ASP.NET MVC and Routing Default.aspx

29
Sep
2008

ASP.NET MVC and Routing Default.aspx

UPDATE: 2011-09-23. This was definitely a TL;DR post. And I've since switched to using a Mac and Rails and other *nix tools and frameworks - so forget it. Buy a Mac (or install Ubuntu) and start writing 'real' web applications.

ORIGINAL POST: Having been inspired by BlogSvc.Net's recent switch to the ASP.Net MVC framework - I decided that now was as good a time as any to begin to get up-to-speed with ASP.Net MVC There's a ton of blogosphere content out there already (I've included some of the more helpful links at the bottom of this post). Access to the source at http://www.codeplex.com/aspnet  combined with a healthy dose of Reflector over the System.Web.Routing assembly...  and things are slowly starting to fall into place. While working through the routing process; how routes are defined, the order they're evaluated and how a default route catchall can be defined... I got a bit hung-up on default routing and in particular the routing of Default.aspx. When you create a new ASP.Net MVC project (Preview 5).. the project template creates a Default.aspx page and places the following in the code behind...

public void Page_Load(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
{
    HttpContext.Current.RewritePath(Request.ApplicationPath);
    IHttpHandler httpHandler = new MvcHttpHandler();
    httpHandler.ProcessRequest(HttpContext.Current);
}

What's happening here, is that the Url requested (which was Default.aspx) is being re-written to the application root "/" and then transferred off of the Webform HTTP handler and onto the MvcHttpHandler. A request for "/" will match the Default route entry (show further down)... eventually sending us onto one of the route controllers. In order to really 'grok' what's going on here in just these few lines of code (and the first a lot of people are going to see when they start a new ASP.Net MVC project) ... you need to understand a couple of things. Firstly, there are several different classes named (in part at least) handler, or module in the System.Web.Routing and System.Web.Mvc namespace. It takes a little investigation to work out the responsibility of each of these classes and how they each fit into the complete pipeline, from initial request to the final response and output.

For starters - the MvcHttpHandler in the Page_Load event above is not the normal entry point into the framework. (In fact, unless the handler defined for the matching route after the transfer to MvcHttpHandler, is of type MvcHandler - you'll get an exception that says so - also the reason you need to comment out the Page_Load event handling code when you are using Phil's route debugger shown below). The normal entry point is the UrlRoutingModule  - which you'll see registered in the Web.config. It's this module that inspects incoming requests... checks them for matches against routes in the RouteCollection... and then transfers the request over to the handler that was specified in the matching route entry.

One of the best conceptual descriptions of the ASP.Net MVC framework I've come across - was "...think of ASP.Net MVC as a dynamic HttpHandler selector - each route that you define specifies an HttpHandler that will deal with the request from that point on - and that's it". So routes are really nothing more than a way of allowing you to define an HttpHandler that will take care of the rest of the request/response processing for matching Urls.

Back to Default.aspx. The first question I had was why wasn't the default route capturing requests for Default.aspx and why for that matter, was the Page_Load event handling code above required in the first place? Here's the "Default" route that is created in Global.asax for a new solution...

routes.MapRoute(
    "Default",                                              // Route name
    "{controller}/{action}/{id}",                           // URL with parameters
    new { controller = "Home", action = "Index", id = "" }  // Parameter defaults
);

What this route says is... take anything... any Url and treat the first segment as the name of the controller that will be used to handle the request, then take anything as the second segment and use that as the controller method that will be called (controller action) and take anything as the third segment and use that as a parameter for the action method. Well it turns out there are a couple of reasons that a request for Default.aspx won't work with the route above. To start .. grab a copy of Phil Haack's Route Debugger. Build the solution and then add a reference to the RouteDebug assembly to your project. Also remove, or comment out the Page_Load event code in Default.aspx (shown above) since what we want to test here, is what's required to route Default.aspx without the use of any redirection code. Add Phil's debugger to the Global.asax Application_Start() event handler, as below..

protected void Application_Start()
{
    RegisterRoutes(RouteTable.Routes);
    RouteTable.Routes.RouteExistingFiles = false;
    RouteDebug.RouteDebugger.RewriteRoutesForTesting(RouteTable.Routes);
}

Also note that extra line I've added... for RouteExistingFiles - which is set to false (the default). This is the first reason that Default.aspx won't be routed. The routing module will not (by default) apply routes to Urls that actually exist as files in the web site. This is a good thing... since it allows you to include static content and regular ASP.Net pages in your project. However also be warned that when it is set to RouteExistingFiles = true, all static content (like stylesheets and JavaScript) along with regular ASP.Net pages may no longer be served from the site (if you have a catch-all or default route in place). This might be the desired behavior though.. if you wanted to serve all of your static content from another web server and guarantee that no static content would be coming from your application server. Try running an ASP.Net MVC app with the code in Application_Start() as above (be sure to have commented out the Page_Load event handling code in Default.aspx first!). What you should see is that Default.aspx loads as normal and we've not entered the MVC framework. Now change change RouteExistingFiles to RouteExistingFiles = true and temporarily comment out Phil's route debugger - like this...

protected void Application_Start()
{
    RegisterRoutes(RouteTable.Routes);
    RouteTable.Routes.RouteExistingFiles = true;
    //RouteDebug.RouteDebugger.RewriteRoutesForTesting(RouteTable.Routes);
}

What you should see now is a yellow screen of death (YSOD) "Server Error in '/' Application - The resource cannot be found. HTTP 404 etc..." The reason we're seeing this is because (again - in the default ASP.Net MVC Solution) there is no controller called Default.aspx. We supplied 'something' in the url and that 'something' was matched as the first segment or token of the Default route (incidentally, naming the route 'Default' has nothing to do with 'Default.aspx' - it's just a name for the route and could be anything). The route actually matched. If you uncomment the RouteDebugger and run it again - you'll see that the Default route was in fact matched to our request.

matched_01

However when the framework (the MvcRouteHandler, and then the MvcHandler controller factory in this case) tried to find a controller class called 'Default.aspx' - it couldn't, and so returned an Http 404 file not found error. The only controllers that exist in the solution - are HomeController, and the AccountController - and our controller token didn't match either of these. You can try changing the Url to "/boo" or "/foo" "/mycontroller" (comment out the RouteDebugger again) and you'll see the same 404 not found error returned again each time. We match the default route, but there are no controllers for any of these controller tokens. However if you try "/home" - bingo... you'll hit the home controller, with a default action of Index and the Index.aspx page in the Views/Home/ directory will be served up as the response (Note: with RouteExistingFiles still set to true... the style sheet won't be served). Ok so what if we want Default.aspx to route to the home controller? We could add the following route...

routes.MapRoute(
    "Start",                                                // Route name
    "Default.aspx",                                         // URL with parameters
    new { controller = "Home", action = "Index", id = "" }  // Parameter defaults
);

But this must appear above the Default route since the first route that matches - wins. With the 'Start' route in place, Default.aspx is now being matched literally - and the default values for the controller, action and id are being used to serve up Views/Home/Index.aspx (again - this will only work if RouteExistingFiles = true while a 'real' Default.aspx page still exists in the root of your site). As an aside - if we wanted to catch all requests for non-existent controllers you could use a route like this..

routes.MapRoute(
    "Catchall",                                              // Route name
    "{*anything}",                                           // URL with parameters
    new { controller = "Home", action = "Index", id = "" }  // Parameter defaults
);

The 'Catchall' route would need to come before the 'Default' route and after any controller specific routes like '/home /news /products... etc - although some might question the wisdom of having such a route. An alternative approach would be to correctly deal with the 404 file not found errors with a custom error page and then take things from there. So from this little exercise we can now see that there are two things that prevent the routing of Default.aspx. The first - is that the default setting for RouteExistingFiles  is false - and for good reason too. The second, is that even if we were going to route Default.aspx, matching on the Default route still doesn't help since Default.aspx will be matched to the controller token in the route, and there is no such controller in the solution. So what are the practical options for dealing with Default.aspx? Well I think there are three you can choose from...

  1. Leave Default.aspx unrouted and unredirected as the entry point to your application - with static links that take your users into the MVC portion of the app (or other static content).
  2. Redirect Default.aspx in the code behind, either using the Page_Load event handler code as shown above, or use Response.Redirect("~/home") to send them to the Home controller (although this is a round-trip redirect).
  3. Rename or delete Default.aspx. Despite the warning in the markup that says that default.aspx is required to ensure that ASP.NET MVC is activated by IIS when a user makes a "/" request... it's not actually needed in either the VS dev server, or IIS7. The default request will remain an application root request "/" and will be caught by the default route and sent to the home controller.

  And that's that. I really don't feel good about doing much until I understand how things start... and how we got to point B from point A. The learning curve in ASP.Net MVC is fairly steep, and started (for me at least) with the humble Default.aspx page. Here are a few links that helped along the way (and are current for ASP.Net MVC Preview release 5). http://msmvps.com/blogs/luisabreu/archive/2008/07/04/the-routing-series.aspx http://haacked.com/archive/2008/03/13/url-routing-debugger.aspx http://haacked.com/archive/2008/08/29/how-a-method-becomes-an-action.aspx http://bradwilson.typepad.com/blog/2008/08/partial-renderi.html http://lostintangent.com/2008/07/03/aspnet-mvc-controlleractioninvoker-part-1/

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Comments

Good article Tony, as usual no Cargo Cult explainations here ;-) I have started to look at the framework but only from the point of view of testing the Controllers (using mocks of course). It is good to see an in depth explaination of the routing engine.

Not bad, but this article could've said the same in about half as many words.

Thanks for the great article, and the route debugging tool ( Phil Haack’s Route Debugger) helped me a lot.