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Review: ASP.NET 2.0 Web Parts in Action
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by Richard Dudley
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Preface

A brief note before we begin.  If you are looking for information about SharePoint 2003 Web Parts, this is not what you are looking for.  Despite having the same name, ASP.NET 2.0 Web Parts are not the same thing as SharePoint 2003 Web Parts.

Introduction

Darren Neimke has long been an active blogger and contributor to the programming community.  His latest contribution is ASP.NET Web Parts in Action: Building Dynamic Web Portals.  Although a similar concept, and despite having the same name, ASP.NET Web Parts are a different technology than SharePoint web parts (if you are looking to develop SharePoint web parts, this is not the book for you).  ASP.NET Web Parts are new in the ASP.NET 2.0 Framework and provide a rich foundation for developing custom portals.

Darren has divided his book into two parts.  The first part (6 chapters) introduces portals, web parts and the other underlying technologies you need to know.  The second part (4 chapters) dives deep into extending and managing your portal.  You use the same example through the entire book, so that by the end, you have a functional portal and a complete understanding of how this exciting technology works.  All concepts and examples are illustrated with code and the complete solution can be downloaded from the publisher's website.

Inside the Book

Chapter 1 introduces portals and defines what an application needs in order to be considered a portal.  The author wastes no time in building a simple example--by page 15, you have a very simple portal created with a single page and two web parts.  Obviously, there is still much work to be done and the rest of the chapter focuses on setting up the Adventure Works Cycles database to fit the needs of the example.

Chapter 2 explores the internals of the web part class, including customization of the appearance and functionality, and ends up adding web parts to the solution.  Some understanding of interfaces would be useful in this chapter.

Chapter 3 looks at how to connect web parts to each other.  Communication between web parts adds a great amount of functionality to a portal, especially when there is a parent/child relationship to the data.  Connections can be static or dynamic and data can be transformed in the connection for additional flexibility.

Chapter 4 explores the Web Part Manager, which is an essential page-level control for managing web parts.  Rather than focusing on web parts, the author looks at how to display and authorize web parts and how to use master pages as well.

In addition to the Web Part Manager, portal Web Part Zones are essential for a portal's function.  Zones are literally the areas where web parts are displayed and control the appearance using WebPartChrome.  If you are familiar with SharePoint, you have probably been exposed to Web Part Zones.  Indeed, some of the examples in this chapter are from SharePoint.

Chapter 6 takes us into something more fun--personalization.  Personalization is what makes your portal useful and perhaps fun for your users.  Fortunately, the ASP.NET Web Part controls remove most of the burden of building such functionality.  To make life even simpler, web parts use the PersonalizationProvider class, which you may have been exposed to in other projects.  This chapter includes an overview of the personalization provider, as well as, how to set it up in the sample solution.

Chapter 7 begins Part 2, where more advanced functionality is covered.  In this chapter we are led through custom editing options for web parts and enhancing the included editor control.  Examples go deep into controlling the appearance and functionality of editor controls to make them easy for your users.

Chapter 8 takes the basic functions of a portal and makes them more accessible or easier to use.  The author demonstrates how to build a menu bar for common tasks, retain previous versions of user data for rollbacks and use dynamically displayed zones to hold tools or catalogs of data.

Chapter 9 makes ready for the big time and covers preparing for deployment, monitoring of the health of the application using classes in the .NET framework and recovering from errors gracefully (in a section named "When All Else Fails") after you have deployed.  Users can be enabled to reset their personalization data and remove broken web parts.

Finally, Chapter 10 looks back on the portal you have built and looks at other portals in action (such as SharePoint and live.com).  With an eye toward the future, we are shown how AJAX/Atlas can be used with out portal and it wraps up with an overview of live.com, Microsoft's new "mega-portal."  Looking at other portals really gives you an idea of what is possible in the world of portals and what you can strive for with yours.

Conclusion

Overall, I found this book to be well organized and very readable.  In fact, it is one of the most readable technical books I have ever read.  ASP.NET Web Parts are an exciting and powerful technology and it takes a well written and technically complete book such as this one to unlock the hidden secrets for you.  This is not a book for the true beginner, however.  You should be familiar with the concepts behind n-tier applications and interfaces, since the sample application uses both.  A background on these is outside the scope of the book and the author makes no attempt to define them (examples and definitions abound on the Internet).  The examples in the book use Visual Studio 2005, and although you could use Visual Web Developer Express for these examples, some of the screens would look different.

In addition to the print version, the publisher offers a PDF version from its website.  Chapters 2 and 9 are available from the publisher's website as well, so you can literally try before you buy.  The purchase of the book allows you access to online forums on the publisher's site as well.

About the Book

Title

ASP.NET 2.0 Web Parts in Action: Building Dynamic Web Portals

Author

Darren Neimke

Publisher

Manning

Edition

October 2006

Pages

344

Price

US $44.99 (print), US $22.50 (PDF)

Rating

****

Related URL

http://www.manning.com/neimke/

 


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