataChanges property is set to true and the BypassPromptIds property is set to a list of controls that should not cause prompting to occur (i.e., a Save button, dropdown lists with AutoPostBack enabled, etc.). For example:

private void Page_Load(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
    if(Page.IsPostBack == false)
        // Set up form for data change checking when
        // first loaded.
        this.CheckForDataChanges = true;
        this.BypassPromptIds =
            new string[] { "btnSave", "btnCancel",
                           "chkLimitToTeam" }

If specifying the IDs of such controls as the sort links in data grid headers, you will need to run the page, view the source, and get the names of the link controls from the rendered HTML. Be sure to change the '$' characters in the names to ':' when specifying them in the bypass list, as the __doPostback() function changes them before the data changing checking code gets the ID.

Changes in the data controls can only be detected from the point at which the user starts interacting with the page up to the point at which a postback occurs. If you have controls on the page that cause a postback, such as a button that alters the state of some controls but it does not actually save changes made up to that point, you may need to make use of the Dirty property. This is needed because once the page is rendered after the postback, it has no idea what the original values were prior to that. Setting the Dirty property to true in the event handler for such postbacks will ensure that the user is prompted to save their changes before leaving the page. All it does is set a flag that the JavaScript function checks and, if true, always prompts the user to save their changes regardless of whether or not anything has actually been changed since the page was rendered.

Generating the client-side code

The rendering of the client-side variables and script occurs in the overridden OnPreRender() method. The code is fairly straightforward, and simply uses a StringBuilder object to format the variables and script code and then registers it with the page. The script is stored as a resource in the assembly so that you do not have to distribute it separately along with the assembly. Also, to insure that the correct form is affected by the code, a variable is rendered that contains the form's unique ID. While ASP.NET does limit you to one form with a runat='server' attribute, it will let you have other regular HTML forms on the page without that attribute. By enforcing use of the web form's client-side name, it will not break any pages that may utilize other regular HTML forms. The code below is for the .NET 1.1 version of the class. The .NET 2.0 version varies only slightly with its use of the Page object's new methods for registering the script blocks, submit statement, and the hidden field:

protected override void OnPreRender(EventArgs e)
    StringBuilder sb;
    string[] idList;


    // If data change checking has been requested, output the
    // dirty flag, exclusion arrays, confirm message, and the
    // script.
    if(this.CheckForDataChanges == true)
        // Register a hidden field so that the client can pass
        // back changes to the Dirty flag.

        // Register an OnSubmit function call so that we can
        // get the state of the Dirty flag and put it in the
        // hidden field. It can't occur in the OnBeforeUnload
        // event as everything has been packaged up ready for
        // sending to the server and changes made in that event
        // don't get sent to the server.

        // Create a script block containing the array
        // declarations, the data loss message variable, the
        // dirty flag, and the change checking script.
        sb = new StringBuilder(
            "<script type='text/javascript'>\n<!--\n" +
            "var BP_arrBypassList = new Array(", 4096);

        idList = this.BypassPromptIds;
        if(idList != null)
            sb.Append(String.Join("\",\"", idList));

        sb.Append(");\nvar BP_arrSkipList = new Array(");
        idList = this.SkipDataCheckIds;
        if(idList != null)
            sb.Append(String.Join("\",\"", idList));

        sb.Append(");\nvar BP_strDataLossMsg = \"");
        sb.Append("\";\nvar BP_strFormName = \"");

        // BP_strFormName tells the script what form to use
        // for the change checking.

        // Add the reference to retrieve the script from the
        // resource server handler.
        sb.Append("<script type='text/javascript' src='");


The OnInit method is overridden to retrieve the value of the hidden field when the page is created on the server. If change checking is enabled, it will set the Dirty property to the value of the hidden field as determined on the client during postback. If change checking is disabled, it will always be set to false, as the field will not exist:

protected override void OnInit(EventArgs e)

    // Retrieve the state of the Dirty flag (if used)
    this.Dirty = Convert.ToBoolean(Request.Form["BP_bIsDirty"],

The JavaScript code

The JavaScript code is what makes it all work on the client side. When rendered, it consists of a hidden field that is set to the current value of the Dirty property, a set of variables that are populated with the values from the ConfirmLeaveMessage, BypassPromptIds, and SkipDataCheckIds properties, and the JavaScript functions BP_funCheckForChanges() and BP_OnSubmit(). Inline JavaScript code at the end of the script binds the change checking function to the window object's OnBeforeUnload event.

The change checking function is also registered as part of the form's OnSubmit attribute to allow it to detect changes and set the hidden field to true. The client-side code module also substitutes the BP_OnSubmit() function as the web form's real Submit method. The original handler is saved as a new BP_RealOnSubmit method on the form. The function will call the original handler after calling the change checking function to update the dirty state flag. The reason for this extra work is that controls with AutoPostBack enabled, such as dropdown lists, call the form's Submit method directly and it does not fire the OnSubmit event. By substituting our own handler, we can still track changes to the form data in these cases:

// Replace the OnSubmit event. This is so that we can always
// update the state of the Dirty flag even when controls with
// AutoPostBack cause the submit.
document.forms<bp_strformname />.BP_RealOnSubmit =
                 document.forms<bp_strformname />.submit;

function BP_OnSubmit()

    // It sometimes reports an error if OnBeforeUnload
    // cancels it. Ignore it.
    try {
        document.forms<bp_strformname />.BP_RealOnSubmit();
    } catch(e) { }

document.forms<bp_strformname />.submit = BP_OnSubmit;

// IE Only: Hook up the event handler for OnBeforeUnload
window.onbeforeunload = BP_funCheckForChanges;

When the user tries to leave the page, the change checking function is called and the following steps occur:

function BP_funCheckForChanges(bInOnSubmit)
    var strID, nIdx, nNumOpts, nSkipCnt, nPos, nOptIdx;
    var oElem, oOptions, oOpt, nDefSelIdx, nSelIdx;
    var oForm = document.forms<bp_strformname />;
    var nElemCnt = oForm.elements.length;
    var bPrompt = (typeof(bInOnSubmit) == "undefined");
    var ctlDirty = document.getElementsByName("BP_bIsDirty")[0];

    // This prevents a double prompt that can occur when post
    // back is not cancelled for a hyperlink-type control.
    // Not sure why it happens but this works around it.
    if(bPrompt == true && BP_bOnBeforeUnloadFired == true)

    // Get current state of Dirty flag
    var bChanged = (ctlDirty.value == "true");

The first part initializes several variables for the function. The bPrompt variable is initially set to true or false based on whether or not a parameter was passed to the function. When passed a parameter, it has been called as part of the OnSubmit event and should never prompt, as we are only interested in updating the state of the dirty flag. When called as part of the OnBeforeUnload event, it should prompt unless told not to later on because of something in the bypass ID list. The reason for the separate calls is that the OnBeforeUnload event occurs after everything has been packaged up ready for sending to the server, and thus changes to the hidden field do not get sent back if made in that event. A side effect of this is that for non-IE browsers, you at least get dirty state tracking. The bChanged variable is set to the current value of the BP_bIsDirty hidden field. This allows it to maintain the dirty state and prompt to save changes even after a postback in which nothing else has changed. Note that in order to get a reference to the hidden field, we have to use the document.getElementsByName method. This is because the page renders the registered hidden fields with a name attribute but without an id attribute. Using the "ByName" method insures that the code will work on non-IE browsers:

// IE Only:  The event target is most likely the item that
// caused the request to leave the page. If it's in the list
// of controls that can bypass the check, don't prompt. The
// control ID must be an exact match or must end with the name
// (i.e. it's in a DataGrid).
strID = "";
oElem = document.getElementById("__EVENTTARGET");

if(oElem == null || typeof(oElem) == "undefined" ||
  oElem.value == "")
    // Check the active element if there is no event target
    if(typeof(document.activeElement) != "undefined")
        oElem = document.activeElement
        strID =;
    strID = oElem.value;

// Some elements may not have an ID but their parent element
// might so grab that if possible (i.e. AREA elements in a MAP
// element).
if(strID == "" && oElem != null &&
  typeof(oElem) != "undefined")
    // Link buttons in DataGrids don't have IDs but do use
    // __doPostBack(). If we see a link with that in its href,
    // assume __doPostBack() is running and skip the check.
    // The submission will call us again.
    if(oElem.tagName == "A" &&
      oElem.href.indexOf("__doPostBack") != -1)

    if(typeof(oElem.parentElement) != "undefined")
        strID =;

if(strID != "")
    nSkipCnt = BP_arrBypassList.length;

    for(nIdx = 0; nIdx < nSkipCnt; nIdx++)
        if(strID == BP_arrBypassList[nIdx])
            bPrompt = false;
            nPos = strID.length - BP_arrBypassList[nIdx].length;
            if(nPos >= 0)
                if(strID.substr(nPos) == BP_arrBypassList[nIdx])
                    bPrompt = false;

For Internet Explorer only, the event target element (the one that caused the postback) is checked to see if its control ID is in the bypass list. If so, the bPrompt flag is set to false so that no prompting occurs. For example, you do not want it to prompt the user to save their changes when the Save button is clicked. When checking the control ID, it looks for an exact match or one that ends in the ID from the list. The "ends with" match is there to handle controls embedded in DataGrid web controls. Their client-side IDs are altered based on the row they appear in to keep them unique. Since we do not know the unique ID, the partial match based on the ID assigned at design time will work.

// Now we'll figure out if something changed
nSkipCnt = BP_arrSkipList.length;

for(nIdx = 0; !bChanged && nIdx < nElemCnt; nIdx++)
    oElem = oForm.elements[nIdx];

    // If the control is in the list of ones to ignore,
    // carry on.
    for(nOptIdx = 0; nOptIdx < nSkipCnt; nOptIdx++)
        if( == BP_arrSkipList[nOptIdx])

        nPos = - BP_arrSkipList[nOptIdx].length;
        if(nPos >= 0)
            if( == BP_arrSkipList[nOptIdx])

    if(nOptIdx < nSkipCnt)

    // Check for changes based on the control type
    if(oElem.type == "text" || oElem.tagName == "TEXTAREA")
        if(oElem.value != oElem.defaultValue)
            bChanged = true;
        if(oElem.type == "checkbox" || oElem.type == "radio")
            if(oElem.checked != oElem.defaultChecked)
                bChanged = true;
            if(oElem.tagName == "SELECT")
                oOptions = oElem.options;
                nNumOpts = oOptions.length;
                nDefSelIdx = nSelIdx = 0;

                // Search for a change in the default. If
                // nothing is explicitly marked as the default,
                // element zero is assumed to have been the
                // default.
                for(nOptIdx = 0; nOptIdx < nNumOpts; nOptIdx++)
                    oOpt = oOptions[nOptIdx];

                        nDefSelIdx = nOptIdx;

                        nSelIdx = nOptIdx;

                if(nDefSelIdx != nSelIdx)
                    bChanged = true;

Next, each control is checked to see if the data it contains has been changed. If the control ID is in the list of elements to skip, it will be ignored. This allows you to have controls on the page that can be modified without causing it to prompt to save changes (i.e. message text areas etc.). As with the bypass list, the control ID can be an exact match or one ending in the specified ID.

Changes are detected based on the control type. For text boxes and text areas, the value property is compared to the defaultValue property. For checkboxes and radio buttons, the checked property is compared to the defaultChecked property. For select controls (dropdown lists and list boxes), each item in the collection is scanned. The current selection is found and compared to the item that was marked as the default selection to see if there was a change. If no item in the list was marked as the default, the first element is considered to be the default.

    // Pass the dirty state back to the server
    ctlDirty.value = "true";

    // If prompting, set the message
        event.returnValue = BP_strDataLossMsg;
        BP_bOnBeforeUnloadFired = true;
        window.setTimeout("BP_funClearIfCancelled()", 1000);

If no changes were found and the Page class's dirty flag is still false, the function exits and no prompting occurs. No prompting occurs if called as part of the OnSubmit event either.

For Internet Explorer, if a change was detected, or the page class' dirty flag was set to true and it was called as part of the OnBeforeUnload event, the event.returnValue property is set to the confirmation message. This causes the browser to pop up a message box asking whether or not it is okay to leave the page. The confirmation message is displayed in the message box preceded by the question "Are you sure you want to navigate away from this page?" and followed by instructions to click OK to continue or Cancel to stay on the current page. Those two messages are added by the browser and cannot be changed. Only the text that you supply that appears in the middle can be modified via the ConfirmLeaveMessage property.

In addition to setting the message, we also set a flag variable (BP_bOnBeforeUnloadFired) that prevents a double prompt that would normally occur under certain conditions. It also sets up a time out event that calls the BP_funClearIfCancelled function. This serves two purposes if post-back is cancelled. It clears the flag that prevents the double prompt, and it also clears __EVENTTARGET as it doesn't get cleared if you cancel an auto-postback item and then click a button, for example. If not cleared, it could cause unexpected behavior in the server side code in some cases where that variable is used.


I have used the BasePage class and a few derived from it in all of my ASP.NET applications, to give them a consistent look, feel, and set of features. The data change checking features, though full use is limited to Internet Explorer, have been extremely helpful in eliminating a common user complaint about losing data due to forgetting to save changes before leaving a page. Hopefully, you will find this class and the others in the library, or parts of them, as useful as I have.

Revision history

  • 04/02/2006
    • Breaking changes: Property and method names have been modified to conform to the .NET naming conventions with regard to casing (BasePage.BypassPromptIds and BasePage.SkipDataCheckIds).
  • 11/26/2004

    Changes in this release:

    • Made some changes based on suggestions from Danny Dot Net to prevent the double prompt when posting back via a hyperlink-type control. A few other changes were made that also eliminate the double prompt in almost all other situations as well.
    • Fixed up a potential problem with the __EVENTTARGET variable not being cleared if post back is cancelled.
  • 12/01/2003
    • Initial release.


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


About the Author

Eric Woodruff
Software Developer (Senior)
United States United States
Eric Woodruff is an Analyst/Programmer for Spokane County, Washington where he helps develop and support various applications, mainly criminal justice systems, using Windows Forms (C#) and SQL Server as well as some ASP.NET applications.

He is also the author of various open source projects for .NET including:

The Sandcastle Help File Builder - A front end and project management system that lets you build help file projects using Microsoft's Sandcastle documentation tools. It includes a standalone GUI and a package for Visual Studio integration.

Visual Studio Spell Checker - A Visual Studio editor extension that checks the spelling of comments, strings, and plain text as you type or interactively with a tool window. This can be installed via the Visual Studio Gallery.

Image Map Controls - Windows Forms and web server controls that implement image maps.

PDI Library - A complete set of classes that let you have access to all objects, properties, parameter types, and data types as defined by the vCard (RFC 2426), vCalendar, and iCalendar (RFC 2445) specifications. A recurrence engine is also provided that allows you to easily and reliably calculate occurrence dates and times for even the most complex recurrence patterns.

Windows Forms List Controls - A set of extended .NET Windows Forms list controls. The controls include an auto-complete combo box, a multi-column combo box, a user control dropdown combo box, a radio button list, a check box list, a data navigator control, and a data list control (similar in nature to a continuous details section in Microsoft Access or the DataRepeater from VB6).

For more information see

Comments and Discussions

Questionsave button doesn't save.. Pin
magneticadevelopment15-Nov-11 5:09
Membermagneticadevelopment15-Nov-11 5:09 
QuestionBreaks in IE 9 / Firefox 6 Pin
Member 197831730-Aug-11 9:11
MemberMember 197831730-Aug-11 9:11 
QuestionBreak in IE 9 / Firefox 6 Pin
Member 197831730-Aug-11 7:52
MemberMember 197831730-Aug-11 7:52 
QuestionBreaks in IE 9 and FireFox 6 Pin
Member 197831730-Aug-11 7:18
MemberMember 197831730-Aug-11 7:18 
GeneralConfirmLeaveMessage firing even the button is in the BypassPromptIds Pin
SabineImfeld25-Aug-10 22:22
MemberSabineImfeld25-Aug-10 22:22 
GeneralFirfox Pin
Arun Gurung30-Jun-10 5:21
MemberArun Gurung30-Jun-10 5:21 
GeneralRe: Firfox Pin
Eric Woodruff30-Jun-10 15:43
professionalEric Woodruff30-Jun-10 15:43 
GeneralGetting dynamically generated ids in a databound control to put into BypassPrompts array Pin
Member 19783175-Jul-09 8:45
MemberMember 19783175-Jul-09 8:45 
GeneralRe: Getting dynamically generated ids in a databound control to put into BypassPrompts array Pin
Eric Woodruff5-Jul-09 9:25
professionalEric Woodruff5-Jul-09 9:25 
GeneralRe: Getting dynamically generated ids in a databound control to put into BypassPrompts array Pin
Member 19783175-Jul-09 10:50
MemberMember 19783175-Jul-09 10:50 
GeneralRe: Getting dynamically generated ids in a databound control to put into BypassPrompts array Pin
Member 19783175-Jul-09 10:37
MemberMember 19783175-Jul-09 10:37 
GeneralAjax and progressbar still visible Pin
Member 445973012-Sep-08 5:49
MemberMember 445973012-Sep-08 5:49 
GeneralRe: Ajax and progressbar still visible Pin
Eric Woodruff12-Sep-08 15:09
professionalEric Woodruff12-Sep-08 15:09 
QuestionHow to prompt custom message if navigating away from page without changing anything Pin
ShilpaGInode26-Aug-08 21:26
MemberShilpaGInode26-Aug-08 21:26 
AnswerRe: How to prompt custom message if navigating away from page without changing anything Pin
Eric Woodruff27-Aug-08 6:07
professionalEric Woodruff27-Aug-08 6:07 
QuestionMe.Dirty = False, Not working or not being set Pin
jfine-700014-Oct-07 15:09
Memberjfine-700014-Oct-07 15:09 
AnswerRe: Me.Dirty = False, Not working or not being set Pin
Eric Woodruff14-Oct-07 18:51
professionalEric Woodruff14-Oct-07 18:51 
GeneralRe: Me.Dirty = False, Not working or not being set [modified] Pin
jfine-700014-Oct-07 19:13
Memberjfine-700014-Oct-07 19:13 
QuestionHow to avoid asking for save for client sid pop ups Pin
sarathmns12-Oct-07 5:47
Membersarathmns12-Oct-07 5:47 
AnswerRe: How to avoid asking for save for client sid pop ups Pin
Eric Woodruff12-Oct-07 15:27
professionalEric Woodruff12-Oct-07 15:27 
GeneralRe: How to avoid asking for save for client sid pop ups [modified] Pin
sarathmns13-Oct-07 0:32
Membersarathmns13-Oct-07 0:32 
QuestionHow to get return value of popup Pin
G. Mohyuddin27-Sep-07 20:11
MemberG. Mohyuddin27-Sep-07 20:11 
AnswerRe: How to get return value of popup Pin
Eric Woodruff28-Sep-07 15:18
professionalEric Woodruff28-Sep-07 15:18 
GeneralOutstanding! Ajax! Plus a question :^) Pin
V2Developer18-Aug-07 8:05
MemberV2Developer18-Aug-07 8:05 
GeneralRe: Outstanding! Ajax! Plus a question :^) Pin
Eric Woodruff18-Aug-07 9:54
professionalEric Woodruff18-Aug-07 9:54 

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