Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I'm All About ASP.NET MVC

Tomorrow, when I walk the halls of my corporate job and find myself caught in an eye-to-eye stare-down with a Java web developer I may not be thinking the same thoughts. I've had my share of Java vs. .NET arguments over the years and I hate to admit it but the Java people have a lot going for them. Often times Java is the runway for .NET's future look. Thus it is to no surprise now that we've gotten our hands on ANT, Hibernate, and jUnit we follow up by stealing Swing. .NET makes its rounds with all of Java's daughters--which happens to be one of my favorite interjections in a .NET vs Java discussion. You should see their faces.

What is ASP.NET MVC?

Every ASP.NET developer I've talked to in the last few days about MVC have asked me this question, which kinda surprised me. In general, many of them have never heard of MVC at all. My first interaction with MVC occurred after reading an article over at A List Apart about JavaScript MVC--which is my preferred client-side architecture. Great article.
MVC stands for Model-View-Controller. When you think about web work, isn't it generally you got some data(Model) that you present to the user(View) and allow them to interact with(Controller)? I know that about sums up my work experience. ASP.NET MVC is .NETs response to the Java/Ruby MVC craze. All us .NET-ers are definitely a few seasons behind.
Remember when the .NET web platform released? Almost a decade ago. Honestly though, the web was still emerging as a platform for applications. In my opinion, when Microsoft released ASP.NET they were thinking "how can we easily convert our application developers into web developers" and not "how can we make the best web development platform out there?" They've reaped the consequences for it too-- such as the ViewState, lack of true architecture guidelines, the page life-cycle, oh and how about their ASP.NET Ajax(Atlas) implementation? Horrendous. All ease of use and no performance. ASP.NET MVC is Microsoft's way of trying to come clean. Let's try to be more forgiving.

Bottom Line: Whats the Code Like

Amazing. Simply amazing. I've been working through the Wrox Professional ASP.NET MVC book and have over and over again found myself making "exactly!" outbursts. I'm not going to go through a complete overview of the MVC framework, but here are a few "highlights:"

Using LINQ to SQL as Your Model

ORMs (object relational mappers) are pretty popular right now--especially NHibernate. No surprise, they save you a ton of time defining classes and writing SQL statements. After you have a database table set up and accessible in your Visual Studio Database Explorer, a little Solution Explorer right-click add-new > Data > LINQ to SQL and you're rolling. With the class that is created, one can alter database data by easily interacting with the generated class. Like:

// Retrieve Dinner object that reprents row with DinnerID of 1
Dinner dinner = db.Dinners.Single(d => d.DinnerID == 1);

// Update two properties on Dinner
dinner.Title = "Changed Title";
dinner.Description = "This dinner will be fun";

// Persist changes to database

And yes, it supports transactions, SPROCs, views, checks your data for SQL Injection attacks, and is easily extendable using partial classes and partial methods. Not really an MVC feature, but new to me.

ASP.NET MVC HTTP Post Handling

This is one of the things that really impressed me. A situation I find myself programming over and over again is doing GridView FindControl()s to grab an inputted value. With MVC, you can create a method in your controller that accepts one of your model classes, completely avoiding all of the monotonous value/control finding work. The values are automatically mapped using .NET Reflection.

public ActionResult Create(Dinner dinner)
if (ModelState.IsValid)
dinner.HostedBy = "SomeUser";
return RedirectToAction("Details", new { id = dinner.DinnerID });
return View(dinner);

Theres More

I didn't even get to talk about Validation, separation of concerns, SEO-friendly URLs and more but... I need to get back to studying.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Using the YAML CSS Framework in ASP.NET

I've written the same CSS code at least a million times-- center the body, float the navigation, fix IE6--but I'm never going to do it again. Why? Because recently I've stumbled upon CSS Frameworks. Amazing stuff!

What is a CSS Framework?

Its kind of like a set of web page building blocks. Remember playing with Lincoln Logs as a child? They were great. However, imagine if instead of all that pre-cut goodness you had to fashion your own pieces. You'd be missing fingers! (Who gave that kid a knife?) Or bare minimum, trading play time for work time! Strangely enough, developers do just so. Essentially they are ignoring the vast amount of browser-specific tweaking that web design necessitates. Aren't there other areas of your project you'd rather be working on (like the ones that actually demand originality)?

The YAML CSS Framework

The folks over at have run their product through the browser-specifc gauntlet. Emerging unscathed is a solid, well-thought, and well-documented package that you can quasi-drop into your web application. I need to reiterate the "well-documented." In fact, if I was teaching a class on web design I would use the framework's free pdf as it's textbook. Don't know what a float is? Or why they're not working in IE6? Any CSS novice should check it out. Unfortunately I did just write quasi-drop...

The Downside of the YAML CSS Framework

It's not all roses. In fact, its rather intimidating to jump into. The first time I downloaded it I felt as though the css files had been arranged by Stephanie Toppin(art featured). After consulting the documentation I was finally able to see the method through the madness. To elaborate on said madness:
  1. The framework relies heavily on CSS imports-- an Ajaxian no-no.
  2. The ultra-cool form styles rely on setting the <form> tag's class. (You know, that thing in ASP.NET that usually surrounds the entire page.) That is also a no-go.
  3. The folder structure makes me want to pull my hair out. I'm serious.

Making it Work in ASP.NET

To start out, lets put all the files in one place. Not only does this remove our CSS import issues, but also will decrease our HTTP requests and therefore improve our page's performance. So, that means:
  1. Taking YAML's base.css, content.css, form.css, and print.css and putting all their contents into one file. Done and done. Situation=averted. You will still need to reference the IE-specific fixes page separately, however.
  2. In order to rectify our form tag issues, all we need todo is change all the code that says form.yform to just .yform. Easy! Now us .NET-ers can wrap our wannabe forms in a div.yform and reap the rewards of all of YAML's pre-styled goodness.
I tend to keep all of my custom css classes in a section at the bottom of my concatenated YAML document.

Get Back to Work

... on things that deserve your attention!