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Using Node.js and Gulp with ASP.NET in Visual Studio 2015

As I’ve written before, I’m using Angular a lot recently to write the client side of my web applications.  As I’ve gotten to the end of my current project, I found myself needing to implement cache busting and while I am at it compression.  But because I’m using a regular HTML page to serve up the shell for my single page application, using the regular ASP.NET on the fly compression wasn’t going to work for this application.

But there are a lot of tools in the Node.js space that will work.  Would it be possible to wire node.js and Gulp with ASP.NET in my existing web project?

It turns out you can. Although, at this point, it isn’t as straightforward as most other things in Visual Studio.

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ASP.NET, Angular.js & html5mode

I’ve been looking at Angular.js recently.  I’ve already got enough of a project done in MongoDB (with Mongoose), Express, Angular and Node.js (MEAN) to be comfortable with how Angular works.  But I wanted to give it a try using ASP.NET as the back end.  I’m always learning.  Always improving.

To start out, I just setup an index.html page to hold my basic form as I got the basic look and feel going.  But as I progressed, I wanted to make sure I progressed, I wanted to add in the capability of using Angular’s html5mode for the client side routing.

For those of you who are new to Angular, Angular is a client side JavaScript framework that will allow you to create web applications where much of the processing happens on the client side instead of the server side.  That’s cool enough.  But it also adds the ability to handle client side routing, just like ASP.NET’s MVC handles server side routing.  This allows you to have a client side “master page” that can suck in the differences from the server as it needs them based on the url that is in the address bar.  In fact, there is an extension that will let you have sub routes as far down as you need.

Out of the box, Angular, and most other frameworks that implement client side routing, using the hash symbol to specify the route.  For example

http://blog.dmbcllc.com/index.html#/pathToRoute

This allows the routing to work on older browsers.

ASP.NET, Angular.js & html5mode

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WebForms vs MVC–The War Is Over

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I just finished listening to a DotNetRocks podcast today with Paul Sheriff which largely talked about creating mobile web sites using ASP.NET WebForms.

During the show they discuss when you might use WebForms vs MVC and pointed out that WebForms still have their place, particularly in the corporate world, since they are just as testable as MVC and yet much easier to get something up and running quickly.  This is in contrast to a public facing site that might need to be as light weight as possible and therefore need the extra control that MVC can give you.

And then there is the issue of legacy code.  As they mentioned in the podcast, just because Microsoft has introduced a new technology, doesn’t mean we all have to go re-implement our websites in that technology the next day.  It doesn’t even mean we have to ever implement that technology.  It is just another option in our toolbox.  It is our job as developers and architects to know when the right time to use what technology is based on the requirements of the application and the skill set of our development team.

These are Points I’ve made in the past.

The War Is Over

The point I want to make today is this.  The war is over already.  I am surprised that this is still a conversation that the community is having.  Both sides have “lost” to a sneak attack by SPAs.  If this is still a conversation you think is worth having, I would suggest that you may be behind the learning curve.  The .NET world has moved on.

That is, client side models and frameworks have taken over.  What you use to produce the HTML that all lives in, is of very minor concern at best.

I suppose if you are interested in creating applications that are old style forms that post content to the server and refresh the page content or move on to another page, you might be interested in continuing to fight this war.  But in my world, most of the applications I work on could be created using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript calling back to a server that consumes and produces JSON.  In .NET, that would mean using WebAPI, which, while based on MVC, isn’t MVC.

Examples

For some examples of this, check out the LabelsForEducation site which is a DotNetNuke site.  DotNetNuke is a CMS based on WebForms technology.  By using jQuery and knockout, I was able to create the interactive portions of the site without using any webforms technology directly.  Instead, I just produced enough HTML and JavaScript in the ASCX file that is the modules I developed to launch the main JavaScript application. You can check out how this looks on the following pages:

You would be surprised at how very little code is in the codebehind files of my ASCX files that each of my modules live in.

In my current project, I’m using EXTjs and ExtDirect, which is based on WebAPI, to create SPAs.  Nothing that I am currently doing requires that I do the work in either WebForms or MVC.

The beauty of an SPA is that it never officially post back so it doesn’t matter what you are using to hold the main application.

Drawbacks to SPAs

Having said all of that, there is a major drawback to SPAs.  You have to really know JavaScript, and I’m guessing even though it is the most used language, the number of people who really know JavaScript relative to the number of people it would take to implement a good SPA in a way that can be tested and maintained is relatively few.

Now, I’m sure someone will argue that we still need something.  In fact, as I was discussing this article with some of my peers, we recognized that WebForms and MVC at least allow us to provide page level security.  But even that could be handled using a regular HTML page either by applying the security at the IIS level or by implementing security in the WebAPI and JavaScript.

And what if your page has no interactive components?  Or just a part of the page has some interactive components?  Maybe the bulk of the content comes from a database.  In that case, you can use either and neither  would necessarily be “bad.”

What About Database Driven Static Sites?

The part that is posting back can be implemented using JavaScript and WebAPI.  The rest can be implemented by turning off state management on WebForms and using databinding and Model View Presenter(MVP) or Model View ViewModel (MVVM).  I prefer MVP. Or you can go for MVC and Razor.  Either will essentially get you where you need to go and be relatively light weight.  Although one could make the argument that MVC will give you more control.  The question you have to ask though is, if you had the control, would you really use it.  Does the performance gain relative to the traffic you expect to get and the level of experience your developers have make the switch to MVC worth it?  Would it make more sense to concentrate training efforts on improving JavaScript and WebAPI skills?  Just some things to think about.

So, stop arguing about WebForms vs MVC and put all of that energy into REALLY learning JavaScript, CSS, and HTML because that is where you will be spending a huge hunk of your time in the future as a web application programmer.

The Internet has moved on.  HTML, CSS and JavaScript aren’t just designer eye candy toys anymore.  They are first class development tools that you need to learn now if you plan on being marketable 5 to 10 years from now.

Other Places Talking About WebForms vs MVC

Infinite 302 Loop – How would you even know?

trav-053 It happens eventually to all web developers.  It’s happened to me twice in the last week.  You make one simple change to your web site and then you can no longer access it.  When you browse to it in IE you get some completely useless “We can’t access the page you are looking for” error.  In FireFox, it at least tells you that you have a “Redirect Loop” and in IE6, if you are fortunate enough to still be writing for that browser, you can see that it is blinking at you as it tries to retrieve the page(s) multiple times.  But how do you know what’s redirecting to what?

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