A Day In The Lyf

…the lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne

RestMvc – RESTful Goodies for ASP.NET MVC

with 4 comments

Last summer, I found myself building a RESTful ASP.NET MVC service that had an HTML admin UI. Oftentimes, the resource that was being edited in HTML was the same resource that needed to be sent out in XML via the service, which mapped nicely to the REST ‘multiple representations per resource’ philosophy.

There are obviously some very nice RESTful libraries for ASP.NET MVC, but none quite met my needs. Simply Restful Routing, which comes with MVC Contrib, takes a Rails-inspired approach of handing you a pre-built set of routes that more or less match a RESTful contract for a resource. While obviously convenient, that’s never been my preferred way to manage routing. It adds a bunch of routes that you probably have no intention of implementing. It keeps the routes centralized, which never seemed to read as well to me as the way Sinatra keeps the routing configuration next to the block that handles requests to that route.

Additionally, one of the problems I encountered with other routing libraries like Simply Restful is that they define the IRouteHandler internally, which removes your ability to add any custom hooks into the routing process. I needed just such a hook to add content negotiation. I also wanted some RESTful goodies, like responding with a 405 instead of a 404 status code if we did route to a resource (identified by a URI template), but not to a requested HTTP verb on that resource. I wanted the library to automatically deal with HEAD and OPTIONS requests. In the end, I created my own open-source library called RestMvc which provides such goodies with Sinatra-like routing and content negotiation.


public class OrdersController : Controller
    public ActionResult Index() { ... }

    public ActionResult Create() { ... }

    [Get("/orders/{id}.format", "/orders/{id}")]
    public ActionResult Show(string id) { ... }

    public ActionResult Edit(string id) { ... }

    public ActionResult Destroy(string id) { ... }

Adding the routes for the attributes above is done in Global.asax.cs, in a couple of different ways:

// or RouteTable.Routes.MapAssembly(Assembly.GetExecutingAssembly());

That is, in effect, the entire routing API of RestMvc. The Map and MapAssembly extension methods will do the following:

  • Create the routes defined by the HTTP methods and URI templates in the attributes. Even though System.Web.Routing does not allow you to prefix URI templates with either / or ~/, I find allowing those prefixes can enhance readability, and thus they are allowed.
  • Routes HEAD and OPTIONS methods for the two URI templates (“orders” and “orders/{id}”) to a method within RestMVC capable of handling those methods intelligently.
  • Routes PUT and DELETE for /orders, and POST for /orders/{id}, to a method within RestMvc that knows to return a 405 HTTP status code (Method Not Supported) with an appropriate Allow header. This method and the ones that handle HEAD and OPTIONS, work without any subclassing for the Controller as shown above. However, if you need to customize their behavior — for example, to add a body to OPTIONS — you can subclass RestfulController and override the appropriate method.
  • Adds routes for tunnelling PUT and DELETE through POST for HTML browser support. RestMvc takes the Rails approach of looking for a hidden form field called _method set to either PUT or DELETE. If you don’t want the default behavior, or you do want the tunnelling but with a different form field, you can call ResourceMapper directly instead of accepting the defaults that the Map and MapAssembly extension methods provide.
  • Notice the optional format parameter on the Get attribute above the Show method. Routes with an extension are routed such that the extension gets passed as the format parameter, if the resource supports multiple representations (e.g. /orders/1.xml routes to Show with a format of xml). The ordering of the URI templates in the Get attribute is important. Had I reversed the order, /orders/1.xml would have matched with an id of “1.xml” and an empty format
  • The last point is a convenient way to handle multiple formats for a resource. Since it’s in the URL, it can be bookmarked and emailed, or tested through a browser, with the same representation regardless of the HTTP headers. Even if content negotiation is used, it allows you to bypass the standard negotiation process. Note that having different URLs for different representations of the same resource is generally frowned upon by REST purists. RestMvc does not automatically provide these routes for you, but lets you add them if you want.

    Content Negotiation

    Content negotiation is provided as a decorator to the standard RouteHandler. Doing it this way allows you to compose additional custom behavior that needs access to the IRouteHandler.

    // In Global.asax.cs
    var map = new MediaTypeFormatMap();
    map.Add(MediaType.Html, "html");
    map.Add(MediaType.Xhtml, "html");
    map.Add(MediaType.Xml, xml");
    var connegRouter = new ContentNegotiationRouteProxy(new MvcRouteHandler(), map);
    RouteTable.Routes.MapAssembly(Assembly.GetExecutingAssembly(), connegRouter);

    In the absence of a route URI template specifying the format explicitly, the connegRouter will examine the Accept request header and pick the first media type supported in the map. Wildcard matches are supported (e.g. text/* matches text/html). The format parameter will be set for the route, based on the value added in the MediaTypeFormatMap.

    The content negotiation is quite simple at the moment. The q parameter in the Accept header is completely ignored. By default, it tries to abide by the Accept header prioritization inferred from the order of the MIME types in the header. However, you can change it to allow the server ordering, as defined by the order MIME types are added to the MediaTypeFormatMap, to take priority. This was added to work around what I consider to be a bug in Google Chrome – despite being unable to natively render XML, it prioritizes XML over HTML in its Accept header. The library does not currently support sending back a 406 (Not Acceptable) HTTP status code when no acceptable MIME type is sent in the Accept header.

    Next Steps

    I haven’t worked on RestMvc in a few months, largely because I shifted focus at work and haven’t done any .NET programming in a while. However, I had planned on doing some automatic etagging, and to make the content negotiation more robust.

    Contributors welcome! The code can be found on github.


Written by Brandon Byars

January 6, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Posted in .NET

Tagged with , ,

4 Responses

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  1. what about this second sentence?

    Volledig Casco

    January 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm

  2. you are good. write more

    Autoverzekering vergelijken

    January 25, 2011 at 5:22 pm

  3. i think you have a nice page here… these days was my first time coming here.. i just happened to find it doing a google search. anyway, fantastic post.. i’ll be bookmarking this page for sure.

    Shantelle Chladek

    January 27, 2011 at 8:06 pm

  4. Awesome framework. I like the Sinatra inspired syntax. I’ve gone in a slightly different direction and stuck with Simply Restful (well a hacked up version), so more convention based. While it means less code, it also has downsides as you’ve mentioned.

    With regards to 405’s, you can override the HandleUnknownAction method on a controller. I’ve created a base controller, and in that method check to see if the action matches a known method that doesn’t exist (I use Index, Get, Put, Post, Delete method names as part of my routing). If it does, throw an exception resulting in a 405. If not it throws a 404 as normal.

    It’s not very elegant, but works for my setup. A filter would be nicer (HandleError?), I’ll need to read up and step through some code to see if it’s possible.

    Robert Beal (@robertbeal)

    October 21, 2011 at 5:59 am

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