Dec 2 2016

Increasing productivity in your core projects

Category: | core | MVCFrancesco @ 07:47

Often, during web development we complaint about the time we spend in “standard tasks” and dream of coding just our application peculiarities, thus concentrating just on our specific problem. For sure project templates and scaffolding save some “set up time” and avoid errors, but they do not save too much coding time.

In this post I’ll describe some good practices to increase web pages productivity at the price of some more set up time, and  how the new core version of the Mvc Controls Toolkit  may help you with this. For the ones new to the Mvc Controls Toolkit, the Mvc Controls Toolkit is an open source project released with the same license of the whole core project, so you may freely use it with no limitations and may also participate to its improvement.

The problem with most of “standard tasks” is that they are not “completely standard” so they cannot be completely automated. However, for each of them we may somehow define and automate a kind of “average task” where we can reach 90% of all actual tasks with small manual modifications. We increase further productivity if these manual modifications are achieved with name conventions, and declarations, such as, for instance, data annotations, options objects, and Tag-Helper attributes.

So for instance you might spend some set-up time to define a few “standard submit forms”, an automated procedure to create them given a few declarative information, and then use them to produce quickly, say 90%, of your views. That 90% is not a quite random number, but the result of statistics I carried out with the help of some of my customers. In fact, on the average 80-90% of all Views of a typical business application are quite standard and just 10-20% require a more complex design. In turn, among the last 10-20% just 3-7% are peculiar to the specific project since the remaining 7-13% consist of instances of general problems, so we may consider automating also part of them.

In the remainder of this post I’ll analyze different project areas that might benefit from this approach and that is worth to “attack”, pointing out the kind of automation to adopt and how the Mvc Control toolkit might help you in the task.

Business and DB Layer

The simplest optimization in this area is avoiding manual copies of DB model properties into ViewModel/DTO properties:

.Select(m => new InvoiceViewModelShow
                    Id = m.Id,
                    Amount = m.Amount,
                    Reference = m.Reference,
                    FileName = m.FileName,
                    Date = m.Date,
                    Start = m.Start,
                    Stop = m.Stop,
                    ShipName = m.Ship.Name,
                    Paid = m.Paid,
                    Approved = m.Approved,


You might say that’s easy, with AutoMapper! Unluckily you can’t use AutoMapper since the above expression doesn’t perform a copy operation between two in-memory objects, but it is translated into an SQl query. Extracting the whole DB objects from the database and then copying them into DTO/ViewModels with AutoMapper would be unefficient, since you might extract a lot information you don’t need from the Data Base. So, the only solution is creating dynamically LinQ queries.

The MvcControlsToolkit.Core.Business Nuget package that is a completely independent part part of the Mvc Controls Toolkit contains a projection operator that do exactly this job. It uses a same name convention and nested objects like Ship.Name are mapped by concatenating all property names: Ship.Name ===> ShipName. User must specify just properties that doesn’t conform to the name convention. Expression content is not limited to a creation operator but may contain also nested conditions with several ViewModel creations in the various condition branches, like in the example below:

m => m.Maintenance == null ?
   new ProductViewModelDetail{}:
   new ProductMaintenanceViewModelDetail{
       MaintenanceYearlyRate = (decimal)m.Maintenance.YearlyRate

Please notice that the ProductViewModelDetail constructor doesn’t contain any property since all properties may be inferred using the name convention.

Expressions are cached in various ways to avoid the performance cost of re-creating them each time they are used.

Please refer to the official documentation for more information.

Further speed-up may be achieved by defining generic CRUD Repositories that takes care of all main single-table operations: paged retrieval with projection on a ViewModel, detail retrieval, and all update operations that receive directly ViewModels/DTOs as parameters.

MvcControlsToolkit.Core.Business contains a DefaultCRUDRepository<Ctx, M> class where Ctx is the DB context type and M the DB model type, that is able to update automatically also entities related to M. It implements the not generic interface ICRUDRepository, so Ctx, and M may be hidden to the presentation layer. In fact all ICRUDRepository operations have the format: Add<T>, Delete<U>, Update<T>, UpdateList<T>. UpdateList<U>, etc. Where all generics are ViewModel/DTO types. Please refer to the documentation for more details, and further useful properties .

You may inherit from DefaultCRUDRepository<Ctx, M> or build your own generic class and then add also further operations that recur in several places, and with several types in your application.


You may speed up Controller code implementation in several ways, namely:

  • By creating generics based abstract base controllers to inherit from.
  • By implementing ActionFilters for recurring controller pre/post processing.
  • By implementing MiddleWare that pre-processes all requests
  • By implementing controller utilities classes.

Base controller generics are usually ViewModels/DTOs types. In case of WebApi controllers their main purpose is handling client/server communication protocols. In fact for better modularity and reliability all application WebApi controllers should be based on well defined abstract protocols designed during your application preliminary analysis.

Also standard controllers may benefit of inheriting from base controllers with “standard action methods”, to handle recurrent “standard” Ajax update tasks , such as showing a detail show/edit modal, and updating a modified grid item.

Both type of controllers need a JavaScript library counterpart that interfaces them with the client side. So base controllers adoption factor out and “standardize” both server side and client side code.

Base controllers “standard” action methods may be connected with problem specific business logic either by calling protected virtual methods the inheriting controller may override, or by accepting implementations of "standard" repository interfaces as constructor arguments. Generic Repository interfaces may be instantiated by problem specific implementations passed by the inheriting controllers, which in turn receive them in their constructors through dependency injection.

At moment Mvc Controls toolkit contains just a single standard ServerCrudController<VMD, VMS, D> controller that offers Ajax assistance to Views showing item lists. More specifically, it offers automatic Ajax assistance to pages in-line Ajax item updates, and in showing detail Show/Edit modals. VMD is the item detail ViewModel type , VMS the in-line item ViewModel, and D the principal key type of both of them.

ServerCrudController<VMD, VMS, D> uses the ICRUDRepository interface to communicate with the business layer, but it has also various properties and methods the inheriting controller may override to customize further action methods behavior. For detail please refer to the official documentation.

In future versions we will add also WebApi controllers implementing useful protocols, as well as facilities to get easily filtering and sorting conditions passed in the query string in OData format.

SercerCrudController is a good example of how to use a standard controller, and how to connect it with business logics:

public class CGridsController :
        ProductViewModel, int?>
    public CGridsController(ProductRepository repository,
        IStringLocalizerFactory factory, IHttpContextAccessor accessor)
        : base(factory, accessor)
        Repository = repository;
    public async Task<IActionResult> Products(int? page)
        int pg = page.HasValue ? page.Value : 1;
        if (pg < 1) pg = 1;

        var model = new ProductlistViewModel
            Products = await Repository.GetPage<ProductViewModel>(
            q => q.OrderBy(m => m.Name),
            pg, 5)
        return View(model);

repository of type ProductRepository injected with DI in the inheriting controller constructor is assigned to the Repository base controller property of type ICRUDRepository. This is enough to connect ServerCrudController  ajax-assistance action methods to the application business logic. Then, we add the Action Method that prepares data for the View that is enhanced with Ajax assistance.

For sure base generic controllers are the most powerful tool to factor out controller code, but request pre/post processing with either MiddleWare  or per-controller ActionFilters may ensure further improvements and contribute to a cleaner modular design. If you have doubts about how to implement your pre/post processing consider that with the new core 1.1 MiddlewareFilter you may use any MiddleWare also as an Action filter. Examples of how useful request pre/post processing code is factored-out by Middleware are: authentication cookies processing, culture selection processing, and in general user preferences processing discussed in the last section of this post. In the next version of the Mvc Controls Toolkit we will add Middleware for processing also filtering/sorting information contained in the query string in OData format.


Usage of standard templates that render data according to ViewModel data annotations and/or parameters drastically reduces the development time, and contribute to Web Pages standardization. In turn, Web pages standardization reduce the time needed for a user to learn how to use the web application.  One may increase, the “scope” of a template by allowing the developer to customize part, of it, as for instance, how a single property is rendered.

Mvc Controls Toolkit templates rendering is organized around RowTypes and Columns. RowTypes contain overall infos and templates for rendering a whole data item while Columns contain infos and templates for rendering a single property. RowTypes templates call Column templates, so the developer may provide “standard” RowTypes and Column templates, and then on each page he/she may control how to display data items by providing adequate settings for RowType/Columns, and by providing some custom Column template. RowTypes, and Colum settings are automatically extracted from data annotations and property types but user my override them by providing supplementary infos in RowType/Column description TagHelpers.

Here an example of an edit form rendered with a standard bootstrap-based layout and whose settings are entirely extracted from data annotations and property types.Order, input are displayed is based on the Order property of the DisplayAttribute, while the number of Bootstrap grid system slots assigned to each input is based on percentage width specifications contained in ColumnLayoutAttributes. Developer may provide specifications for several screen widths. The kind of input is selected automatically by the standard Column template based on the property type/DataTypeAttribute. So, for instance,  enums are rendered with a selects and boolean with a checkboxes.The above detail-form TagHelper uses global templates defined with partial views inside the Mvc Controls Toolkit dlls. However, in general, user may specify the name of a different partial view, or the name of a ViewComponent  in the detail-form  tag itself. The developer may also override globally the standard template Partial Views by adding Partial Views with the same names in the Shared folder.

Here an example where rendering has been customized with the help of row-type and column TagHelpers. The exterrnal-key-remote tag specifies that the TypeId property contains an external key, and provides all needed information for the user to select the right key value with an autocomplete, by typing the display names associated to the various keys. Settings specified in the row-type tag are applied only if the ViewModel is the ProductMaintenanceViewModelDetail subclass of the  ProductViewModelDetail base ViewModel, otherwise settings specified directly in the detail-form tag are applied.

Here “standard templates” featuring a grid with edit in-line Ajax capabilities based on the Ajax assistance furnished by the ServerCrudController<VMD, VMS, D>.

User options

Another area where you may achieve further development-time optimizations is User option handling. Having, a centralized register containing all user options with the possibility to inject them where needed via dependency injection may help to factor out some code and simplify  your overall design. Basically you may have  user options sources and stores all attached to an unique global per-request register. Sources may be input fields, url parameters and cookies for unlogged user and User Claims or custom tables for logged users. Cookies, User Claims, and custom tables may work also as stores where to save user options received through input fields or url parameters.

The MvcControlsToolkit.Core.Options nuget package (that is a completely independent part of the Mvc Controls Toolkit) offers all services described above. You may collect user options provided through input forms or url parameters without writing controller code since they are automatically processed by MvcControlsToolkit.Core.Options middleware. Then you may save them in cookies, user claims and/or custom tables with no need to write any code. Developer may configure all above services with a few simple declarative options in the MvcControlsToolkit.Core.Options middleware. It is a typical example of how MiddleWare may speed up controllers development.

For more information please refer to the official documentation.


That’s all for now!

More examples and tutorials in posts to come!







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