Using Interfaces for ASP.NET MVC Model Binding

Sometimes you may want to support view reuse, where a partial view displays a portion of the application in a reusable fashion. Suppose you had the following entity which has a bunch of properties.

public class Customer
{
   public int CustomerID { get; set; }

   public string FirstName { get; set; }

   public string LastName { get; set; }

   public string AccountNumber { get; set; }

   .
   .
}

Suppose you wanted to use a PartialView because it was an AJAX widget with a JavaScript initialization script, and defining a reusable control made it really easy to support this. MVC defines a strongly typed model reference, so does that mean we have to bind the model directly to Customer, or define a custom type for an editor template?

We actually can use interfaces by adding the following:

public interface IAccountEntity
{
   string AccountNumber { get; set; }
}

We can define this in a partial view:

@model IAccountEntity

@Html.TextBoxFor(i => i.AccountNumber)

   $(function() {
      /* Registration Script */
   });

And then use it in our EditCustomer view, as a partial with the existing model:

@Html.Partial("EditAccountNumber", Model)

Since Model (of type Customer) is also IAccountEntity, this translates just fine with MVC. It works just as well when you use hierarchies too. For instance, Customer implements IAccountEntity, but what if we had a CustomerModel class above Customer like:

CustomerModel
     Customer : IAccountEntity
        AccountNumber

If EditCustomer view looks like the following:

@model CustomerModel
.
.

<div class="form-group">
   <label class="col-md-2 control-label">First Name</label>
   <div class="col-md-10">
       @Html.TextBoxFor(Function(i) i.Customer.FirstName)
   </div>
</div>
<div class="form-group">
   <label class="col-md-2 control-label">Last Name</label>
   <div class="col-md-10">
       @Html.TextBoxFor(Function(i) i.Customer.LastName)
   </div>
</div>
<div class="form-group">
   <label class="col-md-2 control-label">AccountNumber</label>
   <div class="col-md-10">
       @Html.Partial("EditAccountNumber", Model)
   </div>
</div>

Notice how the model is passed in directly; this won’t work for our scenario, because the EditAccountNumber expects an IAccountEntity, and requires that the partial be passed in this way:

@Html.Partial("EditAccountNumber", Model.Customer)

However, that doesn’t work for our needs, if our controller has a post operation of the following:

[HttpPost]
ActionResult Edit(CustomerModel model)
{
    if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(model.AccountNumber))
    {
      //This will always be the case, why?  See below
    }
}

Welcome to one of the challenges of MVC model binding. In the previous form, the first/last name and account number would post back to the server something like:

Customer__FirstName: BOB
Customer__LastName: SMITH
AccountNumber: ABC123

What needs to happen is the “AccountNumber” key also needs to be Customer__AccountNumber for it to successfully bind back to the server. You can add AccountNumber as a parameter to the post method, or we can add another interface that supports our hierarchy, and add this interface to the CustomerModel:

//Interface definition
public interface IAccountNumberModel
{
    IAccountNumberEntity Customer { get; set; }
}

//Update to the model class
public class CustomerModel : IAccountNumberModel
{

   public Customer Customer { get; set; }

   IAccountNumberEntity IAccountNumberModel.Customer { get; set; }

}

Here IAccountNumberModel has the same property name as CustomerModel; that’s important to make sure the model binding name structure matches. Now we can pass in the CustomerModel to the EditAccountNumber view with these modifications:

//EditAccountNumber
@model IAccountNumberModel

@Html.TextBoxFor(i => i.Customer.AccountNumber)
.
.

//EditCustomer:
.
.
@Html.Partial("EditAccountNumber", Model)

Since CustomerModel implements IAccountNumberModel, and this matches the type of model on our partial view, everything binds correctly.

Rendering Markup Anywhere in MVC

I had a hard time coming up with the title, because as you know, markup is pretty dynamic in MVC. However, I came across an interesting limitation when it came to rendering markup. I’m not talking about rendering partial view content using Html.Partial, or using a helper method. I’m actually talking about rendering markup segments, which I’ll demonstrate with a VB.NET example (sorry, I’ve been stuck in the VB world for some time, it’s become more natural than C#):

@* SomeView.vbhtml *@
@Code
Html.ScriptDefine(
   @
      alert("ME");
   )
End Code

Html.ScriptDefine is not something Microsoft created, but a custom extension I created. This was a helper method to register script segments. It is not a method defined globally or in a view, but a helper that’s code, which can be easily reused across projects, which is why I tried to utilize this technique. Somewhere in the master page, a process read all of these scripts and rendered them in the master page. This was excellent; I could define these script blocks anywhere in the view, and they would all get rendered in one place.

My helper looked like the following:

Public Sub ScriptDefine(Of TModel)(html As HtmlHelper, key as String, fn as Action(Of TModel))
    Dim script = fn(html.ViewData.Model)
    'Store reference to model and script somewhere, 
    'which the master page retrieves all of the scripts and renders
End Sub

It worked, except in one scenario: Partial Views, which is a key reason why I wanted it. See, I often found myself using scripts in a partial view. I tried using an optimization technique where scripts run at the end of the page; the only problem was a partial view that used a script had it’s <script /&rt; block defined wherever the partial was, which was usually above the end of the view. The issue with partial views has to do with the rendering process, and although I wasn’t quite sure how to figure out why, I found a better solution anyway: HelperResult.

By defining the script in a helper (a small caveat) and then storing the helper result, this solved the problem much more easily. I was able to define an extension like the following:

Public Sub ScriptDefineHelper(Of TModel)(html As HtmlHelper, key As String, fn As Func(Of TModel, HelperResult))
   Dim helperResult = fn(html.ViewData.Model) 'Returns the content as IHtmlString
   Dim list = CType(html.ViewContext.HttpContext.Items("_Scripts_"), List(Of String))

   if (list Is Nothing) Then
      list = new List(Of String)
   End If

   list.Add(helperResult.ToHtmlString()) 'Store the scripts as a string, which is easy to render later

   html.ViewContext.HttpContext.Items("_Scripts_") = list
End Sub

Now wherever we use our helper, we can use it like:

@Code
  'Use in view or partial view
  Html.ScriptDefineHelper(Function(i) Scripts())
End Code

@Helper Scripts()
   
      alert("Hello");
   
End Helper

And we can render out all the scripts with the following code (we can also use a helper method for this):

Dim items = CType(html.ViewContext.HttpContext.Items("_Scripts_"), List(Of String))
For Each item in items
  @Html.Raw(item)
Next

The real question is why do all of this, when all of the scripts could be in the page? Well, there are good reasons for doing this. First and foremost, keeping the scripts used in a partial view are best defined in the partial view. Out of sight is out of mind, especially for JavaScript. By using this technique, scripts can be defined, and rendered at the designed area, more effectively. That is the primary benefit; outside of that, there aren’t a lot of benefits.