Export (0) Print
Expand All

Implementing Front Controller in ASP.NET Using HTTPHandler

Retired Content

This content is outdated and is no longer being maintained. It is provided as a courtesy for individuals who are still using these technologies. This page may contain URLs that were valid when originally published, but now link to sites or pages that no longer exist. Please see the patterns & practices guidance for the most current information.

Ff647590.ImpFrontControllerInASP(en-us,PandP.10).png

Version 1.0.1

GotDotNet community for collaboration on this pattern

Complete List of patterns & practices

Context

You are building a Web application in ASP.NET. You have evaluated the alternative designs described in Page Controller and Front Controller and have determined that there is sufficient complexity in your application to warrant implementing Front Controller.

Background

An example is helpful to explain how to implement Front Controller in ASP.NET and the value provided by centralizing all control through a single controller object, as long as the example is complex enough to demonstrate the issues you will encounter when implementing the pattern.

Note: Because Page Controller is built into ASP.NET, the additional effort required to implement Front Controller rather than Page Controller is very large. In fact, you must build the whole framework for Front Controller. You should do so only if your application warrants that amount of complexity. Otherwise, review Page Controller to determine whether it is sufficient.

The following example builds on the solution described in Implementing Page Controller in ASP.NET. That solution describes two different pages. The pages inherit from a common base class, which is responsible for adding the site header to each page. The implementation is a common choice for Page Controller when you want to share behavior between pages. The following is the BasePage class from the Page Controller example:

 

using System;
using System.Web.UI;
using System.Web.UI.WebControls;

public class BasePage : Page
{
   protected Label eMail;
   protected Label siteName;

   virtual protected void PageLoadEvent(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
   {}
   
   protected void Page_Load(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
   {
      if(!IsPostBack)
      {
         string name = Context.User.Identity.Name;

         eMail.Text = DatabaseGateway.RetrieveAddress(name);
         siteName.Text = "Micro-site";

         PageLoadEvent(sender, e);
      }
   }


   #region Web Form Designer generated code
   override protected void OnInit(EventArgs e)
   {
      //
      // CODEGEN: This call is required by the ASP.NET Web Form Designer.
      //
      InitializeComponent();
      base.OnInit(e);
   }
      
   /// <summary>
   /// Required method for Designer support - do not modify
   /// the contents of this method with the code editor.
   /// </summary>
   private void InitializeComponent()
   {    
      this.Load += new System.EventHandler(this.Page_Load);

   }
   #endregion
} 

The Page_Load function is called every time the page is being loaded. It retrieves the e-mail address from the DatabaseGateway class (shown in Implementing Page Controller in ASP.NET), sets some labels with the data, and then calls PageLoadEvent for specialized processing of each page.

One of the criteria for choosing Front Controller instead of Page Controller is when you have excessive conditional logic in the base class. This example does not use conditional logic in the base class. Therefore, based on this criterion alone, there is no need to implement Front Controller.

Changing Requirements

The previous example works very well for its intended purpose. However, it is overly simplistic and not representative of most Web applications. To better approximate the overall complexity of such applications, the requirements for this example call for different headers on the pages, depending on the URL and query parameters.

This example creates two sites: a Micro-site and a Macro-site. Each site consults a different database to retrieve the e-mail address contained in the header. The pages themselves remain unchanged; only the header content is different. In this example, most of the implementation is the same as the previous example. The only class that must be modified is BasePage.

 

using System;
using System.Web.UI;
using System.Web.UI.WebControls;

public class BasePage : Page
{
   protected Label eMail;
   protected Label siteName;

   virtual protected void PageLoadEvent(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
   {}
   
   protected void Page_Load(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
   {
      if(!IsPostBack)
      {
         string site = Request["site"];

         if(site != null && site.Equals("macro"))
            LoadMacroHeader();
         else
            LoadMicroHeader();

         PageLoadEvent(sender, e);
      }
   }

   private void LoadMicroHeader()
   {
      string name = Context.User.Identity.Name;
      
      eMail.Text = WebUsersDatabase.RetrieveAddress(name);            
      siteName.Text = "Micro-site";
   }


   private void LoadMacroHeader()
   {
      string name = Context.User.Identity.Name;

      eMail.Text = MacroUsersDatabase.RetrieveAddress(name);            
      siteName.Text = "Macro-site";
   }

   #region Web Form Designer generated code
   override protected void OnInit(EventArgs e)
   {
      //
      // CODEGEN: This call is required by the ASP.NET Web Form Designer.
      //
      InitializeComponent();
      base.OnInit(e);
   }
      
   /// <summary>
   /// Required method for Designer support - do not modify
   /// the contents of this method with the code editor.
   /// </summary>
   private void InitializeComponent()
   {    
      this.Load += new System.EventHandler(this.Page_Load);

   }
   #endregion
} 

As stated previously, the Micro-site and Macro-site each use different databases to retrieve the e-mail address that is contained in the header. The two methods, LoadMacroHeader and LoadMicroHeader, use different database gateway classes, WebUsersDatabase and MacroUsersDatabase, to retrieve the address from the database.

The Page_Load method's responsibility has changed. In the previous example, it retrieves information from the database. In this implementation, it determines which function, LoadMicroHeader or LoadMacroHeader, to call and then calls the appropriate method. If you are going to have only two sites, this implementation is sufficient. However, the base class now contains conditional logic. It is up to you how comfortable you feel with that logic contained in this class. Clearly, most developers would flinch if they saw more than a few branches in the code, but two probably would not elicit the same response. The main reason for limiting the conditional logic is that it is more likely to change and cause you to modify the implementation. Because the entire implementation is contained in one file, the changes that you make could affect other sites.

Implementation Strategy

Front Controller is usually implemented in two parts. A Handler object receives the individual requests (HTTP Get and Post) from the Web server, retrieves the relevant parameters, and then selects an appropriate command, based on the parameters. The second part of the controller, Command Processor, performs the specific actions or commands to satisfy the request. When finished, the commands forward to the view so that the page can be displayed.

Note: This implementation strategy resolves the issues raised in the earlier example. Although this example is probably not sufficient to justify the change to Front Controller, it serves to illustrate why you would use Front Controller, and the implementation solves problems of this type that are of a far greater complexity. Also, as with most implementations, there is more than one way to implement this pattern; this is just one choice.

Handler

ASP.NET provides a low-level request/response API to service incoming HTTP requests. Each incoming HTTP request that ASP.NET receives is ultimately processed by a specific instance of a class that implements the IHTTPHandler interface. This low-level API is ideal for implementing the handler portion of Front Controller.

Note: the Microsoft .NET Framework provides multiple implementation choices for HTTP handlers. For example, in a high-volume environment, you may be able to improve response times with an asynchronous HTTP handler that implements the IHttpAsyncHandler interface. This solution uses a synchronous handler for sake of simplicity. For more information about the implementation of asynchronous HTTP handlers, see the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Web site (http://msdn.microsoft.com).

Figure 1 shows the structure of the handler portion of the controller.

Ff647590.Imp_FrontControllerinASP_Fig01(en-us,PandP.10).gif

Figure 1: Handler portion of the front controller

This solution partitions responsibilities ideally. The Handler class handles the individual Web requests and delegates the responsibility of determining the correct Command object to the CommandFactory class. When the CommandFactory returns a Command object, the Handler calls the Execute method on the Command to perform the request.

Handler.cs

The following code example shows how the Handler class is implemented:

 

using System;
using System.Web;

public class Handler : IHttpHandler
{
   public void ProcessRequest(HttpContext context) 
   {
      Command command = 
         CommandFactory.Make(context.Request.Params);
      command.Execute(context);
   }

   public bool IsReusable 
   { 
      get { return true;} 
   }
}
 

Command.cs

The Command class is an example of the Command pattern [Gamma95]. The Command pattern is useful in this situation, because you do not want the Handler class to depend directly on the commands. They can be returned generically from the CommandFactory.

 

using System;
using System.Web;

public interface Command
{
   void Execute(HttpContext context);
}
 

CommandFactory.cs

The CommandFactory class is critical to the implementation. It determines, based on parameters from the query string, which command will be created. In this example, if the site query parameter is set to micro or is not set at all, the factory creates a MicroSite command object. If site is set to macro, the factory creates a MacroSite command object. If the value is set to anything else, the factory returns an UnknownCommand object for default error handling. This is an example of the Special Case pattern [Fowler03].

 

using System;
using System.Collections.Specialized;


public class CommandFactory
{
   public static Command Make(NameValueCollection parms)
   {
      string siteName = parms["site"];
      
      Command command = new UnknownCommand();

      if(siteName == null || siteName.Equals("micro"))
         command = new MicroSite();
      else if(siteName.Equals("macro"))
         command = new MacroSite();
      return command;
   }
}
 

Configuring the Handler

HTTP handlers are declared in the ASP.NET configuration as part of a web.config file. ASP.NET defines an <httphandlers> configuration section where handlers can be added and removed. For example, ASP.NET maps all requests for Page*.aspx files to the Handler class in the application's web.config file:

 

<httpHandlers>
   <add verb="*" path="Page*.aspx" type="Handler,FrontController" />
</httpHandlers>
 

Commands

The commands represent the variability in the Web site. In this example, the functionality to retrieve data from the database for each site is contained in its own class that inherits from a base class named RedirectingCommand. The RedirectingCommand class implements the Command interface. When Execute is called on the RedirectingCommand class, it first calls an abstract method called OnExecute and, on return, transfers to the view. The specific view is retrieved from a class called UrlMap. The UrlMap class retrieves the map from the application's web.config file. Figure 2 shows the structure of the command portion of the solution.

Ff647590.Imp_FrontControllerinASP_Fig02(en-us,PandP.10).gif

Figure 2: Command portion of the front controller

RedirectingCommand.cs

RedirectingCommand is an abstract base class that calls an abstract method named OnExecute to perform the specific command and then, on return, transfers to the view that is retrieved from the UrlMap.

 

using System;
using System.Web;

public abstract class RedirectingCommand : Command
{
   private UrlMap map = UrlMap.SoleInstance;

   protected abstract void OnExecute(HttpContext context);

   public void Execute(HttpContext context)
   {
      OnExecute(context);
      
      string url = String.Format("{0}?{1}",
         map.Map[context.Request.Url.AbsolutePath],
         context.Request.Url.Query);

      context.Server.Transfer(url);
   }
}
 

UrlMap.cs

The UrlMap class loads configuration information from the application's web.config file. The configuration information associates the absolute path of the requested URL to another URL specified by the file. This allows you to change the actual page to which a user is forwarded when an external page is requested. This provides a great deal of flexibility when changing views, because the actual page is never referenced by the user. The following is the UrlMap class:

 

using System;
using System.Web;
using System.Xml;
using System.Configuration;
using System.Collections.Specialized;

public class UrlMap : IConfigurationSectionHandler 
{
   private readonly NameValueCollection _commands = new NameValueCollection();

   public const string SECTION_NAME="controller.mapping";

   public static UrlMap SoleInstance 
   {
      get {return (UrlMap) ConfigurationSettings.GetConfig(SECTION_NAME);}
   }

   object IConfigurationSectionHandler.Create(object parent,object configContext, XmlNode section) 
   {
      return (object) new UrlMap(parent,configContext, section);   
   }

   private UrlMap() {/*no-op*/}

   public UrlMap(object parent,object configContext, XmlNode section) 
   {
      try 
      {
         XmlElement entriesElement = section["entries"];
         foreach(XmlElement element in entriesElement) 
         {
            _commands.Add(element.Attributes["key"].Value,element.Attributes["url"].Value);
         }
      } 
      catch (Exception ex) 
      {
         throw new ConfigurationException("Error while parsing configuration section.",ex,section);
      }
   }   
   
   public NameValueCollection Map
   {
      get { return _commands; }
   }
}
 
The following is an excerpt from the web.config file, which shows the configuration:
 

<controller.mapping>
   <entries>
      <entry key="/patterns/frontc/3/Page1.aspx" url="ActualPage1.aspx" />
      <entry key="/patterns/frontc/3/Page2.aspx" url="ActualPage2.aspx" />
   </entries>
</controller.mapping> 
 

MicroSite.cs

The MicroSite class is similar to the code in LoadMicroHeader earlier in this pattern. The main difference is that you no longer have any access to the labels that were contained in the page. Instead, you must add the information to the HttpContext object. The following example shows the MicroSite code:

 

using System;
using System.Web;

public class MicroSite : RedirectingCommand
{
   protected override void OnExecute(HttpContext context)
   {
      string name = context.User.Identity.Name;

      context.Items["address"] = 
         WebUsersDatabase.RetrieveAddress(name);
      context.Items["site"] = "Micro-Site";
   }
}
 

MacroSite.cs

The MacroSite class is similar to MicroSite except that it uses a different database gateway class, MacroUsersDatabase. Both classes store information in the passed-in HttpContext so that the view can retrieve it. The following example shows the MacroSite code:

 

using System;
using System.Web;


public class MacroSite : RedirectingCommand
{
   protected override void OnExecute(HttpContext context)
   {
      string name = context.User.Identity.Name;

      context.Items["address"] = 
         MacroUsersDatabase.RetrieveAddress(name);
      context.Items["site"] = "Macro-Site";
   }
}
 

WebUsersDatabase.cs

The WebUsersDatabase class is responsible for retrieving the e-mail address from the "webusers" database. It is an example of the Table Data Gateway [Fowler03] pattern.

 

using System;
using System.Data;
using System.Data.SqlClient;

public class WebUsersDatabase
{
   public static string RetrieveAddress(string name)
   {
      string address = null;

      String selectCmd = 
         String.Format("select * from webuser where (id = '{0}')",
         name);

      SqlConnection myConnection = 
         new SqlConnection("server=(local);database=webusers;Trusted_Connection=yes");
      SqlDataAdapter myCommand = new SqlDataAdapter(selectCmd, myConnection);

      DataSet ds = new DataSet();
      myCommand.Fill(ds,"webuser");
      if(ds.Tables["webuser"].Rows.Count == 1)
      {
         DataRow row = ds.Tables["webuser"].Rows[0];
         address = row["address"].ToString();
      }

      return address;
   }

}
 

MacroUsersDatabase.cs

The MacroUsersDatabase class is responsible for retrieving the e-mail address from the "macrousers" database. It is an example of the Table Data Gateway pattern.

 

using System;
using System.Data;
using System.Data.SqlClient;

public class MacroUsersDatabase
{
   public static string RetrieveAddress(string name)
   {
      string address = null;

      String selectCmd = 
         String.Format("select * from customer where (id = '{0}')",
         name);

      SqlConnection myConnection = 
         new SqlConnection("server=(local);database=macrousers;Trusted_Connection=yes");
      SqlDataAdapter myCommand = new SqlDataAdapter(selectCmd, myConnection);

      DataSet ds = new DataSet();
      myCommand.Fill(ds,"customer");
      if(ds.Tables["customer"].Rows.Count == 1)
      {
         DataRow row = ds.Tables["customer"].Rows[0];
         address = row["email"].ToString();
      }

      return address;
   }

}
 

Views

The last aspect of the implementation is the views. The views from the example in "Changing Requirements" were responsible for retrieving information from the database depending on which site the user is accessing and then displaying the rendered page to the user. Because the database access code has been moved to the command, the views now retrieve the data from the HttpContext object. Figure 3 shows the structure of the code-behind classes.

Ff647590.Imp_FrontControllerinASP_Fig03(en-us,PandP.10).gif

Figure 3: Structure of the code-behind classes of the view

There is still common behavior, so the BasePage class is still needed to avoid code duplication.

BasePage.cs

The BasePage class has changed dramatically from the example in "Changing Requirements.". It is no longer responsible for determining which site header to load. It simply retrieves the data that the commands stored in the HttpContext object and assigns them to the appropriate label:

 

using System;
using System.Web.UI;
using System.Web.UI.WebControls;

public class BasePage : Page
{
   protected Label eMail;
   protected Label siteName;

   virtual protected void PageLoadEvent(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
   {}
   
   protected void Page_Load(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
   {
      if(!IsPostBack)
      {
         eMail.Text = (string)Context.Items["address"];
         siteName.Text = (string)Context.Items["site"];
         PageLoadEvent(sender, e);
      }
   }

   #region Web Form Designer generated code
   #endregion
}
 

ActualPage1.aspx.cs and ActualPage2.aspx

ActualPage1 and ActualPage2 are the page-specific code-behind classes. They both inherit from BasePage to ensure that the header is filled in at the top of the screen:

 

using System;
using System.Web.UI;
using System.Web.UI.WebControls;

public class ActualPage1 : BasePage
{
   protected System.Web.UI.WebControls.Label pageNumber;

   protected override void PageLoadEvent(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
   {
      pageNumber.Text = "1";
   }

   #region Web Form Designer generated code
   #endregion
}

using System;
using System.Web.UI.WebControls;

public class ActualPage2 : BasePage
{
   protected Label pageNumber;

   protected override void PageLoadEvent(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
   {
      pageNumber.Text = "2";
   }
  
  #region Web Form Designer generated code
   #endregion
}
 
These pages do not have to change when moving from the Page Controller implementation to the Front Controller implementation.

Testing Considerations

The dependence of the implementation on the ASP.NET runtime makes testing more difficult. It is not possible to instantiate classes that inherit from System.Web.UI.Page, System.Web.UI.IHTTPHandler or the other various classes contained in the ASP.NET runtime. This makes unit testing of most of the individual pieces of the application impossible. The chosen way to test this implementation automatically is to generate HTTP requests and then retrieve the HTTP response and determine if the response is correct. This approach is error-prone because you are comparing the text of the response with expected text.

CommandFixture.cs

One aspect of the implementation that can be tested is the CommandFactory, because it is not dependent on the ASP.NET runtime. Therefore, you can write tests to verify that you get the correct Command object in return. The following are NUnit (http://nunit.org) tests for the CommandFactory class:

 

using System;
using System.Collections.Specialized;
using NUnit.Framework;

[TestFixture]
public class CommandFixture
{
   private static readonly string microKey = "micro";
   private static readonly string macroKey = "macro";

   [SetUp]
   public void BuildCommandFactory()
   {
      NameValueCollection map = new NameValueCollection();
      map.Add(microKey, "MicroSite");
      map.Add(macroKey, "MacroSite");
   }

   [Test]
   public void DefaultToMicro()
   {
      NameValueCollection map = new NameValueCollection();
      Command command = CommandFactory.Make(map);
      Assertion.AssertNotNull(command);
      Assertion.Assert(command is MicroSite);
   }

   [Test]
   public void MicroSiteCommand()
   {
      NameValueCollection map = new NameValueCollection();
      map.Add("site", "micro");
      Command command = CommandFactory.Make(map);
      Assertion.AssertNotNull(command);
      Assertion.Assert(command is MicroSite);
   }

   [Test]
   public void MacroSiteCommand()
   {
      NameValueCollection map = new NameValueCollection();
      map.Add("site", "macro");
      Command command = CommandFactory.Make(map);
      Assertion.AssertNotNull(command);
      Assertion.Assert(command is MacroSite);
   }


   [Test]
   public void Error()
   {
      NameValueCollection map = new NameValueCollection();
      map.Add("site", "xyzcommand");
      Command command = CommandFactory.Make(map);
      Assertion.AssertNotNull(command);
      Assertion.Assert(command is UnknownCommand);
   }
}
 

Further work could isolate the Command class. The Execute method has a parameter that is an HttpContext object. You could change this parameter to make the object independent of the ASP.NET environment. This would enable you to unit-test the commands outside of the ASP.NET runtime.

Resulting Context

The additional complexity of implementing Front Controller results in a number of benefits and liabilities:

Benefits

  • Increased flexibility. This implementation demonstrates how to centralize and coordinate all requests through the Handler class. The Handler uses the CommandFactory to determine the specific action to perform. This allows the functionality to be modified and extended without changing the Handler class. For example, to add another site, a specific command would have to be created and the only class that would have to change is CommandFactory.

  • Simplified views. The views in the Page Controller example retrieve data from the database and then render the pages. In Front Controller, they no longer depend on the database, because that work is accomplished by the individual commands.

  • Open for extension, but closed to modification. The implementation provides many opportunities for polymorphic dispatching. For example, the Handler simply calls the Execute method on the Command object, independent of what the method and object are doing. Therefore, you can add additional commands without modifying the Handler. The implementation could be extended further by replacing the CommandFactory with a different factory for further extension.

  • URL mapping. The UrlMap allows the actual page names to be hidden from the user. The user enters a URL, which is mapped to the specific URL using the web.config file. This increases the flexibility for programmers because there is a level of indirection that is not present in the Page Controller implementation.

  • Thread-safety. The individual command objects, MicroSite and MacroSite, are created for each request. This means that you do not have to worry about thread safety in these objects.

  • Liabilities

  • Decreased performance. This possibility must be examined. All requests are processed through the Handler object. It uses the CommandFactory to determine which command to create. Although in this case they do not have performance problems, both of these classes should be examined carefully for any potential performance issues.

  • Cruel and unusual punishment. This implementation is a lot more complicated than Page Controller. This implementation does provide more options, but at the cost of complexity and a lot of classes. You must weigh whether or not it is worth it. After you have taken the leap and built the framework, it is easy to add new commands and views. However, due to the implementation of Page Controller in ASP.NET, you would not expect to see as many implementations of Front Controller as you would in other platforms.

  • Testing considerations. Because Front Controller is implemented in ASP.NET, it is difficult to test in isolation. To improve testability, you should separate functionality out of the ASP.NET -specific code into classes that do not depend on ASP.NET. You can then test these classes without having to start the ASP.NET runtime.

  • Invalid URLs. Because Front Controller determines which view to transfer to, based on input parameters and often the current state of the application, the URLs may not always forward to the same page. This precludes users from saving URLs to access the page at a later time.

  • Related Patterns

    For more information, see the following related patterns:

  • Template Method [Gamma95]. The PageLoadEvent method of the BasePage class is an example implementation of Template Method.

  • Intercepting Filter.

  • Page Controller.

  • Command [Gamma95].

  • Factory.The factories described earlier in this pattern combine elements from both Factory Method [Gamma95] and Abstract Factory [Gamma95].

  • Acknowledgments

    [Fowler03] Fowler, Martin. Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture. Addison-Wesley, 2003.

    [Gamma95] Gamma, Helm, Johnson, and Vlissides. Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software. Addison-Wesley, 1995.

    patterns & practices Developer Center

    Show:
    © 2014 Microsoft