Summarizing AJAX Patterns Under ASP.NET
page 3 of 8
by Xianzhong Zhu
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The XMLHTTP+HttpHandler Pattern

Now, let us research into another popular pattern leveraged under the ASP.NET platform--the XMLHTTP+HttpHandler pattern.


As you have seen, the first pattern, XMLHTTP+WebForm, is simple with clear logics between the components. However, there are also troubles with this pattern: with the project becoming even larger, there are maybe hundreds of thousands of asynchronous requests sent out from the client side pages, and when hundreds of Ajax pages require introduction to respond to the client side acceptances. How will you efficiently maintain such awesome stuff?

To overcome the above how-do-you-do, some readers may put forward the following kind of solution: make all the requests attached to a single page, and then specify different requests with different names of types. To some degree, this does help to abate the above contradiction. Nevertheless, if you have a test with the above case by yourself, you will find out that the application logics will become complicated, which will naturally result in the difficult maintenance. On the other hand, a Web form is, after all, a common page. Although the original idea is to make some computation on the server side, a complete page life cycle will have to be executed. This is apparently a big exhaustion for the server side resource.

So, how can we further improve the above solution? Well, the answer lies right in the HttpHandler.

In the ASP.NET architecture, HttpHandler is one of the core modules to process the HTTP protocol, which, in fact, implements the functionality of an ISAPI Extension extending the means of processing Http Requests and sending related Responses.

Digging further, you will find the functionality of the HttpHandler is accomplished through interface IHttpHandler. Figure 4 illustrates the general processing flow of a HTTP request. With the number order marked in the figure, it is easy to find out the following routine: a Web request first reaches the IIS, and then through aspnet_isapi.dll the request is passed over to the ASP.NET engine. Next, inside the ASP.NET engine the web request will pass through a possible complex tunnel; after being processed by several HTTP Modules, the request at last comes to the HTTP Handler. It is through the HTTP Handler that the processed result again returns back to IIS which bears the responsibility of sending the result back to the client side that sends the request.  Finally, the whole process comes to an end.

Figure 4 - The sketch map of the XMLHTTP+WebForm styled implementing flow

As is shown in Figure 2, at the end of the ASP.NET channel is the HTTP Handler (or Handler factory in the case of multi-handlers). In essence, every ASP.NET Page class derives from the IHttpHandler interface, as is indicated in Figure 5 captured using .NET Reflector.

Figure 5 - Use .NET Reflector to view the Page derivation

Next, let us continue to examine the interface IHttpHandler.

Listing 3

public interface IHttpHandler
  // Methods
  void ProcessRequest(HttpContext context);
  // Properties
  bool IsReusable

Here, you can use Response together with Request to work with method ProcessRequest to achieve your custom handler. The property IsReusable is used to specify whether the implementing class for interface IHttpHandler requires buffering.

The HttpHandler Styled Sample

In this section, we will start to create a simple HttpHandler styled sample. First, let us consider how to implement the custom HttpHandler which will be used to process the requested string. The following gives the complete implementation of our custom HttpHandler HelloAjax.

Listing 4

namespace HelloAjax
  public   class HelloAjax:IHttpHandler
        #region IHttpHandler member
        public bool IsReusable
                return true;
        public void ProcessRequest(HttpContext context)
           str += context.Request.UserHostAddress;
           str += "<br/>The Datatime on the Server side:";
           str += DateTime.Now.ToLocalTime ();

Here, the functionality of method ProcessRequest is simple: just construct a simple string, and then send the string back to the client side.

Author's Note: For the special .ashx type of HttpHandler, we do not need to build up a special .DLL assemble to encapsulate it and then to refer it in the target website. However, for the general custom HttpHandler, you have to set up a .DLL assemble to encapsulate it, modify the <httpHandlers> section in file web.config, and then to refer to it in the target website. Only through the above three steps can you use the custom HttpHandler on the fly; or else, you will fail.

Now, with everything about the custom HttpHandler getting ready, let us shift our attention to the client side related programming. First, look at the HTML code for the related sample page HttpHandlerForm.aspx.

Listing 5

<head runat="server">
    <title>Hello Ajax---XmlHttp+HttpHandler</title>
    <script type="text/javascript" src="js/ajax.js"></script>
    <link href="StyleSheet.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" />
    <div style="text-align:center;width:420px">
        <h1>XmlHttp+HttpHandler Pattern</h1>
    <br />
    <button onclick="talktoServer('HelloAjax.ashx');">Submit</button>

I believe that your attention will surely be attracted by the click handler of the "Submit" button, "talktoServer('HelloAjax.ashx');," because there is nothing peculiar with the other stuff. Let us go on with the story to see the crucial JavaScript function.

Listing 6

function talktoServer(url){
  var req = newXMLHttpRequest();
  var callbackHandler = getReadyStateHandler(req);
  req.onreadystatechange = callbackHandler;"POST", url, true);
  //encode the url
  req.setRequestHeader("Content-Type", "application/x-www-form-urlencoded");
  //get the string entered into the textbox control
  var testmsg = document.getElementById("testmsg");
  var msg_value = testmsg.value;
  //send the string to the server side

Here, we first call another method newXMLHttpRequest() to create a XmlHttp object. Then we set up the client side callback function getReadyStateHandler() and pass as a parameter the newly-created XmlHttp object to it. Next, we attach the callback function getReadyStateHandler() to the onreadystatechange event of the XmlHttp object req. The subsequent several sentences are easy to know since they are the common XmlHttp object related expression. However, there is also one point deserved to be noticed.

Listing 7"POST", url, true);

Note the "url" above points to "HelloAjax.ashx," not a general .txt/.xml/.html/.asp/.aspx/.php/.jsp file. Then by executing the server side method ProcessRequest of the HttpHandler "HelloAjax.HelloAjax," the specified string returns to the client side.

For brevity, we omitted the other two functions (newXMLHttpRequest and getReadyStateHandler). You can refer to the downloadable source code for details.

Now, when everything gets ready, you can press F5 to launch the above sample page. And with everything smooth, you will get a snapshot most like that in Figure 6.

Figure 6 - The server-side string is returned when you click "Submit"

In contrast to the XMLHTTP+WebForm pattern in the first part, the HttpHandler way is more light-weighted, helping to release the payload of the whole system, but still trivial and annoying.

Next comes another Ajax pattern under the ASP.NET environment - the ASP.NET 2.0/3.5 callback function pattern.

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User Comments

Title: mp   
Name: moosa
Date: 2008-11-12 8:26:44 AM
Title: About Post   
Name: Gopi
Date: 2008-10-15 7:56:44 AM
Useful post..
Title: Very interesting   
Name: Raul Macias
Date: 2008-10-14 2:35:33 PM
Thanks for sharing this; very helpful indeed.
Title: About Post   
Name: Rem
Date: 2008-10-13 2:15:28 PM
Nice post...

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