Blogging on programming and life in general.

Extension Method To Render Action As String

Posted in: ASP.NET

A while ago, I wrote a post that showed how you would Render a Partial View As A String. But what if you had a Partial View and wanted to output its action to a string?

Just like the majority of all other coding problems I encounter, StackOverflow always has the answer. In this case, a clever guy posted this piece of code:

var sw = new StringWriter();
PartialViewResult result = Email("Subject", "Body");

result.View = ViewEngines.Engines.FindPartialView(ControllerContext, "Email").View;

ViewContext vc = new ViewContext(ControllerContext, result.View, result.ViewData, result.TempData, sw);

result.View.Render(vc, sw);

var html = sw.GetStringBuilder().ToString();

Works well enough. However, I didn't like the thought of having to add all this code inside my controller, especially when I have to output many Partial View actions to a string. So I created an extension method:

/// <summary>
/// Renders a Partial View Action to string.
/// </summary>
/// <param name="controller">Controller to extend</param>
/// <param name="partialView">PartialView to render</param>
/// <param name="partialViewName">Name of Partial View</param>
/// <returns>Renders Partial View as a string</returns>
public static string RenderActionToString(this Controller controller, PartialViewResult partialView, string partialViewName)
    using (var sw = new StringWriter())
        partialView.View = ViewEngines.Engines.FindPartialView(controller.ControllerContext, partialViewName).View;

        ViewContext vc = new ViewContext(controller.ControllerContext, partialView.View, partialView.ViewData,
            partialView.TempData, sw);

        partialView.View.Render(vc, sw);

        return sw.GetStringBuilder().ToString();

This extension method can be used in the following way:

//Access PollController class.
PollController pc = new PollController();

//Get the LatestPoll PartialView action and output to string.
string myPartialView = this.RenderActionToString(pc.LatestPoll(), "../Poll/_LatestPoll");

Much cleaner!


TextMode Causes Max Length To Not Work In ASP.NET Web Forms

Posted in: ASP.NET

After quite a successful stint in creating some really amazing websites using MVC Razor 5, I had to revert back to working in the world of Web Forms for a new client project. Now I have to deal with .NET web controls, Postbacks and Viewstates.

When creating a few simple forms consisting of some drop down lists, textboxes and textareas, I noticed wherever I set a "MaxLength" property it would not work. A character limit on my input field would just be ignored in all browsers. I could only replicate this bug when the Max Length property is used alongside the "TextMode" property.

There were various places where I had the "TextMode" property set to either "Number" or "MultiLine". Soon as this was removed, the value set in "MaxLength" would work.

How very odd...

Thankfully, I am not the only person to experience the same issue. Currently, the only way to get around this problem is to add the following JavaScript code (slightly refactored for my own implementation) to check the character length "onKeyDown".

var ASPNETForm = {
    "CheckTextAreaLength": function(textBox, e, length) {
        var mLen = textBox["MaxLength"];

        if (null == mLen)
            mLen = length;

        var maxLength = parseInt(mLen);
        if (!ASPNETForm.CheckSpecialKeys(e)) {
            if (textBox.value.length > maxLength - 1) {
                if (window.event) { //IE
                    e.returnValue = false;
                    return false;
                else //Firefox
    "CheckSpecialKeys": function(e) {
        if (e.keyCode != 8 && e.keyCode != 46 && e.keyCode != 35 && e.keyCode != 36 && e.keyCode != 37 && e.keyCode != 38 && e.keyCode != 39 && e.keyCode != 40)
            return false;
            return true;

Add to your ASP.NET TextBox control as so:

<asp:textbox id="Instructions" MaxLength="50" onkeydown="return ASPNETForm.CheckTextAreaLength(this,event,'50');" runat="server" textmode="MultiLine">

I am hoping there will be a more elegant solution in ASP.NET 5, or even better, a fix. This problem has been lurking around since 2009!

Change Colour of Address Bar In Chrome For Android

Posted in: Client-side

My Nexus 5 upgraded to Android version 5.0 a few months back and it's by far the best update yet (apart from the minor bugs). An OS that is as beautiful to look at as well as use.

One of the most intriguing things I noticed was that the colour of my Chrome browser address bar would occasionally change if I went certain websites. Being a developer who works in the web industry, this peaked my interest. So I had to find out how to do this.

After doing some online research, I found adding the this feature couldn't be simpler. Just add the following META tag to your page:

<meta name="theme-color" content="#4c7a9f">

I carried out this change on my site and it looks kinda cool!


Android Chrome Browser Colour (Before)


Android Chrome Browser Colour (After)

Redirect Non-WWW to WWW Domain In Azure Websites

Posted in: Azure

If you require your website URL to always be prefixed with a "www" at the start of the domain, then you will need to modify the web.config (preferably in the Web.Release.Config) with the following addition:

    <rewrite xdt:Transform="Insert">
        <rule name="Redirect to WWW site">
          <match url=".*" />
          <conditions logicalGrouping="MatchAny">
            <add input="{HTTP_HOST}" pattern="^(www\.)(.*)$" negate="true" />
          <action type="Redirect" url="http://www.HTTP_HOST}/{R:0}" redirectType="Permanent" />

In addition to the web.config file changes, ensure the Azure Website instance contains the correct domain bindings within the "Manage Domains" area. For example:

Azure Manage Custom Domains

Detecting Facebook In-App Browser

It seems there is going to be a growing trend where apps on our mobile devices will open webpages whilst you are inside the app itself instead of using the devices' native browser. A prime example of this is Facebook. In recent updates during the tail end of last year, both their iOS and Android offerings open webpages from within the application.

This isn't a bad thing. In fact I quite like having webpages opening within the application, since this creates a nice seamless experience. However, the Facebook in-app browser doesn't seem to render a webpage in the same manner as the devices' own native browser (Safari/Chrome). I started noticing this whilst working on a complex website that was very much custom JavaScript driven.

The only thing I could do is modify specific mark-up or features that affected my website negatively when opened from within Facebook by detecting the user-agent. In my code (using ASP.NET C#), I was required to carry out additional browser checks:

//User is within Facebook browser.
if (Request.UserAgent.IndexOf("FBAN") > -1)
    if (Request.UserAgent.Contains("iPhone OS 8_0_2"))
        //You are using iPhone version 8.0.2.
    if (Request.UserAgent.Contains("Chrome"))
        //You are in the Facebook App in Android.
    //You are not in Facebook App.

You can modify the code above to create a nice self-contained method to return an enumeration as I ended up doing to be used when required.

Dynamic Robots.txt file for ASP.NET MVC Sites

Posted in: ASP.NET

Changing the contents of a robots.txt file when a site is moved from staging to a live environment is quite a manual and somewhat cumbersome process. I sometimes have the fear of forgetting to replace the "Disallow: /" line with correct indexable entries required for the website.

To give me one less thing to remember during my pre-live deployments, all my current and upcoming ASP.NET MVC sites will use a dynamic robots.txt file containing different entries depending on whether a site is in stage or live. In order to do this, we need to let the ASP.NET MVC application serve up the robots.txt file. This can be done by the following:

  • Create a new controller called "SEOController"
  • Add a new FileContentResult action called "Robots".
  • Add a new route.
  • Modify web.config.


I have created a new controller that renders our "Robots" action as a plain text file. As you can see, my controller is not a type of "ActionResult" but a "FileContentResult". The great thing about "FileContentResult" is that it allows us to return bytes from the controller.

In this example, I am converting bytes from a string using Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes() method. Ideal for what we need to generate a robots.txt file.

public FileContentResult Robots()
    StringBuilder robotsEntries = new StringBuilder();
    robotsEntries.AppendLine("User-agent: *");

    //If the website is in debug mode, then set the robots.txt file to not index the site.
    if (System.Web.HttpContext.Current.IsDebuggingEnabled)
        robotsEntries.AppendLine("Disallow: /");
        robotsEntries.AppendLine("Disallow: /Error");
        robotsEntries.AppendLine("Disallow: /resources");

    return File(Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(robotsEntries.ToString()), "text/plain");


Since I add my routing at controller level, I add the "MapMvcAttributeRoutes" method to the RouteConfig.cs file. But if you prefer to add your routes directly here, then this method can be removed.

public class RouteConfig
    public static void RegisterRoutes(RouteCollection routes)

        routes.MapMvcAttributeRoutes(); //Add this line!

            name: "Default",
            url: "{controller}/{action}/{id}",
            defaults: new { controller = "Home", action = "Index", id = UrlParameter.Optional }


Add a "runAllManagedModulesForAllRequests" attribute to the modules tag in the web.config file to allow our robot.txt text file to be rendered by ASP.NET.

  <modules runallmanagedmodulesforallrequests="true"></modules>

What's Currently Wrong With Star Trek Franchise?

Posted in: Random Thoughts

NOTE: I write this post as a person who just appreciates the Star Trek movie franchise. Not as a massive fan.

Star Trek has always had a special place in my heart for as long as I can remember. The moment I sat down with my Dad and watched Star Trek III: Search for Spock with fresh new eyes, I was instantly grabbed by the action, ships, characters and vastness of space. It didn't take me long to understand the basic premise of the show even if I didn't completely understand the plot points.

I've dabbled in and out of the franchise over the years. But ever since the reboot in 2009, I have gained a renewed interest and started to look back at the classic movies with much fondness and appreciation. I truly admire how clever and gripping they were. Of course, there are some bad eggs when it came to the sequels (I'm talking about you Star Trek V!), nevertheless, they always managed to have memorable scenes.

Thoughts On The New Trek

I thought the reboot was off to a great start (no matter what the naysayers say), JJ Abrams managed to give Star Trek the kick in the butt it (quite frankly!) needed and looked forward to many more adventures with the characters I have grown to love. Star Trek became exciting again!

Four years later, we were given Star Trek Into Darkness and I remember leaving the cinema quite satisfied. But after I let the film digest within my subconscious, I started to pick holes in the storyline and came to the conclusion the highly anticipated sequel didn't actually offer anything new. It felt like a remake of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn pure and simple, a film that I will always hold dear to my heart. A film that contains themes of revenge, coming of age, friendship and sacrifice.

So what's wrong with the current incarnation of Star Trek?

1) Lack of Continuity Between Films

One of the finest moment of the original films for me was the continuity between films that had an underlying theme that linked them together. Of course, I am talking about movies II - IV. It was quite satisfying seeing the characters develop and grow based on the decisions made from the previous films.

You might be thinking: What am I complaining about? The current reboot hasn't had a chance to grow yet?

Valid point. However, I believe this is something the writers could have done already. Planted the seed to grow in future adventures.

2) The Length of Time Between Sequels

The main problem with the Star Trek franchise is the length of time between installments. The films need to be out more frequently. Currently, the length of time between films is 4 years. This is too long, especially if a film hasn't been as strong in the story department, nor met the expectations of fans. I think it's safe to say Into Darkness was not embraced as positively when compared to the 2009 film.

What impact does this have? A big one. The momentum just disappears and the franchise has the added pressure of having to re-establish itself again to the public.

As it stands, the cast, designs and production are all delivered to a very high standard. But if the likes of Paramount spend too long about the story they wish to tell, they really need to get better script writers and directors with a coherent vision.

Come on Paramount! Pull your finger out!

3) Bring Writers In Who Aren't Fans of The Trek-lore

Some of the best Trek have come from people who aren't avid fans of the world of Star Trek. They have the ability to take a step back in order to create a unique and interesting vision. They take important facets of the characters and then weave Star Trek into the story.

I personally would love to see Nicholas Meyer have the opportunity to write the next installment. Now that would be something to look forward to!

4) Retreading The Same Ground

For those who have watched Star Trek in film or TV form and made a comparison with the current Trek movies, you would get a sense of deja-vu. As I've briefly stated above, there doesn't seem to be anything new being brought to the screens that we haven't already seen before, which is a little disappointing for the Trek veterans.

Into Darkness could have been the film to show something new and original. Retreading old ground in a universe purely built to tell new stories was never going to go down well.

5) No More Spock Prime

I loved seeing Leonard Nimoy reprise his role as Spock Prime in the 2009 reboot. It was pure genius and managed to make a connection with all previous films so that they still remained relevant. This was probably a ploy to get buy in from the proper Star Trek fans. I for one appreciated the sentiment.

However, it was unnecessary bringing him back for a brief appearance in Into Darkness and dare I say...a little cringe worthy.

Final Thoughts

There is so much to explore in the Star Trek universe and the formula to get Star Trek right is not as complex as it may seem. The script writers need to take a good hard look at what made the original films so successful (without plagiarising!) and make us a Trek film where no one has gone before...

Tools Every Azure Developer Should Be Using

Posted in: Azure

Having developed quite a few websites in Azure, there are some key tools I found that made my life easier when accessing all areas of my Azure cloud instance. The great thing about the selection of tools I have listed below is that it gives me access to all the features I need wrapped in a nice interface.

So lets get to it!

Azure Storage Explorer

Azure Storage Explorer is a useful tool for inspecting and altering the data in your Azure storage projects, including the logs of your cloud-hosted applications. This includes:

  • Blobs
  • Queues
  • Tables

Unlike some of the previous storage explorer software I've used in the past, Azure Storage Explorer allows you to preview a blob directly through its interface, such as: Images, Video or Text files. So you don't have to waste time downloading a blob just to check if its been generated correctly. Amazing time saver!

Once you have your storage set up within your Azure account, you can use this application to manage everything: create, view, copy, rename and delete all three types of storage types (listed above).

Azure Storage Explorer

An application as full featured as this shouldn't be free. But luckily for us, it is.


Azure User Management Console

Azure User Management Console manages the users and logins of an Azure SQL database. The tool is simply converting your action into T-SQL commands and execute them against an Azure database of your choice.

Azure User Management Console

What some beginner Azure developers do is they use the same master credentials that is assigned to the database on creation within their web application too. Of course, this master user has full "db_owner" privileges against the database. Not a good idea! This application allows you to create a new new user with restricted access access levels really easily.


Redgate SQL Azure Backup

One thing I found lacking in Azure SQL databases is the ease of creating a regular backup. There doesn't seem to be an automated way to do this directly through the Azure account.

I've been toying around with Redgate's Azure backup service and that seems to do the job quite nicely. But it does come at a price. For a daily backup on one database will cost around £7 per month.

Full range of backup plans:

Evernote Has Made Me An Extreme Data Hoarder

EvernoteOk. So for those of you have not heard of Evernote (and who hasn't!?), it's an online app/service that allows you to record voice, text and hand written notes that can synchronise across multiple devices and platforms.

Ever since I had my first smartphone, I've always relied on Evernote to record my daily thoughts and reminders. There are numerous note taking apps on the market, which (for me) just doesn't seem to cut the mustard and end up always coming back.

Evernote not only has the functionality, but it also has the infrastructure to make it more than just a "note taking" platform. So much so I'm hoarding major amounts of everyday things. Evernote is starting to act as a repository of things I don't want to let go of.

With the help of IFTTT, I have created numerous recipes that aggregate data from my social platforms such as Instagram and Twitter to importing RSS feeds from websites that interest me. Now Evernote is my one-stop-shop for getting everything I need on a daily basis instead of logging into different platforms individually.

If there is something I happen to like, I just Evernote it. Even if I won't ever need it. Typical sign of a hoarder! But I'm an organised data hoarder, utilising clearly named notebook stacks. Strangely enough, the more notes you add, the more useful Evernote becomes and this maybe the reason why I am hoarding so many things. It's more than a "note taker"!

One feature I didn't expect to be so useful was the ability to take pictures of printed or handwritten documents. I can take quick snapshots and go completely paperless. On top of that, Evernote makes everything searchable. It's even clever enough to search through my rubbishly written notes. I only found out how truly powerful this feature until I was going through the motions of purchasing my first property. At this time of my life, I was in constant note/documentation mode and Evernote helped me organise my thoughts, reminders and record all email correpondence neatly.

What I've done in the past with other note taking apps is delete old notes or files just to be completely sure that I will be able to search what I require quickly and easily, mainly due to the fact that sifting through large volumes of data was a headache! Nowadays, I don't delete anything in Evernote. I can now keep a record of things I previously done and refer to later without any worries at time of need.

It's safe to say my addiction to Evernote will only increase as I find more uses for it. But that's not a bad thing...right?

Update - 12/12/2014

I came across some posts from others with the same issue, which is nice to know that it's not only me with a problem:

What Is Lacking

Posted in: Random Thoughts

WARNING! I may sound like an absolute hypocrite when the contents of this post is compared to my earlier post on first impressions of the platform. So here we go...

I am starting to encounter increasingly longwinded and somewhat frustrating stumbling blocks during the development of a powered website due to lack of basic development related features. Fundamental features that should already be there from the start.

I understand that is a new platform and is still in its infancy, but not having something simple as a time attribute to a date field is unforgivable (which I will explain later).

The idea behind is to empower the developer and gives them the tools to manage the content anyway they want. Sounds great! But how can developers like myself be empowered when the tools that are provided are not up to scratch.

So I have picked a few things lacking in the platform. I'll probably add some more on completion of the project I'm working on.

1) Sorting By Date/Time

Now you'd think if you have a date field, a time field would be not too far away. Wrong! A document only contains a date format field that shows a calendar on selection. This works for general use. But what if you have numerous articles written in a day that are displayed on a page in descending order and you wish to move an article higher up the page? There is no time field to allow for this.

By default when using date ordering, two things happen:

  1. All documents are ordered by the date value defined in the document.
  2. If multiple documents added within a day, they are then ordered by the time it was added in Prismic.

For me, this was a pain.

2) Non-match predicate

Sometimes, you want the ability to exclude documents from a query. In my case, return a list of authors except for one or two. Since predicate language is lacking a "not" operator I had to return a full list of authors and carry out the filtering at application level.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn't a massive flaw. I can see this becoming an issue when you need to exclude items from a larger dataset. It would be faster to do this at Prismic level than application level.

3) Where's the "OR" Operator?

No really, I would like to know!

4) No Required or Validation Fields

It is not possible to make fields compulsory or implement any form of validation. Therefore, up to the developer to make sure suitable checks are put in place where null or incorrect values are present.

To me, this seems a little bit backwards and you're solely relying on the editors to ensure the all data is correct and complete.

5) WYSIWYG Editor Improvements

As I stated in my previous post, that one of main deciding factors to why I used Prismic over Contentful was its easy to use WYSIWYG editor. I still stand by this point. It seems to offer a mish-mash of features that feel very intelligent and basic at the same time.

The WYSIWYG functionality is based on a StructuredText field type, flexible enough to allow an amalgamation of different content, such as embedded object (from social websites), paragraphs, images, etc.

On the surface, StructuredText is really nice to work with but then all of a sudden you encounter a key missing feature: blockquote! The only way I could get around this is by getting editors to insert custom mark up around any text for transformation into a blockquote at application level, like so:

[BlockQuote][Hello. I would like to blockquote this text please.]

This was just the start. There were other instances where further customisation had to be made to meet the editors requirements.

I have to quote Paul Dijou here (link at bottom of post) for describing the additional changes he too had to make in a very theatrical manner:

A writer wanted to have blockquotes: a whole paragraph should be displayed in a custom design and have an author. I had to kill him really fast and bury his body deep. Another one wanted semantic distinction between paragraphs, something like: this one should be red and this one blue just because. Thrown him into a bucket full of piranhas.

6) Technical Support

A platform or technology can only ever be as successful as the infrastructure present to support it. Without it, cracks will form. Currently, there is only one place you can ask a question: It's definitely no StackOverflow. You really have to hope and pray for someone to answer your question promptly.

7) Convoluted Production Workflow

There will come a time when additional changes to a live site will be required. Whether it be modifications to a field or addition for a new document. All these changes will have to happen on the live Prismic repository. There is no development > stage > live workflow.

It would be nice to have the ability to duplicate repositories and push new releases.

Thankfully, someone has already raised this. I don't see this addition happening anytime soon.


My intention is not to give a very negative impression of the platform. It will most likely meet your content management needs. However, it does have its faults and unless modifications are made to some of the points raised from others in their Q&A forum and my post, I will have to question whether I use it again on a project by project basis. It's a CMS platform that just falls short of the mark.

I recommend reading the following blog post written by Paul Dijou, describing his own experiences working with Prismic:

NOTE: If I have stated something that I have got completely wrong due to a lack of understanding. Let me know and I'll take everything back! :-)