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Posted 30 Nov 2003


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ASP.NET Common Web Page Class Library - Part 4

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6 Apr 2006CPOL7 min read
A utility class containing some useful features for ASP.NET applications.

Table of contents


This is the fourth 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 only non-page derived class in the library, PageUtils, along with the remaining methods of the BasePage class that are somewhat similar in nature to those contained in it. PageUtils contains a set of utility functions that you may find useful in any ASP.NET application. Each of the features is described below. The class itself is sealed and all public properties and methods are static. As such, the constructor is declared private as there is no need to instantiate the class.

HTML encoding

The first method presented is HtmlEncode, which can be called to encode an object for output to an HTML page. It encodes any HTML special characters as literals instead of letting the browser interpret them. In addition, it replaces multiple spaces, tabs, and line breaks with their HTML equivalents thus preserving the layout of the specified text. The size of expanded tab characters can be altered using the TabSize property. Set it to the number of non-breaking spaces that should replace the tab character. The default is four.

If the object is null (Nothing), results in an empty string, or is a single space, a non-breaking space is returned. In conjunction with the above-described behavior, this is useful for displaying database fields that contain HTML special characters, formatting, or nulls such as those with the text or memo data type.

As an added bonus, if the encodeLinks parameter is true, URLs, UNCs, and e-mail addresses are converted to hyperlinks whenever possible using the EncodeLinks method (see below). If false, they are not converted and will be rendered as normal text. As shown below, the code is fairly simple and requires little in the way of additional explanation:

public static string HtmlEncode(Object objText, bool encodeLinks)
    StringBuilder sb;
    string text;

    if(objText != null)
        text = objText.ToString();

        if(text.Length != 0)
            // Create tab expansion string if not done already
            if(expandTabs == null)
                expandTabs = new String(' ',
                    PageUtils.TabSize).Replace(" ", " ");

            // Encode the string
            sb = new StringBuilder(
                HttpUtility.HtmlEncode(text), 256);

            sb.Replace("  ", "  ");  // Two spaces
            sb.Replace("\t", expandTabs);
            sb.Replace("\r", "");
            sb.Replace("\n", "<br>");

            text = sb.ToString();

            if(text.Length > 1)
                    return text;

                // Try to convert URLs, UNCs, and e-mail
                // addresses to links.
                return PageUtils.EncodeLinks(text);

            if(text.Length == 1 && text[0] != ' ')
                return text;

    return " ";

Link encoding

The second method presented is EncodeLinks. This method is called by HtmlEncode but can also be called directly by your code. It takes the passed string and finds all URLs, UNCs, and e-mail addresses and converts them to clickable hyperlinks suitable for rendering in an HTML page. For UNC paths, it will include any text up to the first whitespace character. If the path contains spaces, you can enclose the entire path in angle brackets (i.e., <\\Server\Folder\Name With Spaces>) and the encoder will include all text between the angle brackets in the hyperlink. The angle brackets will not appear in the encoded hyperlink:

public static string EncodeLinks(string text)
    // We'll create these on first use and keep them around
    // for subsequent calls to save resources.
    if(reURL == null)
        reURL = new Regex(@"(((file|news|(ht|f|nn)tp(s?))://)|" +
             @"(www\.))+[\w()*\-!_%]+.[\w()*\-/.!_#%]+[\w()*\-/" +
             @".!_#%]*((\?\w+(\=[\w()*\-/.!_#%]*)?)(((&|&(?" +
        reUNC = new Regex(@"(\\{2}\w+(\\((&.{2,8};|" +
             @"[\w\-\.,@?^=%&:/~\+#\$])*[\w\-\@?^=%&/~\+#\$])?)" +
             @"*)|((\<|\<)\\{2}\w+(\\((&.{2,8};|" +
             @"[\w\-\.,@?^=%&:/~\+#\$ ])*)?)*(\>|\>))",
        reEMail = new Regex(@"([a-zA-Z0-9_\-])([a-zA-Z0-9_\-\." +
             @"]*)@(\[((25[0-5]|2[0-4][0-9]|1[0-9][0-9]|[1-9]" +
             @"[0-9]|[0-9])\.){3}|((([a-zA-Z0-9\-]+)\.)+))(" +
             @"[a-zA-Z]{2,}|(25[0-5]|2[0-4][0-9]|1[0-9][0-9]|" +
             @"[1-9][0-9]|[0-9])\])", RegexOptions.IgnoreCase);
        reTSUNC = new Regex(
             @"\.?((&\#\d{1,3}|&\w{2,8});((&\#\d{1,3}|&" +

        urlMatchEvaluator = new MatchEvaluator(OnUrlMatch);
        uncMatchEvaluator = new MatchEvaluator(OnUncMatch);

    // Do the replacements
    text = reURL.Replace(text, urlMatchEvaluator);
    text = reUNC.Replace(text, uncMatchEvaluator);
    text = reEMail.Replace(text,
                   @"<a href='mailto:$&'>$&</a>");
    return text;

As you can see, the method uses regular expressions to search for and replace each URL, UNC, and e-mail address. The expressions used should catch just about all variations of each type. The regular expression objects are created on first use and are kept around for subsequent calls to save a little time. For URLs and UNCs, the following match evaluators handle the actual work of the replacement:

// Replace a URL with a link to the URL. This checks for a
// missing protocol and adds it if necessary.
private static string OnUrlMatch(Match match)
    StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder("<a href='", 256);
    string url = match.Value;

    // Use default HTTP protocol if one wasn't specified
    if(url.IndexOf("://") == -1)

    sb.Append("' target='_BLANK'>");

    return sb.ToString();

// Replace a UNC with a link to the UNC. This strips off any
// containing brackets (plain or encoded) and flips the slashes.
private static string OnUncMatch(Match match)
    StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder("<a href='file:", 256);
    string unc = match.Value;

    // Strip brackets if found. If it has encoded brackets,
    // strip them too.
    if(unc[0] == '<')
        unc = unc.Substring(1, unc.Length - 2);
            unc = unc.Substring(4, unc.Length - 8);

    // Move trailing special characters outside the link
    Match m = reTSUNC.Match(unc);
    if(m.Success == true)
        unc = reTSUNC.Replace(unc, "");

    sb.Append("' target='_BLANK'>");

    // Replace backslashes with forward slashes
    sb.Replace('\\', '/');


    if(m.Success == true)

    return sb.ToString();

A regular expression match evaluator is like a callback. Each time the regular expression finds a match, it calls the evaluator. Its job is to take the found text and modify it in any way necessary and then return it to the regular expression so that it can be used to replace the original text. In these two cases, the match evaluators add the anchor tag and ensure that the links are formatted appropriately.

Converting validation messages to hyperlinks

In my applications, I have come to favor the validation summary control to contain all validation error messages generated by the page. It keeps them all in one location and does not adversely affect the layout of the controls in the form when they are made visible. The drawback is that on a form with a large number of controls and validation conditions, it can sometimes be difficult to match each message to its control, especially if the form is long enough to require scrolling around to find it. As such, I have added functionality to the BasePage class to automatically convert all validation control error messages that are set to appear in a validation summary control to clickable hyperlinks that will take you directly to the offending field by giving it the focus:

protected virtual void ConvertValMsgsToLinks()
    BaseValidator bv;

    foreach(IValidator val in this.Validators)
        bv = val as BaseValidator;

        if(bv != null && bv.Visible == true &&
          bv.ControlToValidate.Length > 0 &&
          bv.Display == ValidatorDisplay.None)
            bv.ErrorMessage = MakeMsgLink(bv.ControlToValidate,
                         bv.ErrorMessage, this.MsgLinkCssClass);

A call to ConvertValMsgsToLinks is done as the very first step in the overridden Render method. It iterates over the page's Validators collection. The validator control must be visible, must have its ControlToValidate property set to a control ID, and must have its Display property set to None indicating that it will appear in a validation summary control. If all of the necessary conditions are met, a call is placed to the MakeMsgLink method to convert the error message to a hyperlink.

Note that since this occurs within the rendering step, changes to the error messages are not retained. If the page posts back, the error messages are restored from view state and will be in their non-hyperlink form. When the page renders during the postback, the messages will be converted to hyperlinks again provided that they still meet the necessary conditions. I chose this approach so that it is transparent to users of the class, is non-intrusive, and will not break any code that expects the messages to be in their non-hyperlink form. Derived classes can override this method to extend or suppress this behavior.

Note: If extracting the above method for use in your own classes, be sure to override the page's Render method and call it. If not, the links will not be converted:

public string MakeMsgLink(string id, string msg, string cssClass)
    string newClass;

    // Don't bother if it's null, empty, or already in the form
    // of a link.
    if(msg == null || msg.Length == 0 || msg.StartsWith("<a "))
        return msg;

    StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder(512);

    // Add the anchor tag and the optional CSS class
    sb.Append("<a ");

    newClass = (cssClass == null) ?
        this.MsgLinkCssClass : cssClass;

    if(newClass != null && newClass.Length > 0)
        sb.Append("' ");

    // An HREF is included that does nothing so that we can use
    // the hover style to do stuff like underline the link when
    // the mouse is over it. OnClick performs the action and
    // returns false so that we don't trigger IE's
    // OnBeforeUnload event which may be tied to data change
    // checking code.

    // NOTE: OnPreRender registers the script containing the
    // function. Tell the function to use the "Find Control"
    // method to locate the ID. That way, it works for controls
    // embedded in data grids.
    sb.Append("href='javascript:return false;' " +
        "onclick='javascript: return BP_funSetFocus(\"");
    sb.Append("\", true);'>");

    return sb.ToString();

The MakeMsgLink method will convert the passed text into a hyperlink that transfers focus to the control with the specified ID. The Set Focus script, described in part one of this series, controls setting the focus to the control. As such, the specified ID can be an exact match or the ending part of an ID (see part one for details). An optional CSS class name can be specified that will be applied to the hyperlink. If null, it uses the one defined by the MsgLinkCssClass property. By default, it is set to the value of the BasePage.MsgLinkCssName constant which is currently set to the style name ErrorMsgLink. The class name should appear in the stylesheet associated with the application. As noted, a dummy href is added to the link so that you can add a hover style to the CSS class. For example, in my applications, the error messages display as normal text and show an underline as the mouse passes over them.


Although small, the PageUtils class contains some very helpful features. The validation message link feature of BasePage can also make the validation summary control more user friendly. 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

    Changes in this release:

    • Reworked the URL encoding regular expression in PageUtils so that it includes a few more protocols, includes all valid URL characters, handles URLs with parameters, and does not include special characters after the URL.
    • Breaking change: Property and method names have been modified to conform to the .NET naming conventions with regard to casing (PageUtils.HtmlEncode, BasePage.MsgLinkCssClass, and BasePage.MsgLinkCssName).
  • 11/26/2004
    • Made some changes to the URL and UNC link encoding regular expressions to make them more accurate.
  • 12/01/2003
    • Initial release.


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

Written By
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

Generala small improvement Pin
shevyrov26-Sep-06 12:58
shevyrov26-Sep-06 12:58 
GeneralRe: a small improvement Pin
Eric Woodruff26-Sep-06 15:20
professionalEric Woodruff26-Sep-06 15:20 
GeneralProblem with EncodeLinks with URLs containing ampersands Pin
User 168129323-Feb-06 11:41
User 168129323-Feb-06 11:41 
GeneralRe: Problem with EncodeLinks with URLs containing ampersands Pin
Eric Woodruff23-Feb-06 16:06
professionalEric Woodruff23-Feb-06 16:06 
GeneralBug in HtmlEncode with bEncodeLinks = true Pin
Just Browsing18-Oct-05 17:48
Just Browsing18-Oct-05 17:48 
GeneralRe: Bug in HtmlEncode with bEncodeLinks = true Pin
Just Browsing18-Oct-05 19:08
Just Browsing18-Oct-05 19:08 
GeneralRe: Bug in HtmlEncode with bEncodeLinks = true Pin
Eric Woodruff19-Oct-05 15:54
professionalEric Woodruff19-Oct-05 15:54 
GeneralRe: Bug in HtmlEncode with bEncodeLinks = true Pin
Just Browsing19-Oct-05 18:07
Just Browsing19-Oct-05 18:07 
QuestionReinventing the wheel? Pin
Kelmen6-Dec-04 19:32
Kelmen6-Dec-04 19:32 
AnswerRe: Reinventing the wheel? Pin
Eric Woodruff7-Dec-04 15:31
professionalEric Woodruff7-Dec-04 15:31 
GeneralRe: Reinventing the wheel? Pin
Kevin C Ferron15-Nov-06 12:36
Kevin C Ferron15-Nov-06 12:36 
GeneralRe: Reinventing the wheel? Pin
Kevin C Ferron16-Nov-06 14:15
Kevin C Ferron16-Nov-06 14:15 
GeneralRe: Reinventing the wheel? Pin
chaiguy133728-Aug-07 12:12
chaiguy133728-Aug-07 12:12 
GeneralConverting UNC Path to link Pin
ksrir25-Jul-04 18:31
ksrir25-Jul-04 18:31 
GeneralRe: Converting UNC Path to link Pin
Eric Woodruff26-Jul-04 10:15
professionalEric Woodruff26-Jul-04 10:15 
GeneralRe: Converting UNC Path to link Pin
ksrir26-Jul-04 19:26
ksrir26-Jul-04 19:26 
GeneralRe: Converting UNC Path to link Pin
Eric Woodruff27-Jul-04 7:19
professionalEric Woodruff27-Jul-04 7:19 
GeneralRe: Converting UNC Path to link Pin
ksrir27-Jul-04 17:42
ksrir27-Jul-04 17:42 
GeneralThank Pin
Bill Gob28-Mar-04 22:51
Bill Gob28-Mar-04 22:51 

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