Jef Claes

On software and life

14 Feb 2010

Webforms lessons learned the hard way (Part 1)

I’ve been spending a lot of my days in Webforms the last two years. In this post I want to share some best practices I’ve learned the hard way over these years. A lot of MVC developers might think this post comes a bit late (who still cares about Webforms?!), I do think (in the real world) a lot of the ASP.NET developers are still using Webforms. This post is directly targeting them.

Keep your pages light

There are a few things where you should pay attention to.

Most of the times the Viewstate is the number one performance killer. Although most developers know storing a lot of ViewState on the page has issues, and that there are numerous alternatives. Most developers don’t take the time to think about the Viewstate. I don’t blame them. Persisting the ViewState to another medium is not as easy as it should be. The Viewstate is enabled by default, disabling the Viewstate on each control is a hassle.. In ASP.NET 4 the ViewStateMode will make it much easier though. Once the users start complaining about performance, you are too late. I really encourage you to start thinking about the Viewstate as early as possible. Only use it when you need to persist changes across Postbacks. You will be surprised how little you really needs to persist.

A Masterpage is great for applying a consistent style to your pages. But be careful with what you put in the head tag of your Masterpage. Often you only need a certain stylesheet or javascript library in a few pages. Avoid including references to these stylesheets and javascript libraries in your Masterpage. Better is to put a ContentPlaceHolder in the head tag of your Masterpage and use that for your conditional resources.

Updatepanels are great controls, but you should apply them wisely. Don’t blindly wrap your whole form in an Updatepanel. Think about which part of your page really needs to be refreshed. The less HTML and ViewState (!) coming back from the server the better.

Use javascript. I think to many Webforms developers are uncomfortable leaving their serverside habitat. Avoid a postback whenever you can.

Stay away from the designer

Creating pages using the designer doesn’t work on so many levels.

The Design view doesn’t always give a correct representation of how the page will look like when it’s rendered by the browser.

Using drag-and-drop, databinding wizards.. does not end well. I have a big problem with defining datasources in the ASPX markup. In my opinion the ASPX markup should be as clean as possible. It should serve as a view, and as a view only. Another downside of defining your datasources in your ASPX markup is that your application tends to be more fragile.

Let me prove this by this example..

In this example I’m binding a List of FireStationEvents to a GridView. Notice the TypeName and SelectMethods are strings.

<form id="form1" runat="server">
            <asp:GridView ID="gvEvents" runat="server" DataSourceID="odsEvents">
      <asp:ObjectDataSource ID="odsEvents" runat="server" 

A few weeks later I decide to change the methodname Load to LoadAll. I rebuild my solution and all is good. I publish my site to production, and a few hours later I get a critical bug report assigned to me. After looking into it, I discover I forgot to change the SelectMethod property of the DataSource. Loading the page throws an unhandled Exception at runtime: ObjectDataSource 'odsEvents' could not find a non-generic method 'Load' that has no parameters. One small refactoring made the application fail big time and I didn’t even have a clue.

Stay posted for Part 2 tomorrow! What are some of your Webforms lessons learned the hard way?