Intro to ASP.NET AJAX Custom Client Controls

So in my journey to explore our platform that runs Channel 9 and Channel 10 and soon a few more sites continues with a walkthrough of some basics on creating custom controls in ASP.NET AJAX.  More than likely if you're reading this it's because you already know about ASP.NET AJAX 1.0 or have at least heard about it.  You found this post through a search on your favorite search engine, saw it on the weblogs.asp.net home page, subscribe to my feed or someone linked to it (here's hoping).  If you have no idea what it is, well…go check out the site and come back.  🙂  That's probably the easiest way to explain it.

ASP.NET AJAX 1.0 Basics

ASP.NET AJAX has basically built on top of JavaScript to make it cross-browser compatible as a framework on top.  This makes developing things like custom client controls very similar to building classes in .NET.  There are namespaces, classes, enums, methods, fields, properties, inheritance, etc.  There is also a server control architecture to allow you to build server controls to configure and instantiate custom client controls.  I'll talk about this later.  The best way to think of ASP.NET AJAX is to think of it as a client technology.  Yes there are server aspects, but the server just acts as the middle man.  It gets requests for pages and servers and returns the appropriate data.  This is how it is today except now we can push more logic down to the client so the server doesn't have to render UI logic as much.

UpdatePanel

While this post isn't going to focus on the UpdatePanel, it's good to know about it and how it compares to custom controls.  The UpdatePanel is gold.  Plain and simple.  Build some code on your ASP.NET page, say a GridView with some data bound to it.  It works great and just does the usual postbacks.  Page through some data, yippee.  Now surround it with an UpdatePanel and watch the "magic".  Paging now without postbacks?  Glorious!  Like all great things that make our lives easier,  you can definitely overuse it.  Working with ViewState just like a normal postback would, sending it back and forth between requests, is its greatest strength and weakness.  You can still have the same problems of bloated ViewState that can make those monthly bandwidth bills for your site go up and up.  The UpdatePanel is great for quick and dirty AJAX.  If you have a simple form you want to make fancy, it is the right tool.  A good example where the UpdatePanel probably isn't the best answer to solve your problem is showing and hiding lots of divs.  Things that can easily be done through javascript should.  This saves lots of server request and makes it so you don't really need any ViewState because the work will be done on the client.

Sys.UI.Control

Sys.UI.Control inherits from Sys.UI.Component.  Just like any Windows application, a component in ASP.NET AJAX is a client side control that has no UI (like a timer) and a control has UI.  As I mentioned above, ASP.NET AJAX helps us push UI logic off of the server and onto the client.  Sys.UI.Control is a base type you can inherit from to build your control on.  It takes care of all the basics like with DOM element it's associated with for its UI and has methods like initialize and dispose.  Let's build a quick calculator control.  Hey, it wouldn't be a typical example if it were anything else but a calculator.  😉

Have ASP.NET AJAX 1.0 installed and create a new website using the ASP.NET AJAX-Enabled Web Site template and call it Calculator.

Visual Representation

All we should need for this is two textboxes, a dropdownlist, a button and a label to display the answer in.  Create a new Web User Control called Calculator.ascx.

<%@ Control Language="C#" AutoEventWireup="true" CodeFile="Calculator.ascx.cs" Inherits="Calculator" EnableViewState="false" %>
Number 1:
<asp:TextBox ID="Number1TextBox" runat="server"></asp:TextBox><br />
Type: <asp:DropDownList ID="TypeDropDownList" runat="server"></asp:DropDownList><br />
Number 2: <asp:TextBox ID="Number2TextBox" runat="server"></asp:TextBox><br />
<
asp:Button ID="CalculateButton" runat="server" Text="Calculate" />
Total: <asp:Label ID="TotalLabel" runat="server" Font-Bold="true"></asp:Label>

@ Control Language="C#" AutoEventWireup="true" CodeFile="Calculator.ascx.cs" Inherits="Calculator" EnableViewState="false" %>
Number 1:
<asp:TextBox ID="Number1TextBox" runat="server"></asp:TextBox><br />
Type: <asp:DropDownList ID="TypeDropDownList" runat="server"></asp:DropDownList><br />
Number 2: <asp:TextBox ID="Number2TextBox" runat="server"></asp:TextBox><br />
<
asp:Button ID="CalculateButton" runat="server" Text="Calculate" />
Total: <asp:Label ID="TotalLabel" runat="server" Font-Bold="true"></asp:Label>

Definitely no prettying up there. Just the basics.  The calculator example may not be the best use of a custom control, but it keeps it simple so you learn what should be learned.

Client Code

First things first, we should register a namespace for our class that's going to represent the definition of our client representation of the calculator.  Create a new .js file called Calculator and add the following to it.

Type.registerNamespace("Porter.Erik");

"Porter.Erik");

Then we need to create and register the class itself.

 

blah

Web Service

blah

It's been a really interesting journey watching ASP.NET AJAX grow up.  I got to see very early builds of it (this was a few weeks before the first CTP) before I joined Microsoft when I was an ASP Insider and while the potential was there, it was still in its infancy and had a long way to go.  This was in October 2005.  Now it's all grown up and turned into a comprehensive client library, awesome integration with ASP.NET server controls and a Control Toolkit.  Things are only going to get better with full integration into Orcas.  Good times!

So far we're just using custom controls in basic places on Channel 9 like the wiki edit control, reply editor and a couple others.  We're currently using the UpdatePanel for our EntryList control because it was simple to get going.  Between the beta of Channel 9 and RTW, I will probably switch it over to being a custom control.  This will more than likely be a blog post on its own and will demonstrate some advanced techniques.

There's more code from our platform in the pipeline.  I'm not sure what to talk about next, but it may be our Virtual Path Provider setup or Templating scheme.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s