Microsoft Ajax Enabled Web Site Organization Patterns

Lately I have been writing a lot of code utilizing the Microsoft Ajax framework. This means that I am writing “Ajax Services” to handle my asynchronous callbacks. Ajax Services is a term I heard from Rob Bagby which emphasizes the fact that while these services are generally in a .asmx file and the methods are decorated with the [WebMethod] attribute, they are not really web services. They are a special form of service made just for Ajax callbacks. This additional file has got me thinking lately about how I can organize the files in my web site so that it doesn’t get too cluttered.

Let me start off by saying that this post is just a diary of my thoughts and I don’t really think I have found the best solution yet. That is why I am putting this out there to see how others are approaching this situation.

Too Many Files

File Orginization In extreme cases, I can have four different separate files (6 if you count the code behind file) for just one page. Typically, you have one javascript file and one css file per website but I have found this to just be too cumbersome lately. I find that my css and js files just become too cluttered and hard to maintain. So I end up with:

  • .asmx – Contains the WebMethods for my ajax callbacks
  • .aspx – Contains the layout for my page in typically Asp.Net fasion
  • .css – Contains the style definitions for the page layout
  • .js – Contains the javascript methods which typically respond to events on my page and make callbacks to my ajax services.

So now lets look at a folder on the website which has 3 different pages – a very typical scenario.

Too many files!

This layout quickly becomes unwieldy in its own way. All of the sudden your solution explorer view of your site becomes very hard to navigate and it becomes difficult to maintain the references to all those files. Now if I have a very simple page which has no need for any ajax callbacks or custom css mixed in there, It sort of gets lost in the shuffle

Lost in the Shuffle

See how your eye can easily miss the ‘MyPage2-Simple.aspx’ page?

A Better Way?

Another idea I had was to have one folder per page which would look like:

Is this better?

This is a little better but it is still cluttered. Just for completeness, lets look at our site with only one js, css, and asmx file.

Cleaner?

While this definitely looks a lot cleaner, it also has a code smell of it’s own. Imagine what our common files (js, css, asmx) must look like. They have the code from 3 separate pages all thrown in together.

The last idea I will throw out there is to put each file type in its own folder.

Grouped Together

I also like this better than most but it breaks down pretty quickly when you have your web site organized into many folders. Do you keep the script, service, and style files in the root folders or do you have a Script, Services, and Style folder for each sub folder?

Like I said earlier, I haven’t really found a solution that I think is best. Currently, I am trying to organize my project by having each action in its own folder and within these folders I put all the extra files (style, script, or callbacks).

How do you organize your web sites? How do you non Asp.Net people organize yours?

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7 Responses to Microsoft Ajax Enabled Web Site Organization Patterns

  1. Chad says:

    I tend to use a combination of the last example, as well as using just one “main” css and js file. I say “main” because like you said… having everything in one file just doesn’t make sense sometimes. However, I’ve been starting to apply CSS styles to specific tags lately, rather than just creating tons of classes – which makes me put a little more thought into what tags I do use. Do you have at least one “main” css file? I would think that changing basic things like the font color or size for the whole site would be harder than it needed to be if you didn’t.

    Anyway, I take the same approach for the JS file. Usually, after a bit of refactoring, I can get my JS functions down to a few that are used a lot. I put those in the main JS file that’s included on every page – then the page specific ones either go inline on the page (if the script is small enough) – or in a separate file which then goes into the “scripts” folder.

  2. Matt says:

    Why would you have one css file per page? That seems to really go against what css is about. If your pages share a common design and theme, they should share common stylesheets as well. That way you can update your styles in one place and the entire site updates with it, support themes, etc. I typically break my css up based on its function. something like structure.css, colors.css, tables.css, superCustomWidget.css, etc etc. If I want my entire site to gain a new color scheme, a quick edit of color.css and voila!

    Really the same thing can be said about javascript. I think it’s better to have common and base functionality in one file that all pages reference and only specific js as needed.

  3. Luke Foust says:

    Matt – I agree that css has mostly global consistency implications for a web site. On the other hand, if you have to position a specific element on a page and it is only applicable to that page, then it only clutters up the sites main css files IMO. Basically, you have 3 choices:

    1. embed the css into the page
    2. include it in its own css file
    3. include it in the global css files for the site

    Like I mentioned in my article, I still have not settled on a way to deal with this issue that I feel is the best way. I have tried keeping all my css in one place and I find that it becomes hard to maintain.

    What do you guys do with these “one off” css rules? What about javascript that is just used on one page (usually, to manage hiding and showing specific elements and wiring up events to callbacks)?

  4. Joel Ross says:

    Personally, the first approach to me is the most logical. Keep the site organized the way you would ideally do it, and then “bend” the tool to make it easier for you. if the only complaint is how it looks in Visual Studio, then change how it displays the fiels. You can edit the project file and make Visual Studio treat all of your supporting files (.css, .js. asmx, etc.) appear as sub-nodes to the parent .aspx file. See here for details: http://mikehadlow.blogspot.com/2006/11/nested-files-with-dependentupon-in.html

  5. Pete says:

    I use the last example. If I put the Javascript in a file, it is because I am going to use the JS on several pages. For my css I like to have the same look and feel on most pages so again it is rare to have more that 2-4 css files. I do have more ASMX files but again it is not a page to page relaionship. For these three types of files, the name is not base on the page name. It is more related to the subject mater in the file. Default.css, MathUtils.js, ImagePlayer.asmx

  6. Why don’t you make your page implement the ICallbackEventHandler interface? That saves you from making a webservice/scriptservice for each page… You know what I mean?

  7. Joshua Barker says:

    I always try to build and group my resources (javascript, css, services) based on scope and functionality.

    So, each application under a web-site contains css, javascript and services folders specific to itself, while the root contains versions of these folders for files that are common to all.

    Within each resource folder, I try to group the actual code into files based on common functionality and use filenames that clearly state each files purpose (ie: AjaxManagement.js, Popups.css, ReportingServices.asmx, etc…).

    I find that over time, as the web-site grows and evolves, that two or more applications will invaribly end duplicating each other’s functionality. This means that I have to periodically review my design and identify the common aspects that can be refactored and moved to the root level.

    Ex:
    Root Folder
    |
    |-javascript
    | |- g_AjaxFunctions.js
    | |- g_ValidationFunctions.js
    |
    |-css
    | |- g_Headers.css
    | |- g_Popups.css
    | |- g_Grids.css
    |
    |-services
    | |- g_Transactions.asmx
    | |- g_Reporting.asmx
    |
    |-Application_1
    | |
    | |-javascript
    | | |- app1_Build_Forms.js
    | | |- app1_JSON_Controls.js
    | |
    | |-css
    | | |- app1_Wizbang.css
    | | |- app1_Examples.css
    | |
    | |-services
    | | |- app1_SlowServices.asmx
    |
    |-Application_2
    | |
    | |-javascript
    | | |- app2_XmlUtilities.js
    | |
    | |-css
    | | |- app2_Financials.css
    | |
    | |-services
    | | |- app2_FastServices.asmx

    … etc

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