Announcing AspNet.Mvc.Grid

Whenever I need to display tables of data in an ASP.NET MVC application I end up pulling in the MVCContrib library to use its Grid Helper.

The Grid helper is really cool, it allows you to take a class like:

public class Person
    public int Id { get; set; }
    public string Name { get; set; }
    public string Email { get; set; }
    public DateTime DateOfBirth { get; set; }

And create a Razor view like the following (including appending some Bootstrap classes):

@model IEnumerable<Person>

<h1>Person List</h1>

@Html.Grid(Model).Columns(cb =>
    cb.For(p => Html.ActionLink(p.Name, "Detail", "People", new {p.Id}, null)).Named("Name");
    cb.For(p => p.Email);
    cb.For(p => p.DateOfBirth);

}).Attributes(@class => "table table-striped table-hover table-condensed").HeaderRowAttributes(new Dictionary<string, object> { { "class", "active" } })

This will then output HTML like the following:

<h1>Person List</h1>
<table class="table table-striped table-hover table-condensed">
      <tr class="active">
         <th>Date Of Birth</th>
      <tr class="gridrow">
         <td><a href="/People/Detail/1">Name1</a></td>
         <td>19/08/2014 12:00:00 AM</td>
      <tr class="gridrow_alternate">
         <td><a href="/People/Detail/2">Name2</a></td>
         <td>20/08/2014 12:00:00 AM</td>
      <tr class="gridrow">
         <td><a href="/People/Detail/3">Name3</a></td>
         <td>21/08/2014 12:00:00 AM</td>

This means you don’t have to render out the nasty, tedious table HTML, it takes care of creating the thead and tbody for you, it’s type safe (thanks Razor!) and there are some sensible defaults that save you time (like inferring the th title from the property name).

The problem with MvcContrib

There is however a few big problems with MvcContrib – it’s not really kept very maintained and it contains A LOT of bloat in there for stuff you will never need (and frankly shouldn’t use).

To be honest, out of everything in there the Grid is the only thing I would touch.

It does actually have an MVC5 package, but it contains a reference to Mvc4Futures and this can actually have a really bad impact if you are using MVC5 due to one of the breaking changes in MVC5. If you have code that is assembly scanning the current AppDomain for instance then you will soon come across this error:

Inheritance security rules violated while overriding member: ‘Microsoft.Web.Mvc.CreditCardAttribute.GetClientValidationRules(System.Web.Mvc.ModelMetadata, System.Web.Mvc.ControllerContext)’. Security accessibility of the overriding method must match the security accessibility of the method being overriden.

Creating AspNet.Mvc.Grid

Given that roadblock on a current project, and given I don’t really want to pull in all the bloat of MvcContrib I decided to pull out the Grid code from MvcContrib and put it into it’s own library that targets .NET 4.5 and MVC 5. This is allowed under the Apache 2.0 license the MvcContrib code is licensed for.

Hence, I’d like to announce the AspNet.Mvc.Grid library! It has been published to NuGet as per usual.

The only difference you will notice between it and MvcContrib is that the namespaces are different. This was a conscious decision to make the library less confusing for completely new users.


Announcing ChameleonForms 0.1

One of the things I find frustrating with ASP.NET MVC out of the box is creating forms. That’s not to say I find it more frustrating than other frameworks or libraries though; on the contrary I think it’s painful almost always. I think ASP.NET MVC has an amazingly powerful and useful capacity to handle forms. However, out of the box I find it fiddly and annoying to output the HTML associated with the form in a consistent and maintainable way across a whole website.

The other problem occurs when you want to change the layout of the form. For instance, imagine I create a proof-of-concept application using Twitter Bootstrap to get up and running with something that looks nice quickly. I may well want to scrap the application because it turns out to not be popular or useful. On the other hand, if it became really popular then I might want to spend some more time and effort customising the look-and-feel. At that point I will more than likely want to move away from the HTML template that Twitter Bootstrap imposes on you to use a more semantic markup (e.g. definition lists).

Enter Chameleon Forms

For the last 2 years, while I was working at Curtin University I was lucky enough to be able to use a library that we developed for tersely and maintainably developing forms that conformed to the forms standard that we had at Curtin. We had the advantage that the library was able to be specific to the Curtin standard for forms and didn’t have to be very generic. We still ensured that the library was very flexible though, because we want to make sure we could use it for most of the use cases we came across and still be able to break out into straight HTML for the weird edge cases.

ChameleonForms is my attempt to use the learnings and concepts from the previous forms library I was using and apply them to a new, open source library that I can use on my personal and professional projects to ease the pain of creating forms and improve the maintainability of them.

I am implementing this library alongside Matt Davies, who I often work closely with.

This blog post is announcing the initial release of this library, which contains basic functionality only. There is more information about the library, an example of how to use it and the roadmap we have for it at the Github page.

If you want to install this initial version from NuGet then simply use:

Install-Package ChameleonForms


Simulating Tag Syntax with Razor Templating

When using a templating language to output HTML it’s often quite useful and natural to have the concept of a “tag” syntax e.g. (using some random custom ColdFusion tags as an example):

  • Self-closing: <cf_form_field label="Some Label" value="The value" />
  • Nested: <cf_form_section heading="Some heading"> ... </cf_form_section>

The tags would implicitly output to the page and can be side-by-side with HTML code without needing start and end code delimiters (such as <% … %> or <? … ?>, etc.).
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